The present problems with science communication are not only a result of mediocre writing skills or the diminished view of popularization the some scientists take. The public, aptly described as “consumers,” have not developed much of a taste for science. As important as science has become, for many people it concerns itself with questions that won’t pay their bills or put food on the table, and therefore requires little attention. If it’s not interesting, why take an interest in it? Such a view is absolutely dismal, but many people have a somewhat narrowed view of science that is primarily good for creating medical and technological advances; the rest can safely be ignored.
Why is science so poorly covered by cable television? I’m tempted to cite the complexity of scientific topics and the superficiality of cable news, but I’m not sure that’s correct: After all, it’s perfectly possible to be successful with bad science news, and TV news isn’t necessarily stupid.
Does the fare offered by the Discovery Channel and National Geographic make up for the absence of science on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News? How is it different than what those networks might offer — and as cable news networks are synonymous with sound bites and spin, might it be better for science to stay under their radar?
There’s certainly a longstanding mentality among progressive groups that nonsense must be refuted, often in rapid-fire mode if possible. But that mindset runs up against something else that ought to be obvious: controversy sells. If you create a big fuss over what your intellectual opponent is saying, you might well be helping him or her.
Given this reality of the way stories are written, I would imagine that reporters will continue to call scientists for quotes when creationist movies come out or global warming denialists get together for a convention. What are they supposed to say? “I’m not going to say anything; that’s emboldening the creationists,”?