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The Sufferings of Carl Seagan: The Mistakes That Caught the Promoters of Science

مصائب کارل سیگن: خطاهایی که مروجان علم را گرفتار می‌کند

One day an American astronomer told us about an image captured by the Voyager 1 spacecraft from our planet. What Carl Siegen narrated from this faint blue dot became a symbol of world peace and an ideal for many propagandists. Science promoters are professionals who try to improve their community by connecting science and people. But have they succeeded in portraying Signan’s ideals? In this article, we will look at the mistakes that often trap science promoters.

Science and pseudo-science: Philosophy enters

There are many definitions of science and pseudo-science, but one of the best definitions that can be given to them is as follows: “Science is the pursuit and use of knowledge as well as the understanding of the natural and social world using a systematic method based on evidence ».

“While pseudo-science includes propositions, ideas, or practices that claim to be both scientific and factual, they are not compatible with the scientific method.” Like the fanatical belief in the existence of space aliens. To be more specific, the main assessment of a scientific claim is based on these two principles:

  • Repeatability: That is, we can repeat what happened in a similar laboratory setting. This principle gives us the power of prediction that makes science practical.
  • Revocability: That is, we can confirm or deny a claim by testing it. This principle gives a scientific claim the ability to be definite. In fact, all scientific propositions follow uncertainty and are cross-sectional; For example, if we talk about Newton’s first law, it is a cross-sectional law, meaning that it does not necessarily apply to all temporal and spatial scales, and it has uncertainty, meaning it may be rejected in the future.

Unfortunately, a significant percentage of science promoters lack philosophical knowledge in this area, which can lead to errors in many discussions, or failing to respond, or misrepresenting something. A science promoter must use scientific methodology and critical thinking as the basic tools to reduce his error.

Cognitive errors: When being human gives us work

Reproducibility and falsifiability add to science a property that is unbiased. But contrary to science, we humans are biased by evolution and the environmental conditions we have.

However, our minds try to use a specific algorithm to accurately understand, process, or memorize this information so that the process is as logical as possible. But we all have mental errors that disrupt this process. We call them “cognitive errors.”

There is a long list of cognitive errors, and here are some examples of errors that cause the promoters of science to make mistakes:

  • Verification error: It is the tendency to seek and evaluate information that confirms our previous beliefs; While discarding information that proves our beliefs to be incorrect. This error destroys the impartiality of the debate; Perhaps someone who makes a claim in the realm of pseudoscience uses the right arguments and references. So we should not just wait for our words to be confirmed and the debate to end as soon as possible, because there is no competition in promoting science. Verification error in the media causes a phenomenon called “echo chamber”.

An echo room is an environment in which a person encounters only information or opinions that reflect and reinforce their opinions. In news discussions, the echo chamber refers to situations in which certain ideas are reinforced by repetition and communication within a closed system, and opposing ideas are eliminated.

Therefore, if the platform for the promotion of science is in the hands of a few people on social media, the opinions of others will be less heard or not even heard.

  • Label: We attribute a very general negative trait to ourselves or others. In this case, if we do not like the background of the audience, we can not interact properly with the audience. This happens a lot in dealing with people who believe in pseudo-science because many promoters of science talk to them with a negative mental background.
  • Negative filter: We focus exclusively on the negative aspects and rarely focus on the positive aspects. One of the strange examples that has long been heard from a significant number of science promoters was the statement, “Psychology is not science!” While cognitive psychology is the science in which we deal with cognitive errors.
  • Judicial approach: We judge our own and others’ thoughts based on arbitrary criteria and tastes and evaluate them in black and white (good and bad or high and low). If there is an argument between the scientific promoters themselves who are not happy with each other, it often happens that the documented and reasoned professionals judge them with resentment and thus no progress is made. This even leads to the sanctification of some scientists and even some propagandists of science and creates imaginary and invisible schools such as Darwinism and Feynmanism.

