For my part, the first goal is to get some distance into why it’s so hard to get scientific thinking — and not just results — into the civic conversation. Seth’s work on autism/vaccine tribulations is a path into that question that starts us off outside of politics, which I think is important. That is: it’s not just overt malign interest that makes people reject settled conclusions and resist arguments that would seem (to folks already inside the tent) to be persuasive to anyone who just doesn’t know the details of this or that yet.
As commenter Linnaeus on the last thread I posted on tonight’s conversation pointed out, the Science Studies gang has in fact developed a name for the problem: agnotology. We live in a culture that has taken the genuine scientific value of skepticism, and has turned it into a rhetorical tool to frame public attitudes towards and constrain access to knowledge about science.
It’s my view that as the weapons used are those of rhetoric, the counter will have to come from some understanding of what it takes to persuade (and move) people, given our current media landscape.
A big job and question, and one to which I doubt either Seth or I will have any conclusive answers — but worth thinking about. Come along, shoot some questions at us, and have a good time. Plus, we’ll probably say some stuff about Jenny McCarthy. I mean, how not?
*Second Live venue: http://slurl.com/secondlife/StellaNova/67/212/31
Image: Jan Steen, The Crowned Orator, before 1675.