Thursday, November 30, 2006

Sleepwalking into extremism

The President of the Royal Society, Lord Rees, said on the Today programme this morning that we were in danger of sleepwalking into a future of extremism unless we do more to promote a scientific worldview. In particular, he accused the news media of giving too much publicity to 'mavericks' in a misguided attempt to show both sides of any argument.

We've heard this before, of course. In relation to climate change in the US (another example here), and the MMR vaccine in the UK (as I posted about a few months ago).

But Lord Rees is talking not in terms of informing the public to enable people to make their own minds up about things, but in terms of educating the public so they can make decisions about science policy. I'm a little dubious about this. Call me a snob, but I'm not sure any change in media policy is going to educate most people sufficiently to enable them to make decisions about science, simply because most of them won't care enough to be bothered. Unless it's something scary that might do Bad Things to them directly. Then they're at least interested enough to buy the newspaper that tells them the bad news.

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