Why researchers should resolve to engage in 2017

I spent a long time thinking about how to engage meaningfully with nonscientists after the election (truth be told, I think a lot about engaging meaningfully with nonscientists all the time). And it turns out, the Nature Editorial Board is thinking about it too:

“Some would respond with ‘don’t bother’ — picking holes in science is just a ‘denialist’ tactic, and correcting such people will have no influence given the imminent new political shape of Washington DC. On the contrary, Nature persists in the belief that researchers who take action by engaging with people beyond their peers in support of the evidence can make a positive difference.”

Read about it over at Nature.

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How to Convince Someone When Facts Fail

The thing that scares me the most about the current political climate is the idea that we are living in a post-fact world.

As someone who works to validate evidence, and uses data to address question, the idea of coming to conclusion in the absence of such facts is terrifying, but the idea that other people don’t believe the evidence because it goes against their personal doctrine… I can’t express in words how fundamentally terrifying this has become.

Over at Scientific America, there is an excellent article about people who don’t believe facts and what’s to be done about how to proceed. 

In summary:

1. keep emotions out of the exchange, 2. discuss, don’t attack (no ad hominem and no ad Hitlerum), 3. listen carefully and try to articulate the other position accurately, 4. show respect, 5. acknowledge that you understand why someone might hold that opinion, and 6. try to show how changing facts does not necessarily mean changing worldviews.

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Elephant Refugees Flee to Last Stronghold in Africa

We’re not talking about refugees. Not the kind that are flocking to Europe from Syria, but the four legged kind that are being over hunted.

A national park in Botswana is struggling to support the staggering number of animals fleeing from poaching in other countries.

Read about it over at National Geographic!

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More expensive plastic bags = fewer plastic bags!

The number of plastic bags found on UK beaches has fallen by nearly half over the last year.

And it was all due to the massive cost of plastic bags now imposed on the British public! Just kidding, it’s only a 5p levy.

Read about it over at the guardian, and start implementing a levy on all plastic bags!

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Stand up for NIH funding

Elizabeth Warren recently posted a piece on Medium about a bill to help advance medical innovation in the United States. But, as she points out, this bill does not provide money to basic research funded through the NIH, but rather is meant to make it easier for pharmaceutical companies to make money by lying to the public.

Needless to say this is upsetting, and given the current funding rates and the tightening of the federal budget for scientific research (NIH funding was cut by 20% over the last dozen years…), this bit of science news should inspire you to call your senator or congressman.

Read the piece here, and remember: This is not normal.

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Make America Informed Again

One thing that sprung out of the 2016 Presidential Election is the role that fake news played in the spread of misinformation, and potentially lead to the current disastrous result.

Sometimes this is because the editorial staff has a slant on an issue that they are actively pushing. But sometimes there’s simply bad reporting because it’s easier to do and can make you more successful than good reporting does. Even when addressing something as objective as science.

Think about it: a new study comes out, with a sweeping groundbreaking conclusion. There’s a press release that accompanies the study, if you’re a journalist do you:

  1. Only write about it if you, yourself, are an expert in the field, capable of digging into the details and evaluating it in the context of everything else known yourself?
  2. Consult with a slew of experts, assuming you’re not one yourself, to ensure you evaluate the release properly — as best you can — before you craft your narrative?
  3. Call a few people to interview them, writing down quotes, so that when you write about the study and its conclusion, you can add in either affirming or dissenting opinions from experts?
  4. Or do you simply write a catchy headline designed to highlight the new, spectacular conclusions, and base your story entirely on the press release?

Forbes wrote an article addressing this exact problem. 

Or if you want the TL;DR version watch this Last Week Tonight clip, where John Oliver explains how important it is to understand science.

This Thanksgiving, Be Thankful for Science

In a deeply divided country, some people are dreading going home for the holidays. The anticipation of political conversation, about who voted for who, and about the racist, misogynist bigot who is planning to soon lead the United States.

So instead of talking through some of these issues (although I encourage civil discord!), the New York Times has given us a list of science and health stories from 2016 that you can discuss instead!

You could talk about how science views fat and what we know about weight loss! Or instead of talking about fleeing the country, perhaps consider a move to Mars instead! Or you can talk about dogs, and what science knows about their relationships! 

Or you can talk about climate change, funding rates, the importance of teaching evolution and minorities in STEM! Not recommended by the NYTimes but always recommended by NiB.

Also, consider subscribing to the New York Times.

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