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June 27, 2011 / Mark Largent

Station Identification

‘The Rap Guide to Evolution’ Pays Homage to Darwin – NYTimes.com.

This article would be only mildly interesting were it not for a really sensational line buried in the middle of it:

“The scene reinforced my sense that “geek rap,” as Mr. Brinkman calls it, is becoming one of the most popular and vital forms of science communication.”

Seriously?!  This is the best we can do for scientific communication?  Geek rap?!?

Prof. Craig and I joined a handful of STEPPS students a couple of years ago at a lecture given by Richard Dawkins (the ethnologist, evolutionary biologist, and ardent pro-evolution mouthpiece).  Especially because the lecture came on the heels of a nice dinner and great conversation, I was really bored by it.  Not only was there nothing new in the lecture, there was nothing in it that was well presented, intriguing, or really all that articulate.  Instead, the entire event just seemed like a celebration of true believers (in this case people who ardently disliked the people who ardently disliked Dawkins).  It’s what one friend of mine called “station identification.”   It was just a vehicle for telling the world “Here I Am!  This Is What I Believe In!”

This so-called geek rap seems like station identification to me, too.  It seems to be liked by the people who are excited by whatever is being rapped about.

What disturbs me in all this is the claim that geek rap is “becoming one of the most popular and vital forms of science communication.”  Popular for who?  Vital to what? Given that nearly two thirds of Americas are hostile or apathetic to evolution, if station identification becomes the most popular and vital form of science communication, I fear for the capacity of science to be any sort of guide for public deliberation.

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2 Comments

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  1. Tobin Craig / Jun 28 2011 10:50 am

    How could you not mention that the ‘hook’ in this brilliant little ditty is a cri de coeur in favor of positive eugenics?! Get people (or rather the aging hipsters who attend Soho theatre events) ‘interested’ in evolution by urging them to consider picking their hook-up partners based on eugenic principles. Maybe if we all bred with ‘non-mean’ people, more of us could appreciate rapping Chaucer scholars from Canada.

  2. Tobin Craig / Jun 28 2011 11:19 am

    Now, the more serious fault in the article is the lumping together of this dross with the Large Hadron rap:

    This is genuinely funny and, I’d argue, useful science communication. It certainly makes me want to learn more about CERN and the physics behind it. I’d go so far as to bet that two or three of the people in this video, with a decent production budget, could probably host a pretty funny and interesting mini-series on CERN that would get young viewers. Of course, I am not suggesting that this is among “the most vital forms of science communication,” but, as per Dr. Largent’s argument, this is at least science communication and NOT mere station identification, or choir preaching.

    If you wander over to bigthink and Dr. Nisbett’s blog “Age of Engagement” you’ll find a whole whack of chatter about scientific communication, and what becomes clear is that the term covers over a wildly diverse range of distinct issues. Are we interested in general scientific literacy? In inspiring the young to careers in science? Encouraging public deference to scientific experts on particular policy questions? Presumably our aims vary from issue to issue, and different techniques or media will work better for some aims than for others. That said, nothing justifies a Canadian Chaucer scholar interpreting gangsta behavior as biomimicry…. in a rap.

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