Unscientific Culling of Great White Sharks

The Western Australian Government refused to review a law that initiates the culling of Great White Sharks. In one protest alone, over 4,000 people in gathered on Perth’s beaches to protest the move. I’m interested in this with respect to the sociology of animals and wildlife conservation. Institutions like the Government and the media have the power to shape public perception of animals and how we protect or neglect certain species. Sociologist Corwin Kruse writes:

Human action is embedded in a world populated by many species. By any measure, the role that animals play in human society is enormous.

Continue reading Unscientific Culling of Great White Sharks

Sustainable Growth is a Human Right

This post focuses on a 2013 United Nations  report on population trends to 2050. Our planet will be home to 9.3 billion people by then, which raises various ecological, humanitarian and sustainable planning issues. The UN argues that sustainable growth is a matter of human rights.

Continue reading Sustainable Growth is a Human Right

Tough Questions from Students

Students from Sydney’s Newtown High School of the Performing Arts give Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott a tough question time that he was evidently poorly prepared to answer with grace. The clip begins with Abbott giving weak environmental advice (“plant a tree… but don’t raise taxes”). He then faces questions about why he opposes gay marriage and his inhumane treatment of asylum seekers. Flustered and annoyed, he resorts to his infamous sexism: “Let’s have a bloke’s question, OK?”

Working off the cuff and under estimating Australia’s youth, the Prime Minister is clearly out of his depth.

In connection, ask the powerful five questions: Continue reading Tough Questions from Students

The Sociology of Why People Don’t Believe Science

This the story of how sociology can improve public science. I discuss the social science research explaining why some sections of the general public resist research evidence. As some of you know, I’m one of around 20 Moderators who run Science on Google+. Our Community is managed by practising scientists and our membership includes researchers as well as members of the public who are interested in science. I run the Social Science stream (along with Chris Robinson who created the Community). Our Community aims to improve the quality of science posts and public outreach, by connecting the public to real scientists. This week, we celebrated the fact that our Community has grown to 200,000 members. The Community receives numerous posts each day. We want to move discussion away from people sharing their personal opinions on “fluff” science pieces that often end up distorted in the news, and instead we’d like to focus on the relevance, validity and reliability of peer reviewed science. Invariably, we get people coming to the Community specifically looking to argue about how all science is wrong (usually with regards to social science), corrupt (often regarding life sciences), or “just a theory” (creationist arguments against the physical sciences).

These critics do not focus on the scientific content of a study. They focus on moral and cultural arguments, which to them are scientific. For example, when discussing research on gender inequality in science, there’s a variation of: “In my engineering class there’s only two women. I think that most women just aren’t interested in science. That’s not sexism to point out the truth.” (Yes, it is sexist.) When discussing research on climate change: “There’s inconclusive evidence on this!” (No, the evidence is compelling.)

Judging you

Most of these people do not use credible scientific research to back up their claims, but they evoke some general statistics (“everyone knows…” and “countless studies show”).We ask for links to peer reviewed science, which never come.  Sometimes they post links to conspiracy videos that have no scholarly merit. Despite their lack of evidence, these people are thoroughly convinced that they are scientists or that they are very well informed on a topic. They cite ideas of science from popular culture (“science is about questioning everything!”). Otherwise they draw on something they heard in the news or they revert to personal anecdotes and subjective observations.

These critics are the exception, as most of our Community members are genuinely curious in science and learning. The problem is that these anti-scientist “scientists” take up a lot of time and they derail discussions. So what motives them?

Chad Haney, one of our colleagues and a Curator for the excellent Science Sunday, wrote a fantastic post about how social psychology concepts might explain why people refuse to engage with scientific evidence. Chad invited me to comment on his post, and this has led me to crystallise thoughts that I’ve had circling my head since I started blogging seven years a go. Other than a sheer love of the social sciences, why bother with public science? Who is our audience? Does it “work” and how do we measure its success? How can we improve it?

