This post is inspired by the overblown and overhyped forecasts of American major media (and government) meteorologists. their recommendations regarding severe weather and dangerous travel have always seemed hyperbolic to me. Then, when I read the Discovery.com blog post here, I felt one of my buttons pushed, and I had to express this exasperation somewhere. Here’s the quote from the post that set me off:
I certainly hope that no one will be killed or injured from this, but I also know that there will always be people who don’t heed the warnings. If only more people understood that science works, and that geologists and volcanologists know their stuff. They devote their lives to this field, and their study of the Earth and its paroxysms may save the lives of others.
When I read this, I certainly empathized with the author and could project sympathy and concern for the residents of Legzapi, Philipines whose lives were threatened by the volcano, Mayon. However, the text is a nice example of a rhetorical flourish aimed at the non-scientific populace that, in the long term, contributes to the widening of the divide between those who appreciate the contributions of science to society and those who are frustrated by the empty day-to-day promises made by science to America.
This idea that “there will always be people who don’t heed the warnings” of scientists who “know their stuff” about predicting natural disasters concerns me. Surely, the geologists and volcanologists who are monitoring Mayon are making their recommendations regarding evaluation and so forth with the best possible intentions. But let’s look to meterologists in the United States as examples of scientists who “know their stuff” and who make recommendations to the general populace through local and national media. Are they scientists who make their recommendations on the basis of cutting-edge technology and data-based decision making? Do they make measured and reasonable recommendations on the nightly and 24/7 channels?
If we could do a better job of making science relevant and beneficial to the day-to-day American, maybe we could encourage more young people to pursue educational and career paths toward science and mathematics. And this is what America needs – the new economic and philosophical patriotism is a devotion to the study and implementation of skill and talent in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). But we won’t be able to turn the hearts of America in this direction without helping them to understand its benefits and how it can positively impact peoples’ day-to-day living.
This short post (a rant, really), can’t do this issue justice. It’s just SOOO big. But the article that inspired this reveals a slice of what’s wrong with the American perception of STEM and how it serves (or fails to communicate truthfully and effectively) society and its needs.