Re-educating the public (20/3/2008)

1.Re-educating the public 1

2.Re-educating the public 2


1.Re-educating the public [1]
Robert Vint

There was an interesting 'debate' on [BBC] Radio Four at about 8.40am today. The matter under discussion was whether new scientific developments should wait until the government and scientists had re-educated the public to accept the need for them or whether the government should have the 'courage' to proceed with what they deem necessary and then try to re-educate the public afterwards.

The Chinese and Vietnamese communists, of course, recognised the need to re-educate their ignorant peasants to accept the benefits of 'scientific socialism' by sending half the population to re-education camps. Maybe our government should be doing the same?

What I found remarkable about the debate was that there was no recognition from either 'side' that they were talking about technologies and technological products, not about scientific facts and theories. The question about whether Einstein's theory of Relativity is right or wrong is a question of scientific fact that is best debated by expert scientists. The question of whether atomic bombs are right or wrong is an ethical question about how we should or should not use Einstein's theory of Relativity in the real world.

It is a question that scientists are no better qualified to answer than the general public. If they treat it as a scientific rather than a moral question they are less qualified than the public to answer the question properly.

On ethical questions about the social and environmental impacts of the use of technologies we should be listening not to scientists but to experts on social justice, human rights, animal welfare and third world development - the very experts that have been systematically ignored by the government and big business.

The debate made no mention of the fact that most 'scientists' giving their views on new technologies are usually employees or consultants of large corporations and that their statements are therefore unlikely to be objective and neutral.

Finally, the debate made no mention of the fact that we are supposed to be living in a democracy and that the government is meant to be our servant, not our master.

The only question under discussion appeared to be whether the government should resort to brainwashing or to brute force in order to impose unpopular but profitable new technologies onto society. Welcome to the brave new world.



2.Re-educating the public 2
Subject: saying what you really mean
From: psci-com: on public engagement with science On Behalf Of Jon Turney
Sent: 10 March 2008 09:34

How useful in science week to have a clear indication in today's Guardian of how the public is positioned with respect to officialdom.

Prof. Salisbury, director of immunisation at the DoH, makes some sensible points in response to a recent piece about HPV vaccine for preventing cervical cancer, then signs off with this:

'The Department of Health is rolling out a public information campaign this year, so parents and young women have all the information they need to consent to this important vaccine.'

I'll make sure my daughters know this is what they must do...

Jon Turney
Science writer, editor, lecturer
Author The Rough Guide to Genes and Cloning (2007) The Rough Guide to the Future (2009)


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