Networked Knowledge: out of the ivory tower

Many of the important issues that face our society are complex and require a good knowledge of science. Yesterday, I explained some of what I’ve been trying to learn about nuclear fission and power generation. Understanding how people learn and how we can integrate learning into work is a prime professional interest of mine.

More and more political and personal decisions have to made on some understanding of science. Of interest to me are: nuclear power; hydro-fracking; climate change and uranium mining. Each requires significant knowledge to understand the issues.

Obviously, the public media are not designed to deal with these kinds of issues. They are in the business of selling advertising and getting readership. Some journalists inform but most, including the good ones, can only shine a lens and let us make up our minds. My post yesterday was intended to show that mainstream media were not very good at informing us on complex subjects. I wanted to explain how I was able to get information and put some things together. The self-correcting nature of a blog would ensure that somebody might set me straight or point me to better sources of information. Comments on Twitter indicated that I might be seriously misinformed. I am still learning and will continue to do so. Learning is work and work is learning; that’s life in perpetual Beta.

Image: Ivory Towers by Colin Smith

I’d like to highlight one aspect of how we treat knowledge in our society. Complex scientific fields are the realm of research institutions, like universities.  It takes a long time to get expertise and competence is conferred through peer review. But peer review has its problems and much of the research is published in the language of specialists that only the select few can decipher. There is also little incentive in the highly competitive (for research funding) fields of scientific research to publish widely or to synthesize research so that it is understandable by the average adult. These same adults who vote for politicians who set research funding policies.

The media aren’t informing and the informed aren’t using media.

Part of my responsibility in using networked knowledge is to give back to the community. I believe it’s our part of the social learning contract. The scientific community has the same responsibility. I was asked, “Please, don’t spread this wrong thinking around.” So in return, I ask the scientific community to step up and spread their knowledge. The whole world is trying to understand these issues.

Update: I’m noticing The Guardian and the CS Monitor are providing good in-depth analysis of the nuclear situation in Japan now. Very good to see. Now we just need this on a regular basis for many other complex scientific issues, especially when there’s no urgent crisis.

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