A girl recently invited me to a public lecture she was running with Helen Caldicott, the famous anti-nuclear advocate. Except the girl couldn’t remember the bit after ‘famous’. When I asked her, she narrowed it down to something big picture related to the environment. Helen’s achievements were obviously secondary, if not twenty-secondary, in motivating her to organize the event. Though the fact she was famous for whatever those things were was important.
I’ve done a few courses in science journalism. The main task there is to make science interesting and intelligible for people. The easiest way to do this is to cut down on the dry bit about how reality works, and fill it up with stories about people instead. Who are the scientists? Where they are from? What sorts of people are they? What’s it like to be a research subject? Does the research support the left or the right or people who want to subsidize sheep or not immunize their children? If there’s an unsettled issue, present it as a dispute between scientists, not as abstract disagreeing evidence.
It’s hard to find popular science books that aren’t at least half full of anecdotes or biographies of scientists. Everybody knows that Einstein invented the theory of relativity, but hardly anyone knows what that’s about exactly, or tries to.
Looking through a newspaper, most of the stories are about people. Policy isn’t discussed so much as politics. Recessions are reported with tales of particular people who can’t pay their employees this year.
Philosophy is largely about philosophers from what I can gather.
One might conclude that most people are more interested in people than in whatever it is the people are doing. What people do is mainly interesting for what it says about those doing it.
But this isn’t true, there are some topics where people are happy to read about the topic more than the people. The weather and technology for instance. Nobody knows who invented most things they know intimately. It looks from this small list like people are more interested in doings which immediately affect them, and doers the rest of the time. I don’t read most topics though, and it’s a small sample. What other topics are people more interested in than they are in those who do them?
Going on that tentative theory, this blog is probably way too related to its subject matter for its subject matter. Would you all like some more anecdotes and personal information? I included some above just in case, as I sat in my friend Robert Wiblin‘s dining room and drank coffee, which I like, from the new orange plunger I excitedly bought yesterday on my way to the highly ranked Australian National University, where I share an office with a host of stylishly dressed and interesting students tirelessly working away on something or another really important.