Twitter is a fascinating look at the current discussion around the world, or at least some segment of it, on just about any given topic. Today, thanks to Zen Faulkes, I came across a little site comparing the phrases “I love science” and “I hate science” on Twitter, and it told me something very, very interesting.
The creator of the site, Rose Eveleth, did this as a little experiment in understanding audiences, especially those outside your own group of friends. In particular, she talks about looking for those you need to win over and those you need as allies. Since I care quite a bit about science, and particularly about communicating science, I think that’s a big deal.
First I hopped over to the “I love science” side. Aside from tweets mentioning this very site, the list includes many of what I would expect, those from the people who are already typically in my feed. These declare their love of science while linking to some interesting new bit of science news, something really cool. For example there were at east two on this topic:
As I continued my not very-scientific browsing down the list, there were also text-only tweets with statements of opinion. This gold mine can help a science communicator determine what messages to send and tailor to, and where good conversation can be had about the nature of science.
But then, there were some opinions I didn’t expect to see in this particular search, those we would normally consider the ones we need to win over.
Oh…kay? I won’t delve too deeply here into the arguments against these tweets, but I think it is clear in the second one, in particular, that the anti-evolution sentiment may not think itself anti-science, yet that’s an assumption that skeptics and science communicators (myself included) very often make. The outright rejection of science is not the problem, at least not of the word “science” or someone’s understanding of it. That, I think, points to a place where the understanding of the nature and processes of science is the attack point on such arguments. The thought of science itself may not be the tripping point for many of those that we are trying to win over.
Then, of course, there are lots of jokey posts, memes, and links to popular science articles that seem to agree with the already existing sentiment of the person. Science shows us beards are great! Science shows us how to make cakes last longer! Okay, these are fun, though a deeper issue is in the quick-bite nature of the science news cycle and how that glosses over the long process of building up models over many, many studies.
Okay, so after that interesting analysis, with a bit of trepidation, I went over to the “I hate science” side. (Note, -fiction was added, probably to keep it topical.) I was unprepared for what I saw… a stream of tweets, most likely by students, declaring their hatred of science and math classes. They include pictures of notebooks, complaints about tests, or simply declare, “I don’t understand any of this.”
Where are we killing the love of science? With science education.
The “anti-science” crowd in this little study is not against science for moral or religious or philosophical reasons. Those who hate science, according to Twitter, are frustrated students. As an educator, I find this completely disheartening. Maybe it’s the age spread of Twitter that is making this so. But the message is loud and clear, and something we talk about in education circles, and here is a stunning example: We’re killing an interest in science with the way that we teach it.
There is a lot being done about it, mind you. 26 states in the US have written new science standards to make classrooms more like the discovery process and much less about memorizing facts. Science teachers are going to conferences and professional development workshops to learn how to make science education better. Even in higher education, professors young and old (but, sadly, not enough of the latter, IMO) are working hard to make science classes at university less a passive lecture and more an active learning experience. The need for these things, it seems is still very great.
The enemies of science may not be who or what we think they are. If we’re not careful with our education system; the enemies may be ourselves.
Featured image CC by Kevin Jarrett on Flickr.