Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Because it is beautiful

Image of a transluscent cranchiid squid from NOAA's ocean explorer.
I've just had an aha moment. Someone just said something simple, obvious, and—if you are interested in communicating science—useful.

When we are writing about some topic in science for the general public, how do we foster a recognition that the topic is worthwhile? How do we motivate people to take an interest in something they are not familiar with? Or be sympathetic to funding? Sometimes we are advised to emphasize the importance of the topic.

That only works occasionally. PZ Myers has a much better idea. (Hat tip to Scott Hatfield for a video of PZ explaining.) If you have a cure for cancer, then fine; importance will work. But if you are explaining the age of the universe, or Martian geology, or biological evolution, emphasizing importance is not your best approach. PZ suggests you think writing for your plumber.

The importance of, say, biological evolution, is not an easy sell. It's not going to make much difference to the plumber's life. But just about everyone gets the value of beauty. Let people share some of your excitement because it is neat.

PS. Here is an example of how it is done, from the master. PZ asks, and answers: how do you make a cephalopod drool?

PPS. PZ himself is third in line to blog on his lecture: My crimes are being documented.