And they speak mostly to each other, not to the general public, policymakers, or business people – not to those who can actually make things happen.
This is dangerous. We live in an age when scientific issues permeate our social, economic, and political culture. People must be educated about science and the scientific process if we are to make rational and informed decisions that affect our future. Indeed, a well functioning democracy requires it.
But instead, the relative absence of academics and academic scholarship in the public discourse creates a vacuum into which uninformed, wrong, and downright destructive viewpoints get voiced and take hold.
Here’s a typical example. After the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh argued that “The ocean will take care of this on its own if it was left alone...” In fact, the spill created extensive damage to wide ranging marine habitats as well as the Gulf Coast’s fishing and tourism industries. Long-term impacts are still unclear as scientists continue to monitor underwater plumes of dissolved oil that lie along the bottom.
To show how infrequently scientists communicate with the public, consider these findings. In news stories about the UN climate summit in Copenhagen in 2010, only 4 percent of the individuals quoted were scientists. This is according to the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford in England.