Via B2DaW, Chris Mooney reflects on science and PR…

Science needs both to create new knowledge and also to disseminate it effectively so that that knowledge has an impact–so that it changes the world in a positive way. Why on earth would these two important ends be set in opposition to each other?

Why should “new knowledge” be expected to “change the world in a positive way“? Such an assumption bears the determinism of the faithful (and is rather more utopian at that). Perhaps, then, Mooney believes that science needs to be more like production: some root up ingredients; others mix them palatably, and yet further white-coat wonders box ‘em up and advertise.

Working out how something’s going to “change the world“, however, and deciding whether this would be a benefit or otherwise, isn’t a particularly scientific task. It’s fraught with speculations that may be impossible to test and, therefore, it’s subject to all the biases of prejudice. It hinges on more variables than a patient mind can grasp. It is, in other words, a downright sloppy procedure: one that lurches between science, ethics, theory and plain guesswork.

Sure, this might not be a problem if you’ve, say, devised a gadget that makes vegetables sprout in chocolate-flavoured tablet form. If you’re researching explosives, though – toxins; AI; nanotech – the responsibility might be somewhat heftier. Scientists engage themselves with clear-eyed study of the world; perhaps they need to be visionaries, ethicists  and policymakers as well, but let’s not just blithely add it to their job descriptions.

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