I’m on a business trip to my hometown (y’all, I always forget about humidity), ahead of a family wedding in the northeast this weekend. I gave my presentation this morning, did pretty damn well if I don’t say so, and it’s funny remembering me of a few years ago. I’d have needed a tranq dart to the neck for any hope of speaking slowly enough to be heard, and I’d probably have pissed myself. Now, easy peasy, and it’s even kind of fun.
During the afternoon session of the conference, one woman presented about science communication and community engagement, and I was struck by something. One of her main points was that there is a very dichotomous dialogue between researchers and lay people, except that it actually parses into “good guys” versus “the government.” This came up again and again in focus groups she worked with – “get the government out of this, they are making it worse! They are covering up what’s really happening!” Her take home was that as academic researchers, if you want to really engage stakeholders (i.e. lay people and community members), you have to clearly establish early and often that you are NOT the government.
So that’s well and good, but it got me thinking – I am often very snarky about that sort of hard line anti-government attitude as it seems really ignorant to me, BUT I tend to kind of pass the buck – I say/think that the scientists are all fine, we aren’t biased, we are doing our best, it’s just that CONGRESS is screwing it all up in every possible way! And here’s the thing: isn’t that basically the same damn attitude, on some level, as the one that makes me roll my eyes? I don’t know shit about politics, when it comes down to it. Honestly I think everything I know I got from reading All the King’s Men. I don’t think anyone would disagree with me when I say that Congress and various bits of government aren’t working all that well, it’s not exactly sunshine and rainbows – but science isn’t, either. And it’s not for any simple reason, and it’s not necessarily because it’s broken – it’s way more complicated than that. And if I’m going to get all peeved when non-scientists try to conjecture or even just sum up something *I* happen to be an expert in, maybe I should stuff it when I feel like waxing philosophical about the inadequacies of Congress, etc. – maybe it’s a little more complicated than it seems at first glance.