Science Needs a Better PR Team

The 511 / February 3, 2020

For information in the 20th century, we called 411. The 511 includes: 

  • a handful of paragraphs about health tech or some other science-y thing
  • 1 sentence for reflection (and maybe a laugh), and 
  • 1 track I’ve currently got in heavy rotation.

Welcome to the 12 people who started following my blog these past couple of weeks.

We need more truths to be self-evident

And part of that is up to us. But a big, big part of it comes from on high. Unlike the economy, morality actually does trickle down. So, when elected officials embrace science (or disregard it), it matters. Citizens pay attention, and if leaders in politics and industry (and education, to a lesser extent) fill that space with truth, good things happen. If they don’t, others will step into that void and fill it fanciful tales that are, as Thomas Edsall notes in today’s New York Times, “by definition irrational, contradictory and inconsistent.”

It’s a wide-ranging article, chockful of good stuff and, per usual, much longer than your average opinion NYT piece. There’s a host of articles and essays in the NYT, the Atlantic, and the New Yorker that map the trajectory of Q, “his” audience, and the threat they pose to our democratic republic. The algorithms are implicated, too, and I want to add a scientific twist to this mess. Algorithms work across the political spectrum because they gradually lead us to abandon the null hypothesis. Our feeds exclude evidence that reinforces the null hypothesis. It is, I suggest, a more rigorous way to think about confirmation bias.

The null hypothesis is, of course, fundamental to scientific inquiry.

The null hypothesis of vaccine testing is that the rate of COVID infection between the experimental group (those who receive the vaccine) and the control group (those who receive the placebo) is not statistically significant. Luckily, that’s not the case, and the scientists at Moderna, Pfizer and others have been able, in scientific parlance, “to exclude the null hypothesis from the realm of possibilities.”

That parlance, though, may be part of the problem. There’s the proof in the pudding, in terms of the vaccine, but that may not be enough to boost the scientific literacy of a critical mass of Americans. Science is aaaay-maaaay-zing, and our country needs more Neil Degrasse Tyson’s out there shilling on its behalf.

President Biden’s nomination of Eric Lander to science advisor as a member of his Cabinet is a big help in this regard. The retention of Francis Arnold (Cal Tech) and Maria Zuber (MIT), along with the appointment of Alondra Nelson (Princeton) as deputy science policy chief, may be a great development in this regard. Let’s hope they hire a great marketing team.

5(1)1 — On writing and clarity

“Writers must therefore constantly ask: what am I trying to say? Surprisingly often they don’t know. Then they must look at what they have written and ask: have I said it?”

William Zinsser, from “On Writing Well”
51(1) — In rotation: fIREHOSE’s “The Candle and the Flame”

A song for these times. (I couldn’t link directly to the song, alas.) My teenager and I got talkin’ the other night about life back in the day, about fIREHOSE in particular, and cued up a few tracks from this LP. It’s still so much fun.

Please share this post with someone you know who’s interested in health, leadership, and music.

I’m also on this thing called Twitter (@randaldoane). While it may be a passing fad, let’s connect, just in case it proves enduring.

If you want to talk about branding and marketing in medtech, or a newsletter that needs more pop, drop me a line over here.

Cheers!

Sources

Seth Borenstein. “Biden picks geneticist as science adviser, puts in Cabinet.” AP News. January 26, 2021.

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Published by Randal Doane

Living the good life in NE Ohio. I dig science and the written word. Let's build something amazing together.

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