Monday, November 24, 2008

Science Communicators?

Today's Guardian includes an interesting piece by Jim Al-Khalili on the role of what he calls "science communicators" in the public sphere. While one of their obvious functions is to communicate scientific developments in a way that an educated public can understand, he suggests a broader role:
I do feel strongly however that those scientists who have a voice must be doing more than simply popularising their field to attract the next generation into science. Yes, this is vital; but it is also vital that we help defend our rational, secular society against the rising tide of irrationalism and ignorance. Science communicators, for want of a better term for now, have a role to play in explaining not just the scientific facts but how science itself works: that it is not just "another way of viewing the world"; and that without it we would still be living in the dark ages.
Perhaps here is another place where philosophers of science can also make a contribution? There was good evidence of the potential for this at the PSA. While I missed several sessions on science and the public, there was a great series of papers relating to medical issues and broadly feminist epistemology. Susan Hawthorn, for example, gave an illuminating reconstruction of history and current practice of ADHD medicine, and Intemann and de Melo-Martin offered a critical reconstruction of the science behind the highly publicized HPV vaccine.

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