Just posted to our site, from Brian Konzman, S.J.:
The fifth annual World Science Festival took place over five days in New York City in June. (You can find my blog posts from the festival here.) I attended four events on a range of fascinating topics, from the “elusive neutrino” to the disruptive technological power of the Internet. What was perhaps most intriguing, though, was one theme that pervaded all of the discussions. The panelists at each forum described how they struggled more with a crisis of public faith in their work than unraveling the mysteries of the universe. The gap between science and public understanding seems to be greater than ever.
The talks represented a fair sampling of the diversity of scientific research today. “How We Bounce Back: The Science of Human Resiliency” brought to light new research in the field of trauma recovery. “The Elusive Neutrino and the Nature of the Cosmos” concerned the science of some of nature’s tiniest, most difficult to detect subatomic particles. The grandiosely-titled “Internet Everywhere: The Future of History’s Most Disruptive Technology” brought tech-savvy thinkers together to discuss how the Internet has impacted society and how it might evolve further in the future. Finally, “Pandemic Fix: Seeking Universal Vaccines” examined the state of vaccine research and immunization today.
The panelists spent as much time talking about perceptions of their work as the work itself. Physicists bemoaned the lack of support from the public, and therefore from Congress, for projects critical to the advancement of fundamental particle physics like the cancelled Superconducting Super Collider. Epidemiologists signaled their alarm and disgust with recent outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases, with thousands of cases of mumps on the east coast and tens of thousands of whooping cough on the west. Social psychologists complained of an entrenched popular psychology that damages victims of trauma, while the architects of the Internet try to counter the abandonment of the net’s foundational, dispersed-computing principles represented by the cloud.
This growing awareness of public skepticism might shock some scientists. After all, advances in our collective knowledge have led to marvels like modern medicine, space travel and mass transportation. When it comes to the scientific facts of anthropogenic global warming or the extensively shown safety of vaccinations, then, one might expect the public to give similar credence to researchers. It does not. Gallup polls indicate that greater numbers of Americans than ever think that the media greatly exaggerate the seriousness of global warming, leaving many scientists bewildered, wondering what causes this too-common ignorance and what to do about it.
Read the full review here.