Mooney argues for different approach to scientist-public dialogue

Author and journalist Chris Mooney wrote an article for the Washington Post on Sunday about scientific controversies. He argues that the root of the problem between the scientist-mainstream disconnect is a misunderstanding about what motivates the public.

The article, “If Scientists want to educate the public, they should start by listening,” introduces Mooney’s longer paper on the relationship between scientists and the public which releases today both online and at an event (PDF) at the American Academy of Arts and Science. American Association for the Advancement of Science President Alan Leshner, PhD, AAAS Executive Director Leslie Berlowitz and Resources for the Future scholar Robert Fri will attend.

Mooney emphasizes both in the Post article and on his blog that political outlook, not education, determines the way the average American digests scientific fact. For hot topic issues such as climate change, vaccinations and nuclear waste disposal, among many others, Mooney says that people judge information through an “ideological sieve.” Therefore a person may oppose the scientific consensus on climate change, for example, not because they are ignorant or uneducated in science, but because they fear the implications climate change policy may have on the economy.

Mooney addresses feedback in a second blog entry combating the dichotomy of arrogant versus stupid and arguing that the ignorant need to be more humble and the highly informed need to be more understanding of those who lack the intellectual training or learning resources to which they have access.

In his examination of problems, Mooney proposes a solution: Scientists must take social science research into account when determining the best way to present scientific findings to their audience long before the possibility of controversy leads to adamant views from both sides of the argument.

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