February 24, 2024

How to communicate science with wit and humor

WZ I'm Eva Stanzel

So you also have the honor of dealing with trivial practical problems.

Mark Abrahams

Every scientific question is initially trivial. In school we learn what researchers have discovered and that everyone thinks it's great and that everyone now has a feature that everyone understood from the beginning. But this never happens. Scientists often report on what they intended and tried initially and why it didn't work. Even if something worked perfectly from the beginning, others didn't care at first or expressed doubts. But we still learn stories about instant geniuses in school.

WZ I'm Eva Stanzel

Are scientists this kind of humorist?

Mark Abrahams

definitely. And they have to, because there is hardly any other profession that suffers so much failure. Sometimes you get lucky, but most of the time it doesn't work out. Bad things happen all the time, and if your reaction to that is sadness and despair for the rest of your life, that's not a good way to spend your life. Being able to laugh at him is better. And you have to understand that if the idea doesn't work, you should just ask other, better questions. This is part of science and being human.

WZ I'm Eva Stanzel

Back to science communication: What if it doesn't exist?

Mark Abrahams

We'd be like dogs who couldn't explain in detail their new way of stealing food from next door to all the other dogs in the world.

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WZ I'm Eva Stanzel

Is scientific communication an essential function of progress for us humans?

Mark Abrahams

People explain to each other what they have discovered, and scientists do this using systematic methods and in greater detail. However, in the world of science there is a feeling that some research is more difficult, more serious and more heroic than others. Physics, for example, is at the top, biology is at the bottom in terms of reliability, and human behavior is even lower. Anything that can be measured is great and valuable. On the other hand, the reasons why people fall in love are thought to be interesting, but less important and not a major intellectual achievement. This is also because in physics or chemistry, you can clearly agree on what we are talking about: the beaker falling to the floor. However, such questions as what is love or what is art or what is the value of money, can be discussed by experts of the first order forever without being able to be sure that they both mean the same thing, because they cannot be measured.

WZ I'm Eva Stanzel

Who determines what is truth?

Mark Abrahams

Perhaps writers or poets are the best at analyzing truth.

WZ I'm Eva Stanzel

What role does communicating facts play for democracy?

Mark Abrahams

It is not always clear what the facts are. Many things are true at the same time and contradict each other. If some people have an opinion about what the facts are and others have a different opinion about them, then perhaps both are right, but the facts do not agree, that is, the two sets of facts do not agree. At the same time, both sides say they have the facts and the other side is lying. This leads nowhere.

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Mark Abrahams

We can ask questions. Everyone can agree well on important questions. If they went back to asking questions instead of shouting answers at each other, a lot of the discussion might go in the right direction and something might happen.