Non-violent scientific discourse

Though there’s much in today’s news to discuss, on topics as diverse as disaster recovery and our (micro-) managed planet, two powerful forces compel me to offer today’s truncated post instead of some fuller, more complete discussion.

The first?  My day job. This includes last-minute preparations for the upcoming American Meteorological Society Annual Meeting, which begins late next week. A lot will be happening this year! AMS President Jon Malay has set an interesting theme, the individual sessions promise to be substantive, and a host of side meetings will provide a unique, once-a-year chance to move forward the agenda of our Earth observations, science, and services community – on a number of fronts. I’m looking forward to active participation and blogging on (my necessarily individual and therefore narrowly limited) view of the larger experience. I hope to see many of you there!

[The day job also includes fund-raising, and that brings and additional set of tasks and deadlines. In a moment, I’ll have to get back to that as well!]

But there’s a second reason for curtailing today’s post. I’m hoping you’ll use the time you save here to join me in some remedial reading.

Let me start with a confession. All scholars uphold a common set of core values. Some of them are a struggle. An example? Keeping up with the literature…knowing what others have written on a subject and adequately referencing that, giving credit and priority where due. For me, in the nascent days of the Earth sciences, this was tough enough. Today, with the explosion of publications and formats, it’s overwhelming. I see everyone around me doing lit reviews, even with all the modern search aids, and I think: where do they (you!) find the time? Good on you.

Anyway, you may recall the January 9 post on Jerome Ravetz and his recent comment published in the journal Nature. Well, it turns out he was kind enough to contribute a comment. In passing he said, “I have made a few attempts to promote the idea of non-violence in science, but up to now there has been little comprehension.”

Non-violence in science?!!!

What did he mean? I had to learn more. The quickest of Google searches yielded a pdf entitled Toward a non-violent discourse in science. Maybe you’re well aware of this contribution, but I’d missed it. In “dog” or “internet” years, this is an antique. It was written back in 2006. But what a treasure! The piece is thoughtful – what you’d expect from someone who’s said that in his career he’d learned “the importance of finding the fundamental questions and sticking to them.” And the writing is exquisitely crafted. [Ravetz has written more. Root around the internet, you’ll find he’s had some dialog on this subject. And there’s undoubtedly other material I have yet to discover.]

For me to try to summarize the paper, or make a quick critique, would therefore be a crime. But I can invite you, if you haven’t already, to take a look at his original work. It’s short…but don’t be tempted to give it you (or my) usual quick scan, or power read, or any of those 21st century euphemisms for failing to digest it fully. Instead, please take your time. Let his message sink in. Let it transform how you approach science and its application for societal benefit.

Do this, and you’ll enjoy one of the most profound days of your career. Take the time to comprehend (as Ravetz hungers for us to do), and over time your actions could contribute to a sea change in our scientific discourse, especially on those contentious bits that matter most to our host society.

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