Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Scientists fearing judgement from their peers

I came across this funny observation about scientists in 1970 essay by mythologist Joseph Campbell:

I have noticed (haven't you) on television that when professors are asked questions they usually hum and haw and mmmm and uh until you have to ask yourself whether it is some kind of interior crisis they are experiencing, or just a loss of words for exquisite thoughts; whereas when a professional baseball or football player is asked even a pretty complicated questions, he can usually answer with ease and grace. He graduated from the womb when he was nineteen or so and the best player on the sandlot. But this other poor chap was held sitting under a canopy of professors until well into middle age, and even though he must not have acquired that degree, it came too late to be called self-confidence. He has the imprint of that professorial canopy is his IRMS ["innate releasing mechanisms"] forever and is still hoping that no one is going to be giving him bad marks for his answer.

Though these days the difference may also be media training, Campbell may have been on to something here. I'd guess that most scientists are still conditioned to fear the judgement of peers and mentors. The ones who overcome that unfortunately often come across as, and may very well be, arrogant. It is a difficult balance.

1 comment:

Bart Verheggen said...

Yes, I think it's very much the scientific style of communication to be rather unclear than to say something that may not be 100% correct: They're desperataly trying to avoid a false positive.

It's clear that this is hampering efforts at science communication: