Professional science vs popular science

5 03 2009

In his introduction to the theory and method of discourse analysis, James Paul Gee writes (p40-41, emphasis added):

In the history of biology, the scientist’s relationship with nature  gradually changed from telling stories about direct observations of nature to  carrying out  complex experiments to test complex theories (Bazerman 1989). Myers (1990)  argues that professional science is now concerned with the expert  “management of  uncertainty and complexity” and popular science with the general  assurance that the world is knowable by and directly accessible to experts.

This last sentence, I think, touches on a fundamental difference between evolution discourse and intelligent design (ID) discourse and can help explain the social success of Discovery Institute propaganda.

As I wrote last week, the Wedge strategy is one way in which the Discovery Institute (DI) is trying to challenge the dominant scientific discourse (evolution) with an alternative, pseudoscientific discourse (ID). The register or style of language in which the DI has been communicating their religious message is distinctly popular science, a much more accessible style than, say the scholarly tone of evolutionary biologists.

Herein lies the key to their relative success – ID discourse exudes certainty, accessibility, knowledge, conviction, factuality, and the like, all in an easy-to-digest format (from youtube videos to ID rap lyrics) making their ‘analyses’ sound far more plausible than those of ‘self-doubting and difficult to understand’  evolutionary scientists.

Gee, James Paul (2005). An Introduction to Discourse Analysis: Theory and Method. New York: Routledge.



2 responses

27 12 2009

That’s fascinating, and I suppose an inevitable part of human nature. Do you think a more populist approach to evolutionary literature would negate the validity of it, or trivialise it? Perhaps this is necessary in order that it is given proper consideration, although I find the concept of this a bit sad.

Did you hear the ditty celebrating the Higgs-Boson?

Case in point perhaps….!

27 12 2009
Tom Van Hout

I think there is more than enough popularizing of evolutionary literature (through science journalism, education and infotainment). Any attempt at making science into something it is not (a LHC rap song?) is fleeting entertainment at best. Thanks for the link, that was news for me.

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