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Friday
Jan272012

Hey, again, Chris Mooney...

Hi, Chris.

Your response was very thoughtful -- and educational! the connection to Haidt's moral psychology research added an important dimension -- as always. Thanks!

As you can see, in "Hey Chris Mooney ...," I didn't actually have in mind the project to advance the science of science communication.

I also didn't -- don't -- have in mind the "framing of science" as a communication strategy aimed at promoting support for enlightened policies, better democratic deliberations, etc., as valuable as those things might be.

I have in mind the idea that enjoyment of the wonder, as well as the wisdom, of scientific knowledge should be viewed as a good that a Liberal society enables all its citizens readily to enjoy without regard to their moral or cultural or ideological or religious orientations.

I think our Liberal society isn't doing this as well as it should. 

I'm pretty sure that it is a lot easier to build into one's life the thrill of seeing our species resolve the mysteries of nature (inevitably revealing even more astonishing mysteries) if one has a particular set of cultural commitments (ones I have, in fact) than if one has a very different set.  

The reason, in my view, is not that there is something antagonistic to science in the latter set of commitments.

Rather, it is that the content of the information that science communicators are conveying (with tremendous craft; some people are happy to be alive in the age of the microwave oven or on-demand movies; I am glad to be here when it possible to get continuous streams of great science reporting from sources like ScienceNowNot Exactly Rocket ScienceDot Earth, etc.) tends to be embedded in cultural meanings that fit one outlook much better than another. 

That's why I mentioned the "hypothetical citizen" (who is not hypothetical) who wants science to show him or her all the miraculous devices in God's workshop. He or she gets just as much of a thrill in getting to know something about how much our species knows as I do, but doesn't get to experience it nearly as readily or as easily. 

And that bothers me. It bothers me a bit because it might well be contributing to the pathology that is attacking the discussion of climate change in our society. But more, it just bothers me because I think that that's just not the way things should be in a good society.
 

For sure, the science of science communication is a source of insight on how to deal with this problem.

But if the Liberal Republic of Science is suffering from this sort of imperfection (I truly think it is; do you feel otherwise?), then it is science journalists and related professionals (e.g., science documentary producers) who will have to remedy it -- by including attention to this goal in their shared sense of mission, and by using all the knowledge they can gather from all sources (including their own practical experimentation) to carry it out.

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Reader Comments (3)

"it just bothers me because i think that that's just not the way things should be in a good society."

For all the mentioning of "Liberalism" with a capital-L that is done here, your reasoning here surprisingly is coming out of an Aristotelian left field. You're determining what's right by the good. In fact, you couldn't have this complaint on purely liberal reasoning, could you? It makes me wonder if liberal reasoning isn't the reason people don't care about things like this. Do you agree?

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterUdo Canis

No, I disagree. I think access to-- meaningful intellectual participation in-- knowledge of what we know as a species is a "primary good": something the value of which can be assumed b/c of its contribution to the acquisition and exercise of the capacity to form an individual conception of the good. Accordingly, distribution of it can figure in a Liberal appraisal of the quality of a society's institutions.

I think people care & don't care for lots of reasons. But I suspect many who *do* care -- for reasons a Liberal should -- about the opportunity to participate in knowledge-of-what-we-know just *don't see* that it can be threatened by a deficit in culturally congenial meanings for communicating the content of such information.

But Aristotelian left field is a not altogether unappealing place. Who is out there, do you suppose? The young Alisdair MacIntyre?

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterdmk

I suppose. My objection would be that this seems to be an example of how liberalism sacrifices neutrality for coherency. We're supposed to not know our own beliefs about what is valuable in life behind the veil. But we also can't decide what is good while not knowing what is good. Determining "primary goods" requires a conception of the good life and is thus straight Aristotelianism. And if we're doing Aristotelianism, can't we just admit it? Wouldn't that help the discourse? Moreover, there appears to be no uncontested "thin conception of the good," as is evidenced by Rawls's conclusion that support for abortion prohibition is unreasonable in light of primary goods.

December 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterUdo Canis

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