Adam Savage, Phil Plait, and Veronica Belmont Talk Science

Adam joins Phil Plait (Bad Astronomy blog) and Veronica Belmont on stage at Dragon*Con 2013 to talk about the challenges and responsibilities of communicating science to the public in popular media. Just how much science are viewers supposed to take away from an hour-long television show?

Comments (6)

6 thoughts on “Adam Savage, Phil Plait, and Veronica Belmont Talk Science

  1. Every time I hear Adam retell the Rick Santorum story and says he’s teaching his kids to think critically I think, “… well SOMEBODY has to!”

  2. Adam’s bit on public speaking as a scientist really struck a cord with me; On Thursday I’m giving a tutorial to some PhD students and researchers about some advanced programming concepts, and as an undergraduate computer science student I don’t exactly have a lot of experience addressing a crowd of more than a few people.

    P.S. This video alone makes my weekend at MetaCon seem boring (and I met Billy West!), I’ll have to make a road trip down to Dragon Con next year.

  3. “Hey
    um so as someone who’s studied evolutionary biology I have noticed that there
    seems to be some hostility to science a lot in the political realm and just in
    the public in general, in terms of evolution, in terms of climate science and
    things like that and definitely, you know, shows that popularize science are
    good for that, but do you guys see some other strategies for um helping people to
    understand the importance of science and uh you know actually realize that it’s
    a good and important part of our lives and not something to be feared or
    laughed at.” (22:40)

    An
    open letter to Adam Savage and other truth seekers.

    I
    am hoping that somehow Adam Savage can maybe get a chance to read this, after
    all Twittering this to him 140 characters at a time would be ponderously
    ridiculous I think all would agree. In the very least I am hopeful that this
    could start a dialogue, maybe clear some misconceptions, who knows.

    First
    a little about me. When I was a kid I was a hair’s-width away from having a
    literal hunger for learning. I actually got caught in class for doodling. What
    was I doodling? A picture of a Trilobite which happened to be two chapters
    ahead of what the rest of the class was on, so the teacher didn’t know what to
    do with me: I’m ahead in class but I was doodling. I remember at one point the
    teacher had asked the class if we wanted to go to the lavoratory. Now everyone,
    what’s that? Of course. Yet to a seven-year-old child I thought test-tubes, Bunsen
    burners, the twirly glass tubes. Oh I was so disappointed, the only chemicals
    were the urinal cakes.

    So
    I actually have an affinity for science. I work with computers, which makes me
    very logical-minded. I’m a closet geek, peeking out with a toe out the door,
    here’s to that then. I hope that what I want to talk with you can be discussed
    between two (or with the audience) science lovers.

    Let
    me ask, since you’re probably the closest thing to an expert in the Scientific
    Process than I am, how does this sound? Ask a question, research on that question
    to see what’s out there related to the question, plan out and execute tests and
    experiments to prove or disprove towards that answer, record the process and
    the results, and finally have others re-run and verify with peer review. Essentially.

    Here’s
    where my problem lies, and hence why I started with that quote. Up to that point I don’t recall any discussion
    about politics, maybe I’m wrong. There was talk about 52 mm, a “come-hither”
    pose, the moon’s luminescence, yet I don’t recall a hint of politics.

    Yet
    right out the gate someone comes with a political question. Was Dragon*Con a
    political event? Were there cosplayers of Hillary Clinton and Ann Coulter? The
    question itself, and I believe the tone of the response, was basically anyone
    who disagreed must therefore be “anti-science”, like Rick Santorum ha ha ha. “I
    have noticed that there seems to be some hostility to science a lot in the
    political realm and just in the public in general.” Oh there can’t be any
    actual reason why anyone has questions, must be hostility. Debate is hostility.
    And the “political realm”. This is where I feel her question falls apart. Science is not political.

    Since
    she mentions Climate Science let’s go with that first. Do I believe in Global
    Warming? Yes. I also believe in Global Cooling, it’s call “weather”. I do note
    a phenomenon, however I also note the changes in terminology to suit a specific
    purpose. That’s key. It was Global Cooling in the 70’s, the 80’s had Acid Rain,
    then El Nino and la nina, Global Warming, and now it’s “Climate Change”. Fifty
    years of “we’re all gonna die”, from the discredited “Population Bomb” book on
    up to “An Inconvenient Truth”. So my observation of the process has been
    instead: determine the result that’s desired, then work the tests backward. Any
    and all data that falls out of the pre-conceived “answer” is ignored, peer
    review is not applied.

    That’s
    the appearance that I and others are noting. Granted, it may not be true, I’ll
    readily concede that. However when you have emails from East Anglia showing
    they suppressed data that didn’t conform to their desire for that “hockey stick”
    projection, as well as hiding evidence, to me that doesn’t bode well. Instead
    of the rest of the scientific community rumbling in mass protest at their
    behavior, it’s defended and the falsified data re-used.