My post will discuss the sociology of beliefs, values and attitudes to describe the cultural, institutional and historical ways in which the public has engaged with science. I present two case studies of “hot topics” that usually draw anti-science comments to our Community regarding gender inequality and genetically modified foods. I show how cultural beliefs about trust and risk influence the extent to which people accept scientific evidence. I go on to discuss how sociology can help improve public science outreach. Continue reading The Sociology of Why People Don’t Believe Science

Political Change in Australia

In the Howard years Australia became a much meaner and more self-interested country … We are the richest people per capita in the world, if you just look in material terms, and we are the richest people ever to live on the Earth… Yet there’s this air of dissatisfaction and a feeling that we are being cheated, and that is a cultural shift that came out of the Howard years and has been promoted mightily by the Murdoch media — and that flows on through the ABC and all the other radio shock jocks and so on….

People voted for that with their eyes wide open [on the removal of environmental policies]. And I might add to that, that they voted for $4 billion dollars in foreign aid to be not spent.

Colonisation: 99 Year Township Lease

This is another invasion; this is another colonisation, another approach of taking over everything. You know you cannot sell land for something, the land is so precious you cannot do that.

– Reverend Gondarra, respected Arnhem Land elder.

Gondarra is fighting the Government’s push to take control of Indigenous communities through a “99 year township lease.” Gondarra evokes a critique of Australia’s colonial laws, which dispossessed the traditional landowners for much of Australia’s history (and which continues in various ways to this day). Continue reading Colonisation: 99 Year Township Lease

Science as Creative Learning

The research on “emotional learning” in science presents an interesting model for engaging young people in science. As Dr Louisa Tomas Engel explains in the video  below, young people’s interest in science drops dramatically in the middle years of school. Tomas  Engel’s broader research draws on new pedagogical practices which aim to help young people see science as a creative endeavour, rather than a memory retention exercise. This research may be of interest to science educators, biodiversity researchers, as well as other scientists who are eager to grow public outreach.

Continue reading Science as Creative Learning

Sociology of Eco-Tourism

 

In this post, I show how sociology can contribute to collective understandings of sustainable tourism in China. I was inspired in response to the #ISeeTheWorldWithScience initiative promoted by a community I co-manage, Science on Google+. This is a game where members of our community are invited to write a caption for science images using their scientific perspective. The image for this week was of a beautiful forest (above). The instructions were:

I See the World with Science Image Game

Pillars of solitude. Life grabbing hold. Misty Mountains eroded by time. 

What more does science let you see?

#ISeeTheWorldWithScience Game: Suggest a short caption for the picture.  The caption must be founded on solid science but the more surprising the better. The community moderators will choose the best caption and repost an image with the caption on it in. Vote for your favourites by +1ing to influence the moderator’s choice!

Discussion: Discuss any aspect of the photo and what any field of science tells us more about what we are seeing and it’s context, including how we are seeing it, why it’s important.*

I captioned my response with ‘sociology of eco-tourism.’ Here’s why. Continue reading Sociology of Eco-Tourism

Positive and Negative Perceptions of Renewable Technology

A study finds that photos of renewable technology that are focused on the future improvement of our planet make participants feel like they can positively affect climate change. Photos of the negative impact of climate change (such as soil degradation and drought) make feel people feel as if climate change is inevitable and that it can’t be changed.

This is pretty standard knowledge in the marketing literature: positive emotions have a better impact on people absorbing a public information campaign while negative emotions (fear, guilt and shame) turn people off the message.

Photos of celebrities talking about climate change also has a negative effect on perceptions. Celebrities make people think that climate change is not very important. 

The Social Factors of Disease

Great interview on Scientific American with American toxicologist Linda Birnbaum. She brings together the biological, environmental and sociological intersections of human disease, and why we need to culturally re-examine what we mean by chemical exposure. She says: ‘

We also know—especially from studies of identical versus fraternal twins—that for many different diseases, genetics is not the whole story. Actually, I think it’s time to stop asking, “Is this caused by genes or is this caused by the environment?” because in almost all cases, it’s going to be both.’