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October 04, 2007



Dale, very interesting comments. Having researchers themselves doing all the public spreading of information is one possible model, although costly. Costly since making information available in lay terms is hard, requires a broad scientific knowledge, and a lot of time. The other possible model is the so-called third culture (after the book by John Brockman), which is a more likely model in terms of spread. All that said, researchers with high impact are usually very good at getting their ideas across other disciplines and the general public.

Dale Hunscher


Excellent points. I follow Brockman's site ( as regularly as I can, and it is a cornucopia of insights.

Now, if only scientists dealing with the most critical problems were the most articulate and effective at communicating their insights to the public and to decision-makers! Imagine, for example, if Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth presentation had been available 25 years ago! Where would we be with respect to climage change today? I'd bet a lot better off.

Carl Sagan, on the other hand, communicated very effectively about cosmology, a field which will have slight impact on all of us. The movie Contact, which in many ways sums up his work even if he didn't contribute directly, is a great example. A wonderful story which will almost certainly never happen in our lifetimes.

On the other hand, our children and grandchildren will almost certainly have to deal with the effects of climate change in their lifetimes. These effects were almost certainly preventable, and can only be mitigated at this point. Inconvenient Truth will move us in that direction, but the degree of mitigation this will bring about is still to be determined. Unlike contact with alien species, we have considerable control overe our species' contribution to climate change.

There are other fields where this applies, perhaps none so momentous as climate change, but still with potentially catastrophic effects. I can think of a at least one other potentially critical topic whose scientific advocates are not communicating well - stem cell research. Great scientific advances will result from this area, and the US will be left in the dust unless the funding situation changes soon. Unfortunately it can only change when the scientific community overcomes the public perception that babies must be killed to make it happen.

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