Fully understand science

Pro tip: did you know that non-scientists can fully understand scientific articles by reading the easy-to-understand abstracts? This assertion was actually made to me in (yet another) interesting example of the strange email I get. This one is a rare case of harsh criticism in my inbox from someone purporting to be on Team Science:

I’m sorry, but science is not for the idle mind. This isn’t prose or poetry. There is nothing left to interpretation. Science can either be refuted or accepted. Your last email just shows me how you would rather impregnate science with your own opinions. Journal articles have something called an abstract, making it easy even for the non-scientist to read and fully understand articles.

If my mind is “idle,” I’d really hate to experience “busy.” I can barely get the damn thing to wind down every night as it is.

So this guy is an elitist absolutist, and probably has about as much in common with actual scientists as conspiracy theorists have in common with actual skeptics (hint: almost nothing). He seems to believe there are no opinions or interpretation involved in science or writing about it for the general public — an impressively extreme position to take. Interestingly, there are scientists who believe that no non-scientist should ever write or say anything about science. I think that attitude is getting quite antiquated and quaint, like paternalism in medicine (and for some of the same reasons), but it does still come up occasionally. The true elitist is a rare but real critter.1

What passes for science journalism in many mainstream publications these days is understandably super irritating to scientists, but fortunately the great majority seem to recognize this as a quality control problem, and they want better science journalism… not the abolition of the genre.


  1. I remember being just horrified when I first learned about the kind of outrage that Carl Sagan provoked by trying to reach out to the public — he was villified and scorned by many of his colleagues. But what could be better than a scientist with the ability and willingness to share and popularize such fabulous knowledge?