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Does Science Matter?

The justification of the role of science in daily life.

Narrator : Lesley Judd

[Please note one of the people interviewed in this programme is a policeman who supposedly are reliable witnesses of paranormal phenomenon.Also note that the adults interviewed were mostly at the side of a horse racing track,and like as not were betting people.]

Interviewer : Does the Earth go round the Sun?
Child : The Sun goes round the Earth.
Child : The Earth goes round the Sun.
Man : The Sun goes round the Earth.
Man : The Earth goes round the Sun.
Man : The Earth goes round the Sun.Hey chill out!
Man : The Sun goes round the Earth.
Child : The Earth goes round the Sun.
Woman : The Sun goes round the Earth.
Boy : The Sun goes round the Earth.
Man : (laughing incredulously at being asked) The Sun goes round the Earth.Sorry! The Earth goes round the Sun,for goodness sake!! (Woman giggles at his confusion)

Lesley Judd : A major survey revealed that as many as 2/3 of the British public were not aware that our Earth takes a year to go round the Sun.

Policeman : We take 24 hours to go right round.
[Don't you feel safe knowing such ignoramuses are patrolling the streets? And what about all those "beyond reproach" accounts of police officers? -LB]
Woman : 24 hours.
Boy : It doesn't take 24 hours,it takes....
Boy : A year.
Boy : ...17 hours.
Man : I would say it's a day.
Man : 24 hours usually!
Child : 365 days,366 in a leap year.
Man : 10 times it goes round a year.

Lesley Judd : The survey, carried out by London's imperial college,found that it's not just planet Earth spinning round the Sun,that causes problems.

Interviewer : What do you think DNA is,have you heard of it?
Girl : Oh is it um...dinosaurs...has it got something to do with dinosaurs?
Man : DNA? Anything to do with racing?
Boy : Antibiotics cure the viruses.
Man : Antibiotics do kill viruses.

Lesley Judd : The press felt Joe Public's apparent ignorance was a sensation.

Jane Gregory : (on the phone) Hi this is Jane Gregory from the Public Understanding of Science....

Lesley Judd : However the people who research science communication feel the research that shows a so-called "deficit" in knowledge is unhelpful.

Jane Gregory : Books like this one,"Cultural Literacy : What Every American Needs to Know" by E D Hersh,are an example of the deficit model of cultural knowledge.This book contains a list,which is called "What literate Americans know" and it contains things like Nimbus Clouds, Nirvana, Nitrogen Fixing, Nitrogenous Wastes, Noah and the Flood!
So it's a very broad range of things which apparently "every American needs to know". Don't know what else I can say about that,I mean it's obviously bollocks isn't it?

[Note that Jane's use of a term of reference for testicles to pronounce her disgust is not in itself offensive,since there is nothing wrong with testicles - 50% of us have them,and as a man I don't take exception to her exploiting my body parts as a term used to demean the literary list,even though one might consider that the implication is that associating something with the male reproductive process necessarily demeans it.It could actually be a celebration of the list's great reproductive capacity regardless of how socially beneficial it is. In general the less knowledge you have the less literate you're likely to be,and whether or not there is a "deficit",the fact is many people are stumped by scientific terminology or ideas,and in that they should be informed (see Breaking the Science Barrier),and aren't - there is a deficit.The essence of this programme tries to sell the idea that people have their own understanding which is different from,but just as valid as science,I don't agree. What I do agree with is that people formulate their own models,which may have peculiar application to their lives and which may be at odds with science.For example the OAP inversion of the concept of Heat and Cold - it maybe useful to OAP's but it's actually WRONG.It is not an alternative that's just as good,even though it's viable in their lives.It works for them because they are ignorant of how atoms need to be accommodated into the model.A simpler model thus allows a simpler or wrong conception which nevertheless may function in lieu of other information.Similarly,those who think the Sun goes round the Earth,this in fact is WRONG,no matter what they say,but in terms of getting up the next morning and expecting daylight it makes little difference.Those that invert this idea have a "warped reality model" based on observational evidence and intuitions.This is why one should not trust one's senses,and gain a proper understanding,which necessitates doing science -LB]

Lesley Judd : The Lab.The public perception of science as abstract,extracting hard facts,so why not just teach the public these facts.But in the study of public understanding of science, there are no hard facts.

John Durant : I have a pretty unusual job.I was appointed to be a Professor of Public Understanding of Science,would you believe? [The public just believe John,so no problem there! -LB] There's a lot of debate about what you mean by "public understanding of science".In fact it's been said that there are only 3 problems with the phrase, the first is public, then science, and then understanding.

