There was a magical moment last week when I escaped my kids for two hours to meet a friend at the closest tiki bar for some laughter and relaxation — but something from that day still haunts me.
For those of you who don’t know me, I have the quintessential waitress personality. I talk to everyone I am near, and usually end up making a new friend or at least having a nice, interesting conversation. That is why, as I was waiting for my friend to arrive, I was listening to the conversation between the bartender and the patron closest to me to see if I could find an opportunity to jump in. The conversation went down something like this:
Patron: Unseasonably hot this year, huh?
Bartender: (noticeably dripping with sweat in mid-September) Man, it sure is - must be that global warming.
Patron: (Heckling) Yeah “global warming.” If that is what this is about.
Sheri: (Trying to be smooth) So, that global warming is pretty crazy stuff, huh?
Patron: Eh, I think it is bunk — this is just normal temperature fluctuation, nothing to get worked up about.
Sheri: (Totally shocked) So you don’t think global warming is real?
Patron: What are you, some advocate or something?
Sheri: Well, the scientific community thinks that global warming absolutely is happening and happening faster than the original projections. I am kinda worried that my house will be under water in the next couple decades.
Patron: Hmph, well, we just don’t know what is going to happen. (Turns his head away and avoids further conversation.)
All of a sudden I had been shunned… and repeated efforts to reengage in idle conversation were complete failures. I don’t take failure to socialize lightly. This was a major attack on my sensibilities! And here we are a week later, and I still can’t get that guy’s face out of my mind — where had I gone wrong? Was it because I tried to talk about the “S” word (science)??
Back in the early days of COPUS, a colleague told me: “That is great you are doing this Year of Science thing to reengage with the public — but really it is not that broken.” I have spent the last three years personally deciding if I think this statement is true — collecting evidence, like this exchange at the tiki bar, to form my own impression about whether or not we need more science in our culture. From my personal and professional observations — the evidence is overwhelming! I am stunned that anyone could think it is not broken!
So, as we roll into the third quarter of the Year of Science 2009, we are spending a lot of time asking ourselves the two questions that we asked of you: What did we get out of 2009? Should these efforts continue? The chasm between science and society is BIG, and we can see that our journey together has only just begun. We hope that you will join us in providing your input on how to move forward as a community that is passionate to impart change — our collective voice and activities will have far more impact than any one of us alone. And maybe through our work together, the day will come (hopefully before the tiki bar is under water) when I listen to the patron next to me say “scientists say this global warming stuff is serious, aren’t you glad this bar’s light bulbs are CFL’s?” That will be a moment to toast.