When scientists forget what it’s like to be human

I love science. I love the exploration of the natural world around us. I love the step-by-step discovery process. I love the details and wonder. I believe in the scientific method.

But sometimes I wonder if scientists know how to deal with fellow humans.

First let me explain. Humans are often irrational. We have drives and desires that are messy and complicated. Emotion gets the best of us at times. And we have amazing imaginations. I’m on board with all this messiness. I don’t do well in black and white. I thrive in the gray. I’m perfectly fine with ambiguity.

Scientists, I’m coming to learn, are not fine with any of this. Here’s a couple of recent examples.

Ebola was the biggest news story in the past few weeks. There’s a major outbreak raging in Africa, with death rates reported at about 50%. And then there were reports of cases in the US. What was the reaction of most Americans? Fear.

What was the reaction of scientists? To paraphrase: stop being afraid of a disease with a high death rate, you silly, fear-mongering dumb Americans.

Whether they were right or wrong about the threat of Ebola, the scientists’ reaction exposed a major flaw — very few scientists, it seems, know how to communicate with people. And it’s not just scientists, but science writers as well, as I saw from articles and tweets from some of my favorite science writers. Sure, they can write and explain scientific details, but they can’t engage that emotional side of people. And I would argue that it’s not irrational to be afraid of a disease with a high death rate that is also being spread to health care workers, who would know which precautions to take.

Hey scientists (and science journalists): come to grips with the fact that you’re dealing with fellow humans, not robots, if you want to educate and persuade.

The second area is Pope Francis’ recent comment on God and evolution.

For decades, there’s been a battle between religion and science when it comes to evolution. I never understood this battle. I was raised Roman Catholic, and I was taught evolution in Catholic school. I was also taught, in first grade by Sister Jeremiah, that the story of Adam and Eve was just a story.

I’ve always been a person of faith — to me, it’s obvious that creation comes from a higher power, one that we cannot fully understand. Science helps reveal this aspect of my faith.

But for too many, religion and science are opposite. Some religious people disdain science, and a high percentage of scientists reject any possibility of a higher power. I don’t relate to either side.

When Pope Francis reaffirmed commonly held Catholic doctrine, the reaction from the media was one of surprise. They couldn’t fathom how religion could support this. One article I read went further, blasting the Pope for not removing God entirely from the equation. Funny how the leader of one of the world’s major religions would talk of God.

When it comes to the creation of our universe, science is good at exploring the how of it, but they have no answer for why.

Sometimes I wish that scientists—and science writers—would use some of their reasoning powers, and learn to deal with humans as the complicated, contradictory creatures we (and they) are. Maybe they’re just not comfortable in dealing with ambiguity in any form. That’s too bad.

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