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What does it really mean?

Speed read
  • Distrust of science is on the rise, a sign of a failed outreach effort
  • Brute facts only a starting point for effective science commmunication 
  • Science communicator Brian Malow shows TEDxBerkeley crowd how it's done

If you happened to be in Raleigh, North Carolina on November 9-10, you might have had the good fortune to attend the first annual Flat Earth International Conference.

Attendees convened by the hundreds to share the gospel of flat-earthiness, casting out the lies of that great deceiver, NASA.

What it really means. Science is never boring, never irrelevant, says Brian Malow, the world's premier science comedian. But it will be if you don't tell us what it means. Courtesy Brian Malow; TEDx.

Many of us hear of flat-earthers and shake our head in disbelief, wondering how a something so patently absurd can retain a shred of legitimacy.

Why, when there is such an abundance of scientific evidence demonstrating the Earth’s spherical shape, does such an idea persist in 2017?

Maybe the fault lies with the failure to explain science. Perhaps if science was packaged more attractively, illustrated with compelling, colorful, and relevant explanations, then flat earth nonsense would suffocate.

Enter Brian Malow. Explaining science is what Brian Malow’s all about.

When not entertaining adoring crowds as the premier science comedian on earth, Malow leads science communication workshops for scientists at institutions like Johns Hopkins Medicine, Northwestern University, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and many others.

You may also remember Malow from the videos he has made for the Lindau Nobel Laureate meetings and for Time magazine, or from the audio pieces produced for Neil deGrasse Tyson's StarTalk radio show.

“By all means, tell us the facts – but don’t stop there,” Malow advises.

Take the explanation of gravity he gave at TEDxBerkeley 2017. Instead of thinking of gravity as something dragging things down, Malow, channeling Carl Sagan, explained how gravity is responsible for . . . everything.

Beginning with the ability to collect (or constellate, as the TEDx prompt required), gravity is responsible for hydrogen coalescing into stars. From these stars, all higher elements (and thus everything: You, me, giraffes, even Donald Trump – everything!) arise.

Falling flat. The Flat Earth International Conference in Raleigh, North Carolina attracted hundreds of attendees who believe the shape of the Earth is a disc instead of a sphere. Courtesy BBC News.

These stars give off excess energy, and in the case of our local star, this energy powers everything living here. The food chain is charged by this excess energy – brought to us courtesy of the organizing power of gravity – and is never diminished throughout this food chain.

One could be forgiven for forgetting the law of conservation of energy — stodgy old phrase, that one. But Malow’s explanation of your voice as audible sunlight? — that, you’ll not soon forget.

So, science is boring? Science is irrelevant?

That depends on how it is explained, how it is described, and what role it plays in the story of our lives.

So by all means, tell us the facts. Just don’t stop there.

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