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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Coffee!! Pop science and popular culture: Skip the pedantry, just go for the effect?

According to Michael Brooks (New Scientist, 06 October 2009), in Don't be such a scientist, Randy "Flock of Dodos" Olson "advises,

DID you spot James Cameron's mistake in Titanic? Leo DiCaprio is about to drown in the north Atlantic ocean, yet the constellations of the southern hemisphere are aglow in the sky above.

Who cares? Scientists, apparently. The mistake "ruined" the movie for Neil de Grasse Tyson, director of New York's Hayden Planetarium, Randy Olson says.

It's the kind of reaction that gets scientists a bad rap, and Olson - himself a scientist and film-maker - suggests it pays to skip the pedantry and concentrate on the bigger picture. While small factual errors can be irksome, they are not life-threatening, he says - especially when the scientist is in control. If you want to get a message across to the public, don't obsess about facts.

Well, even better: Be a professional Darwinist (evolutionary biologist), and you can just plain make it up as you go along and call it science. Hey, you can even imagine the religious opinions of Old Stone Age man and call that science. Just skip the pedantry. If we agree that what you are saying is only entertainment, sure. I've said so myself.

On the other hand, if you are my dentist or my cat's vet, and you try that, I will complain to your professional society. How important pedantry is depends on the believability or significance of the body of evidence.

Find out why there is an intelligent design controversy:

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