Thursday, July 14, 2005

A little chip on the shoulder

I was just reading this viewpoint on the CBC news website about what catches the public eye when it comes to science. The author, Stephen Strauss, has apparently written for the Globe and Mail for 20 years about science. Anyways, his point is that people get all jazzed up about images of science, like the recent Deep Impact mission, but that they don't get excited by things that they can't see nice pictures of. His counter (non-picture) example was a new discovery that the ecology of your intestinal tract determines how certain drugs affect you.

I see his point, but I don't like his attitude. First, he makes it sound like most people are too stupid or lazy to even crack open a science magazine or journal. So that, from the kindness of his heart, he must tell us the latest news. And then, he thinks he knows what will have a great impact on us when we look back on all of this in a hundred years or whatever. Yes, he chooses the intestine thing over the comet thing.

I don't think there's anything wrong with people getting all excited about the comet. And if they're not all excited about the intestine thing, then maybe it hasn't been communicated very well to the public, or maybe they really just aren't interested. But I'm sure he would just say I'm a biased astronomer.


At 2:55 PM, Blogger hoagieboy said...

Good lord, he is a bit pompous. I thought that Canadians were more understated than this.

You know, he may be right. It may be that there's nothing interesting on the comet (although at the smallest, it would strike me as strange that there were absolutely no spin-off technologies from sending a spacecraft this far on such a precise course.)

But the mindset that some science is more interesting than others is something that we as scientists must avoid for ourselves, and avoid passing on to others. All questions are interesting, and all questions are potentially earth-shattering. You never know what you're going to see when you put your head around the corner. (One of the things that drives me up the wall is when astronomers complain about the space station. Sorry, but all spending on space science/technology is good for astronomy as a whole. Maybe not your little fiefdom of astronomy, but that's not my problem.)

Yeah, NASA's got a great PR side to it. Is that NASA's fault. They're just trying to get attention for the (good) work that they do. If this guy wants more attention given to mice gut researchers, then he should write more stories about them. He should be advocating for more, better science teachers. He should be advocating more funding of all types of science.

But turning one branch of science against another, and being beligerent to well respected and peer reviewed studies is just dumb.

At 3:09 PM, Blogger maki-girl said...

He was educated in the U.S. and could very well be an American.

At 4:28 PM, Blogger hoagieboy said...

Ahh, my predjudice shows. In my simple mind, I think, "Why would an American go to Canada for a job. If he writes for a Canadian paper, he must be Canadian."

I see that I am wrong (potentially). I apologize for my thoughtlessness, and I apologize for my country if in fact we did send him to you.

Oh, and I thought that Candadian papers were smarter than to hire stupid Americans like this.

At 5:40 PM, Blogger maki-girl said...

Well, Canada is a little complicated sometimes. Americans actually do immigrate to Canada, especially when there's a war on. So we have a lot of Americans who came up during the Vietnam war.

But what's more important to know is that the Globe and Mail is a national *conservative* paper based out of Toronto. No one I know in Canada actually likes/respects this paper.

It is quite possible, too, that this guy doesn't even live in Canada but just writes science columns for the paper. Who knows?

Very big of you to apologize for a "maybe mistake" hoagie boy.


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