22 May 2009

How much is too much in science public relations?

I am a promoter of science. Sometimes, I even call myself an evangelist for science, although it’s kind of tricky because of the religious connotations of that word. What’s more, I am a pretty shameless self-promoter. Perhaps the best example of that is my Marmorkrebs project, where I run a website, Marmorkrebs.org, with a blog, and I fully admit I am there to spread ideas in the hope that I will win.

So why does the promotion about the recent finding of Darwius bother me?

Carl Zimmer posted an ad about the upcoming documentary, which describes, “The most important find in 47 million years.” This ad must be seen to be, um, appreciated.

Words fail me.

In the New York Times, Dr. Jorn Hurum said:

Any pop band is doing the same thing.

Here, I think, is part of the problem. Pop bands are in the business of selling the transitory and the ephemeral. Pop music thrives on novelty and timing. (And I say this with great affection for the genre.)

Pop music reminds us that disappointment is a powerful thing. Was the reputation of the Beatles really enhanced by the release of new songs in 1995? (Released as part of a promotion for another documentary, incidentally.)

Scientists also enjoy novelty, but science is also about accuracy, and about building something that lasts for decades, if not centuries. I know it sounds high-falootin’, but science is about the eternal.

And that is probably the bigger issue. Promote all you want, as long as the promotion is accurate. And I think it’s fair to say that in this case, a lot of things are being said that are not accurate.

Additional: Interview with the ringleaders of this circus.

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