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October 27, 2011 / Mark Axelrod

The Daily Show on science policy

Spurred on by the 2nd anniversary of “Climategate” and a new book on the importance of physics, John Stewart had three clips on science policy last night:
1. Stewart’s typically crass take on media coverage of the climate science controversy and recent scientific findings
2. Aasif Mandvi’s “undercover” report on science fairs, along with scientist and skeptic interviews. Pay special attention to Mandvi’s careful use of words like “evidence”!
3. Interview with Lisa Randall, author of “Knocking on Heaven’s Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World”

What do you think of these takes on the role of science?
And enjoy!



Leave a Comment
  1. Tobin Craig / Oct 30 2011 9:05 am

    Thanks Dr. Axelrod for the post. I’ve often wanted to talk through the Jon Stewart view of science and society, so this is a great occasion. I’ll start from the interview with Dr. Randall. Notice, that from the first question, Mr. Stewart shows total lack of interest in the content of the scientific account or whether and what Dr. Randall could teach us, asking instead about why science is resisted. Dr. Randall replies with a familiar, but not for that reason philosophically unimportant observation regarding the distance between the scientific and pre-scientific accounts of the world. But of course it turns out, like in every one of his interviews, Mr. Stewart actually has an answer to the questions he asks and that he is burning to get it out. “This is complicated and sounds made up. Therefore you must be making it up. And you are making it up because you are working for the devil.” Note the implied non-laughable position = trust the scientists are people of integrity and not making it up. Later, however, he jokes, “you could tell me anything and I wouldn’t have a clue whether what you told me was nonsense or not.” Here the precariousness and absurdity of rationalist faith in the scientific knower is made explicit. And yet, to repeat, Stewart’s approach give no indication that he believes anything of importance — anything that could change his mind — could be discovered by the scientist. He is thus in the decisive respect, in exactly the position of those he ridicules.

  2. Mark Largent / Nov 3 2011 12:23 pm

    This particular episode of the Stewart show raced around the DC science policy community. For several days afterward I saw emails on list servs about it and links to the show. It really excited science advocates, and was a real rallying cry for them.

  3. Mark Axelrod / Nov 3 2011 1:47 pm

    Interesting to see that a comedy routine became an important rallying cry! Can you share examples of other tv shows or other events that have become important focal points in the DC science policy community during your time there? It would be interesting to think about what factors make a show/event gain attention within a policy community…

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