All of this may make us a promoter of extremist science; So it is better to learn more by doubting our knowledge in the interactions we have than to be an extremist promoter.

Specialization: Bad-tempered promoters

Scientific ethics dictates that as promoters of science, if we do not have expertise in the field, we should not talk about it or comment on it.

People like Richard Feynman or Neil Diegris Tyson represent that. But it happens that some promoters of science talk about a large number of branches of science, which makes the audience can not delve into the relevant topic, and if he asks a deep question, he is more likely to hear the wrong answer or remain unanswered.

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Faulty network: Relationships alone are not enough

We know from research in network science that performance builds success, but when performance is not measurable, networks lead to success. The performance of a science promoter can be measured with the help of clear and transparent criteria such as scientific method, expertise, narration skills, and so on.

But usually in a developing and fledgling society, networking helps people reach their destination sooner. As a result, today we are witnessing a crisis of scientific influencers, a significant part of whom, although they do not get an acceptable score in measuring the promotion of science, are trying to strengthen their networks through group promotions. This may be a problem for the audience in the future, as these influencers may not have sufficient scientific competence.

Three principles to sleep better at night

Given the issues raised, I would like to draw your attention to principles that can make the process of improving the promotion of science easier for us:

  • Usability: The question we have to ask ourselves is whether the methods of promoting our science work or not. There is a social error that causes us to be biased in answering this question: We believe that these methods work properly. Let’s look at a few examples. There are things that many people believe in, including the fact that we have enough knowledge about how to teach. There are large schools for teaching reading, writing, and math; Some of these schools even have methods that prepare students for the entrance exam. But if you look closely, you can see that the scores continue to go down or hardly go up because we are constantly using the same people to improve our methods. This is especially true for the generation of students who studied during the Corona. Although our tools have been updated, our methods have not improved. Another example is how criminals are treated. Obviously, we have not made any progress in reducing crime by the way we deal with criminals; Although we have achieved many theories, no real progress has been made in this area. In fact, the kind of question we’ve asked before is also a way to identify pseudo-science: “Does this so-called science work?” For example, we have many strange methods in traditional Iranian medicine. Fortunately, the principle of “usability” has simply shown that they are nothing more than illusions. This principle is quite simple: what you call “science” must work. Thus, one of the things that improves the strategy of a science promoter, before showing that pseudoscience does not work, is a clear explanation of where “science” works and, perhaps more importantly, “where” it does not work, which leads us to the principle The second one sends.

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  • Scientific honesty: In his lecture, Cargo Sect Science, Richard Feynman defines scientific honesty as follows: “It is a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of complete honesty, and nothing should be left out in this regard. The idea is to try to share all the information with others so that they can judge the value of your work; “Not just information that leads to judgment in a particular direction.” In order to avoid verification error, you must provide all the details that overshadow your interpretation; Of course, if you are aware of them. For example, if you explain a theory and propagate it, you should explain all the pros and cons along with the pros.

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  • Narration: One of the main issues that hinders our success as science promoters is the low quality of narration skills. If we do not know a usable way to inject our thoughts into the fabric of our target community, we will not be able to succeed in what we believe is “science promotion.” Unfortunately, there are almost no scientific writers in Iran; He is not even a “Walter Levine”. Most “science in plain language” books or other forms of science-promotional content are translated, rather than produced by indigenous experts. Nor is it the case that, like Einstein, we are unable to explain science to our grandmother; But since we do not have enough skills in narration, we can not really explain science to our grandmother. Of course, we should use better tools such as videocasts and podcasts, which are the most popular form of content among our audiences, educational portals and even scientific verification tools, we will certainly write a lot of science-fiction books, but if we do not improve our narration skills. Eventually none of this will work.

There is still a long way to go to promote science, especially in a country like Iran. Given the infancy of this developing community, it is better to do a deeper pathology in this field so that the seedlings of today will become a big tree without pests in the future. We will surely be closer to Carl Siegen’s vision that day.

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