People are scary in a way that think tanks are not

Perhaps without realizing it, Ta-Nehisi Coates once articulated the inductive, people-first approach to science literacy:

I think it’s really easy to become the sort of writer who reads reports from Brookings and analyzes charts and graphs, without ever having to talk to the people captured in the numbers. People are scary in a way that think tanks are not.

That last sentence is probably my single favorite in all of writing, ever. You can spend a lifetime reading articles in Public Understanding of Science, ingest everything Brian Wynne has said about expertise, and major in STS. Or you can reflect on the awesome power of that single sentence.

It’s easy to sit around wondering how it’s possible for someone to reject evolution and still think scientifically. It’s a lot harder to speak to and get to know the human beings who do just that. If we recognized that real people leading real lives can get along just fine even with their scientific illiteracy, maybe there would be no reason to judge them so harshly. Science outreach is easier if you actually respect the people being reached out to.

1 Comment

  1. Nice post.

    One comment, the juxtaposition of the first and third sentences of the last paragraph make it sound like you’re calling scientific people, who disagree with evolution, scientifically illiterate. I’m not sure if you meant to do that or not. 🙂

    Beautiful thought.

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