Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Science education’s next frontier

It has been interesting to see the nucleation, aggregation, and subsequent metamorphism of the science blogosphere over the past 7 years. In general, I suspect that it has been good for science education, and there has been a concerted effort by many to reach out to women, atheists, and minorities who generally have more trouble leading successful scientific careers in the white English speaking world.  This is good, although the fact that this outreach has intensified after the deprofessionalization of science makes it a less effective tool for lifting people out of poverty.

There is one group, however, that has by-and-large been excluded from the recent wave of on-line science educators, commentators, and promoters.  The are conservatives.  There are very few outreach programs aimed at making science interesting and accessible to conservatives in English speaking countries. 

Back in the good old days of the cold war, this was not a problem.  The great mass of conservative scientists and engineers who designed and built the weapons of the cold war know that science and technology were crucial to beating the Soviets, so there was no need to reach out to them.  But times have changed.  Military engineers no longer keep California a reliably Republican state, the cold war is long over, and the prominent, respectable suburban private research parks of the 20th century have mostly closed their doors.

Why does this matter?  Because conservatives are numerous and influential.  In the white English speaking world, they control the House of Representatives in the USA, and the Canadian, British, Australian, and New Zealand governments.  The flight of scientific research out of the suburbs and into universities has had the effect of alienating scientists from conservatives, and vice versa.  This is not good for either group.

Conservative who don’t have access to sound scientific advice are likely to make policy mistakes.  At the same time, Scientists who engage conservative in an adversarial manner are less likely to be funded by these governments.  So it is in everyone’s interest to stop taking cheap shots at each other and find a way of effectively communicating.

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