James le Fanu : I mean the world is full of bullshit,and the question is how you distinguish the bullshit from,you know,the grains of truth, I suppose,and so know,we couldn't live our lives unless you were able to do that,and science tells us one very powerful way,I mean there are others,of being able to do that.
[What other ways? Everything else creates false world models,that's the problem -LB]

Sue Blackmore : People often think that science is a kind of great body of knowledge,but that's really not the most important thing about what science is.It's a method - a way of going about things - the method that says, "Well hang on,what's this like? How does it work? I'll find out by going and asking questions,doing experiments and get my answer that way". [As Jacob Bronowski pointed out in the last "Ascent of Man" all the other methods create the last Commandment of "Thou shalt not ask why". The "Just believe" process means that people become Dawkins' "gullible credulity cows" and do not check that what they believe is actually true.This does not create another valid truth,but a subjective personal belief,that only has validity to the person.Science attempts to create what is true REGARDLESS of what the person wishes to believe,and thus say what the world is like to everyone,that is why it is NOT just another belief system,that one either accommodates or not according to one's whims - LB] That's the essence of science,and I think that's what we need to teach people,not the facts and theories which change from year to year,decade to decade. [Exactly -LB]

Edgar Jenkins : I think science's rather historical tendency to overstate it's claims,particularly educational claims,but sometimes economic claims,but ultimately it cannot sustain,it's overburdened with those responsibilities.So there is a sense in which I'm arguing for science to be more honest with itself,because that way I think it's bluff is less likely to be called.
[Why water down the claims of science just so it's bluff won't be called? If there is any truth in what it says it should be able to prove it's case IF it's bluff is called,that's the whole point! -LB]
1st Man : No,but I think I should say this,erm about 2 years ago I was in the veteran's hospital in Westhaven.
2nd Man : Mmm,hmm.
1st Man : And while there they detected a heart condition,it's nothing serious,but as long as I'm having these shocks,how strong are they? How dangerous .......?

Lesley Judd : In the post-war era,a gray technicians coat was enough to make 2/3 of some volunteers obey outrageous demands in a famous American experiment about obedience.

Predicted and Actual Compliance

The upper curve presents the Milgram data and shows the percentage of subjects who remained obedient in the situation, continuing to administer shocks as the voltage increased. The lower curve is from a study in which role-playing subjects reenacted the Milgram experiment and attempted to predict what percentage of the actual subjects would continue to be obedient as shock increased. The role-playing subjects vastly underestimated the magnitude of the situational forces and the likelihood of obedience in the Milgram situation. (After Rierbrauer, 1973) [Hilgard's Psychology p645]

Conformance Data

(Buzzer sounds)
Man : Wrong! 165 volts.Time.
Actor : Uggh!
Man : (worried) Huh!
Actor : Let me out!
Man : (concerned) That guys hollerin' in there.

Lesley Judd : Electric charges were inflicted by the volunteers,who,entirely unaware their victim was an actor,obeyed the needs of what they believed was a scientific experiment.

Man : He's got a heart condition there.D'you want me to go?
Mock Scientist : The experiment requires that you continue teacher.
Man : Yeh?! 330 volts.
Actor : (screaming) Arrrrrghh!!
Man : Crrrrrrmp!
Actor : Let me out of here! Let me out of here,my hearts bothering me.Let me out of here.
Man : (concerned snigger) Hch,hch,hch.
Actor : You've no right to hold me here.

Advert : Even when they're not working,TEFAL scientists never stop....

Lesley Judd : By the early 90s the status of science was apparently so low that an ad using a technological image to sell household products was dropped due to a perceived fall in the status of scientists.

Advert : It's brain power like this that invented the TEFAL long-life tap water steam iron.

Greg Infeld (TEFAL) : During the 80s the perception of scientists changed,because people felt that they could take decisions themselves,they didn't feel that a man in a white coat was the right advisor for steam irons.They had probably been buying 4-5 steam irons in their life. Most consumers know how to iron,and they know what to look for.They don't regard a man in the white coat as the right advisor. There was a certain loss of credibility with the image of the white coats.We tried to counteract that with placing the brains in an atmosphere at home,wearing sweaters,but the white coats really stuck to the egg-heads.

Advert : Good news eh?

Lesley Judd : For their part,government and leading scientists,set up schemes to improve the understanding of science.
[So much for the criticism that scientists haven't done anything to help the public. The fact is the public have to meet them half way and haven't done so -LB]

Intro | The Practical Case | The Economic Case | The Democratic Case | The Cultural Case





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