Is this simply an envy-green rent-a-rant from “theory heads”? Or do the critics have a point?:
It’s hard to argue against millions of people getting a dose of a Daniel Gilbert lecture—or hearing the MIT cognitive scientist Nancy Kanwisher talk about mapping the brain, or the behavioral ecologist Sara M. Lewis, of Tufts University, discuss firefly evolution (both also spoke in Vancouver this year). But plenty of observers have argued that some of the new channels for distributing information simplify and flatten the world of ideas, that they valorize in particular a quick-hit, name-branded, business-friendly kind of self-helpish insight—or they force truly important ideas into that kind of template. …
TED and its cousin events create the expectation that problems like inequality and environmental degradation can be solved without rethinking any of our underlying assumptions about society, Bratton argues. History has ended; only the apps and robots will keep getting better. Over 30 years, he says, TED “has distorted the conversation we have about technology and innovation. The uncomfortable, the ambivalent, the real difficulties we have get shunted aside.”
Harvard’s Gilbert dismisses the criticisms of TED: “Who cares about a backlash against the idea of having a series of brief talks by the most interesting thinkers, researchers, and artists?” He says a TED talk is just one form of expression among many and portends the end of serious discourse no more than Psychology 101 lectures do. “This is the argument against haiku: If we write it, all other poetry will vanish.”
Hard scientists, for their part, seem utterly unperturbed by the opportunity events like TED afford. “Especially for those of us who do research funded with federal grants, I think we have a responsibility to explain to people what our science has found out,” says Tufts’s Sara Lewis, the ecologist and self-styled “firefly junkie.” She thinks the wide distribution of such talks might even reduce scientific illiteracy: “My hope is that by the time the National Science Foundation does another survey about how many Americans believe in evolution, it won’t be 48 percent, it’ll be, oh, 60 percent.”
Rot. What we really need is a serious discussion of what it even means to “believe in” “evolution.”
Believe in Bill Nye’s skull slide (WHATEVER it means!)?
Believe in the buzz from the human evo industry, no matter that their story has been sent back to rewrite?
For that matter (because the following often turns out to be part of the package):
Believe in whatever counterintuitive claim is currently circulating around life on other planets?
Believe that odds make no difference where origin of life is concerned?
Believe that there must be an uncountable infinity of universes because otherwise ours might appear fine tuned for life?
And this above all: Believe that there is no need to wonder why indiscriminate belief in defiance of evidence has become part and parcel of science.
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