Friday, June 1, 2012
Countless politicians claim we're in the midst of a "war on Christmas" or a "war on religion." But John Radzilowicz, director of science and education at the Carnegie Science Center, believes there's a more important battle taking place: a war on science.
Radzilowicz, who teaches at Pitt and California University of Pennsylvania, lectures Monday night at the Center's Café Scientifique series about science-related myths, and the institutions that perpetuate them.
"I think some people are taking advantage of the confusion around science and using it to spread misinformation," Radzilowicz says in an interview. "It's all around us."
His free talk will focus on how new findings are distorted, and what people can do to minimize the damage.
Radzilowicz blames a variety of recent trends for Americans' distrust of science. One is the media's insistence on representing "both sides of the story," even if one side can't believably substantiate its claims. Another is the proliferation of bogus think tanks. (He singles out the Discovery Institute, a nonprofit that promotes intelligent design.) He even cites the cautious terminology scientists themselves use.
"They always present their results in a way where they say, ‘More research is needed,'" he says. "In some ways, scientists can almost be seen as being guilty of not being as strong with their results, because it's not the nature of the culture they work in."
At the same time, Radzilowicz maintains that one of the discipline's greatest virtues is its ability to self-correct. Unlike in most other fields, scientists constantly modify one another's conclusions — and in doing so, improve our understanding of the world.
"It is not a weakness of scientists to say, ‘Well, I believe this is the answer today, and if you can give me new information, then I might have a slightly different answer tomorrow,'" he says. "It does not give you absolute truth with a capital T."
Radzilowicz says he's not hoping to convert any creationists Monday night: Most likely, audience members will already agree with him. Instead, he hopes to supply like-minded individuals with the tools needed to sway skeptics.
"When they find themselves in situations where they're discussing issues in science, they [will] have just a little more information they can draw upon," he says. "I think that's a worthwhile outcome."
The talk is at 7 p.m. Mon., June 4. (Doors open at 6 p.m.) The Science Center is located at 1 Allegheny Ave., North Side. Dinner is available for $8. Call 412-237-3400 for more information.