Charles Basenga Kiyanda

An interesting talk

I saw a talk this week, by John Fleck, science writer for the Albuquerque Journal. It was an interesting talk by all measures. Titled “Communicating Science: What the News Media Can Do, and What It Can’t”, I would have entitled it “Science Writing for General Audience Publication: How I do my job”.

Of most interest to me, was the discovery that, while trained in philosophy, this man was quite well versed or at the very least aware of what science really is, how it’s done, how to approach it, etc. Assuming he’s a representative sample of science writers, it made me realize that the divide between those who do science and those it impacts may not be in the news media (or the middle man, as I’d like to call it), but rather between those who write for news media and those who read it.

In developping (well, thinking about) the great idea I’ve been outlining on these pages, I’ve been thinking it should include tools for scientists to communicate (or at least to motivate scientists to communicate) outlying scientific ideas (to paraphrase a dicotomy Fleck used between the “core of a scientific subject” and the “outlying science in a field”) to the general public. In that sense, I’m suggesting we do exactly what I hinted at when asking Fleck a question after his talk. Cut the middle-man.

Traditionally, we have worked in a “proxyfied” way. I make science. I speak to a reporter. The reporter speaks to the people. If you’ve seen the movie “Office Space” (and if not, I highly recommend it), you might recognize one of it’s characters.

“I deal with the clients so the engineers don’t have too. I have people skills! What’s wrong with you people! Can’t you see that!”

I was happy to hear Fleck agree with me and encourage the audience to communicate directly to the public, blog,… I was concerned, although I did expect it, to hear him admit that, regarding communicating scientific developments to the general public,”It’s hard.”

All in all a good talk, although I would have like something a bit more confrontational. I would have liked Fleck to bring forward his vision for how we ought to bridge the divide between the world and the geeks. I like to think my idea could be it. (I often have visions of grandeur and live happily despite it.) We’ll see, although for that, I’ll need to find someone who’s much better at coding these things than I’ll ever be. Anyone interested? The job is open. Flexible hours, can work from home, you get an equal share of the company and no pay. Deal?

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