Wednesday, April 20, 2005


The Misery of Reading Page One

Greg Little of Ad Astra magazine wrote the article linked above in the title of this post earlier today. I read it with that familiar sense of shared pain. Here is my response to the article.

Many of my comrades, co-workers, friends and relatives, as well as plenty of innocent bystanders, have been exposed to my cranky diatribes about how marginalized science reporting continues to be and how undervalued the true heroes of our economy, culture, and society currently are.

It's not just science reporting, either. It's a cultural snottiness about intellectualism.

I'm not really talking about the quasi-celebrated stuff like Apollo 13. A book, a movie, and a couple of awards are great. Increasing awareness of what we can and have accomplished is wonderful.

However, stepping out of Hollywood and away from one particular mission of one particular agency of one particular government, the true scope of actual and potential scientific activity should, if you have any sort of perception, dwarf that rocket ride and awe you into speechlessness.

The waste of time, treasure, and talent on silly crap is just plain criminal, especially since so much is spent on so little, and so little is spent on so much.

The constant droning whine of consumerism can seem deafening.

A world equally awash in pure scientific research isn't any fun, nor is it realistic. A healthy balance between mindless entertainment and awareness of the universe is what's necessary for the advancement of civilization.

When being a good citizen really means you're a good consumer, when citizens are only considered consumers, when material consumption is the only thing measured within society, then that society has ceased functioning as anything other than an economic machine. Reductionism never works. In the end, diversity, independence, and expression are what makes communities work.

So what to do?

Expect people to know what you are talking about when you talk about basic, fundamental, easy-to-appreciate science. Reject the sarcastic snotty remarks about how it's all over their heads. That is horse crap. It's one thing for someone to follow a discussion about high-energy accelerator research in Japan. It's quite another for someone to claim ignorance when you're talking about basic research, experiment, or exploration, when they are fully capable of understanding it.

If we act ashamed of our interest in science, then that sends the wrong message. Being unapologetic-yet-approachable, enthusiastic and undaunted, and concentrating hard on excellent communications skills is the only way to represent the invaluable importance of learning how our world works.

When a stupid article or story keeps clogging up the airwaves, creating its own press, then write a letter, express your opinion, and make sure that other people know where you stand. Refuse to be part of the gossip chain of low-quality news. Refuse to volulntarily fund it, refuse to consume it, refuse to let it pollute the surroundings you control.

If this sounds like censorship, then let me explain why it isn't. Censorship is when you examine and then purge the expressions of yourself or of others. Freedom of speech - the ability to express the thoughts of the individual - is absolutely vital. It's a basic right that should not be abridged.

However, no one requires you to continue to voluntarily expose yourself to low-quality communications disguised as news. Give some feedback, ask for changes, and move on. We are not big dumb cows that have no choice. We are individuals that deserve to be treated much better than big dumb cows.

Another danger is assuming that everyone else except for you and your geek clique is a big dumb cow, that placidly and passively accepts whatever is being currently plastered all over prime time news - Michael Jackson Trial, Robert Blake Trial, who's on Fear Factor... whatever.

This isn't really true. It's a conspiracy of contempt - contempt for other people - that might actually be just as dissatisfied as you are with the low quality of the news and the lack of real meaning in cultural correspondence. They may have different interests, styles, or levels of achievement. However, not every soccer mom is a vapid, mindless, handbag-buying effigy of the cult of the dollar. Not every middle-aged bank teller is a simpleton. Not every roofer is a dangerou, drug-addicted menace, preying on women in bars. Every single person can and should be motivated to support the advancement of our civilization. If this means a bit of discomfort and learning, then too bad! It's a small price to pay in the endless struggle to understand.

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