    Again,
    that’s the appearance. There may be something going on, but how can we trust
    the results when it does appear to be tainted from the start? What should have
    happened is a) every member of that team and anyone using the data should be
    denounced, no one should ever work in that field again, b) re-run the
    experiments from scratch if necessary, sure it may require ten times the work
    but it’s not the skeptics’ fault, it’s these bozos, make them pay it, c) you
    hold off the announcement of the results until the data is checked, re-checked,
    peer reviewed, and then triple checked again.

    Instead
    what we have is a Search-and-Destroy mission on anyone who, shudder, has a
    different opinion. So there are warming trends. I also see articles where the
    same temperature gradient is occurring on the other planets, maybe the Sun has
    something to do with it? No, that’s taken out of the equation. Instead we’re
    left with….fossil fuels. As you mentioned the 21 pound myth, someone got a set
    of data and ran with it, “the skies are falling”. And this is where you lose
    me.

    This
    is the problem I’m having, with her question specific but the attitude in
    general. I care for science, yet I am seeing science being used to determine
    public policy. And of course you can’t disagree or debate, they’re scientists,
    pure and wise. Yet if they’re wrong or they manipulate the data, draw the wrong
    conclusions, doesn’t matter. SCIENCE. A few centuries ago it was religion that
    was used to determine public policy. Only then they burned the heretics, today
    they call you “deniers” and “anti-science” for daring to disprove the orthodoxy.

    I
    have a huge problem with the corrupting and politicization of Science for
    specific ends. And it’s only one-sided, after all every year we see advances in
    neo-natal imaging that shows the unborn baby, yet that can’t be allowed in
    public debate?

    “But
    the debate is too important, lives are at stake!” OK, if you increase the
    stakes from just a small lake to an entire planet you better have the data to
    back it up. Second, there are many aspects of life that are “too important”,
    doesn’t mean you don’t discuss it reasonably. Science is not knee-jerk. Third,
    you don’t create public policy just because “lives are at stake” and we’re all
    in a panic. If that were true why didn’t we quarantine all the AIDS patients in
    the 80’s?

    “Mr.
    Savage, we’ve found out you have cancer. Since ‘lives are at stake’ we’re going
    to strap you to this gurney and pump you with chemo drugs… oh quit your
    belly-aching, you’re in denial… oh wait…You’re not ‘Randy Savage’? oh. oops.”

    We
    then get this attitude that if anyone questions, comments, complaints, queries,
    or outright doesn’t buy the snake-oil that’s being peddled, the conclusion is
    that “must be neo-Dark-Agers, anti-science troglodytes, pft.” Um, no, it’s
    called being a skeptic, it actually used to be normal in science.

    The
    manner and methodology that’s being used tells people that the only way to get
    the point across is for some scientists to cheat. Again, that’s the appearance,
    but that’s the appearance that they themselves are presenting, so they have no
    right to complain. We’re seeing with the firestorm in baseball for example how
    a nation feels about those who cheat, what makes the science field think that
    makes them exempt?

    If
    the scientists came forth with the Global Warming theories, that’s something to
    discuss. Yet when the methods are questioned we get Al Gore declaring “the
    debate is over”. Oh really? Well then we should stop funding the research,
    after all the answers have been found. We can use that money for AIDS research
    or the cure for cancer. Ridiculous? Yes, it is. What point since the Renaissance
    has anyone said “ok we have all the answers, so you can stop what you’re doing”?

    The
    answer is never the goal, it’s the constant asking of questions. When this is
    hijacked for personal and political gain people notice, people take offense,
    and people can no longer trust in that branch of Science. It’s not “hostility”,
    we’re paying attention to the corruption and how it’s being used to affect
    people’s lives.

    So
    I rail at the corruption, the hypocrisy, the waste. Use something else besides
    Science, leave the test-tubes for scientists, not Congress. As the left is so
    fond of saying, “keep you laws out of my womb”. Fine, keep your politics out of
    my science.

  4. Favorite part “There is a US Top Gear?”. Spot on – UK Top Gear is only Top Gear. We need to get Adam to drive the reasonably priced car!

  5. I hope the number of comments to this video isn’t indicative of how many watched it. That was fantastic! Veronica’s reaction to the mere mentioning of Mike Rowe was hilarious. I… may or may not would have had a similar reaction.

  6. I don’t feel like there’s a contradiction between science and religion…. that’s what bothers me… people don’t want to accept science on the basis of religion and as a devout Christian I don’t see anywhere where the two don’t mesh.

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