While sitting in the kick-off ASIC class this evening, a few unconnected things Dr. Ng and Dr. Sens said resonated with me. As Dr. Sens explained, one of the objectives of the course is to instill within everyone’s “personal discourse” (i.e. a topical phrase I just made up now which refers to the conversations we have with ourselves on particularly engaging topics) a reminder that there are always science and humanities-based point of views for any particular global issue.
Later on, Dr. Ng pulled up his poll on “which statements are not untrue” which arguably brought into light two questions addressing science literacy: one of science education, and the other of public communication (i.e. the bird choice). The way in which science is communicated through public media outlets can be as important as the material itself. That said, the meaning of the terminology used by both scientists and scientific journalists often misunderstood by the general public.
This came up in an earlier post of mine (here), written after I attended the Future Directions In Science Journalism Conference held at UBC last fall:
Although there was no shortage of interesting fodder for discussion at the conference, one particular chord rang loud and clear among all the journalists in the crowd: the definition of “theory”. Theory means very different things to scientists and the public. Furthermore, as it seems to me, many scientific words have been either anthropmorphized or over generalized by journalists, and thusly have taken on altered, unique definitions in the collective public mind.
So, given the large diversity of students enrolled in the course (and, hopefully reading this post…), I thought I’d ask you, future enlightened global citizen of planet Earth, how you might describe a few common scientific ideas that are also hot-button topics in popular science writing and news:
- Scientific method
- Statistical uncertainty
Don’t worry about coming up with the “correct” answers, since that really isn’t the point of this exercise – keep it real.
I’ll start things off with a few of my own off-the-cuff definitions in the comments section below…