mirrorshard: (Terrella)
[personal profile] mirrorshard
I went to UCL yesterday evening, in the delightful company of [livejournal.com profile] midnightmelody, [livejournal.com profile] thalassius, and [livejournal.com profile] fu_manchu12, to see the UK premiere of Randy Olson's documentary. We met up with a not entirely unexpected [livejournal.com profile] owlfish there, and went for a pleasant dinner and discussion. The film purports to be about the Intelligent Design flap in the US, but the real subject is science communication, and the asymmetry between the sides.

Nearly everyone he interviewed on the pro-evolution side was a scientist, and tended to speak (if inarticulately) from that standpoint, usually from Authority, as though hoping that if only the other side knew the Truth they'd change their minds. The other side, though, pushed doubt, questions, and ordinariness - no obvious anti-elitism, but the subtext was there.

I took some notes during the panel discussion afterwards (with Dr Ric Whaite, theology tutor at Trinity College, Oxford; Dr Jeremy Jackson from Scripps Oceanography Institute; and Dr Jane Gregory from the Dept. of Science and Technology Studies at UCL) and for a miracle most of them are still legible. So herewith.

  • All the Designer hypotheses I've seen have envisioned an external designer. The other option would be some sort of nightmarish lovechild of Spinoza and Teilhard de Chardin, a self-optimizing emergent collective whatchamacallit.
  • (From Ric Whaite) Metaphors of conflict everywhere - can't we find something else to work with? The sides seem irreconcilably opposed.
  • (From Jane Gregory) They're not talking to each other, not discussing, they're posing and making Statements. (my note) Whether they can talk depends, obviously, on whether they work to the same grammar, speak the same language. I've got a cryptic note here saying "aims, not methods", which I can only interpret as focusing on what they want rather than how the other side works - eg. the scientists' elitism or the anti-evolutionists' wilful disregard for truth.
  • A lot of the science teaching in this country (the audience member who commented on this used the example of A-level biology) amounted to stamp collecting and memorizing lists. Kat did note at the end that GCSE science, at least, was becoming more process oriented.
  • Simplistic story-oriented teaching can lead to ingrained teleology.
  • When arguing, the important thing is to unpack your position, stick to what you actually know about, and thou canst not then be false to any man. Sounds obvious, but it's very hard to do in practice. And, of course, to respect the intelligence of nonspecialists. Sometimes it looks like there's so many levels of understanding they need to go through, so much basic knowledge, before they Understand, but that may partly be due to the series of Lies-to-Children the UK school system - and I presume others too - put us through.
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