Science Matters with Lawrence Krauss

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Arizona State University Physicist Lawrence Krauss will give us his expert insight into the latest science news and will also be joined by editor in chief of Scientific American, Marietta DiChristina.

Ted Simons: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon," renowned physicist Lawrence Krauss and a special guest talk about science journalism. And we'll look at the many ways that veterans are giving back to their communities. That's next on "Arizona Horizon."

Video: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the Friends of Arizona PBS, members of your PBS station. Thank you.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon," I'm Ted Simons. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that Arizona will receive nearly $26 million to go toward conservation funding. Arizona is one of four southwestern states to split over a billion dollars in revenue that comes from excise taxes on hunting, fishing and shooting equipment, along with fuel taxes. The money will be used to support conservation projects and outdoor recreational activities led by state game and fish agencies. Each month, we visit with best-selling science writer and ASU physicist Lawrence Krauss to talk about the latest science news. Tonight, we'll talk about talking about science news as we look at the state of science journalism. Here now is Lawrence Krauss, and also joining us is Mariette DiChristina, editor-in-chief Scientific American. Welcome to "Arizona Horizon."

Mariette DiChristina: Thanks so much for having us.

Ted Simons: Great to have you here.

Lawrence Krauss: It's really great to have a partner here so I don't have to deal with you alone.

Lawrence Krauss: It's very good. It's great to have her here.

Ted Simons: All right, let's -- just a little different. We're not going to talk about outer space and quantum this. The important collider. Science journalism. Define science.

Lawrence Krauss: Define science?

Ted Simons: We're talking about science journalism.

Lawrence Krauss: That's a good one. The process of learning about the physical world by observation, experiment and testing.

Ted Simons: If that's science then what is science journalism?

Lawrence Krauss: Well, science journalism is communicating the important process and results of science that are relevant to every one of our lives.

Ted Simons: And is that communication happening right now at the level that it's always occurred? A little less?

Mariette DiChristina: That's a good question. We're going to talk about the level that's always occurred, I should say Scientific American, it wouldn't be a stretch to say Scientific American helped invent that in the U.S. since it was started in 1845. And back in those days, it was a big story about what was important then which was the industrial revolution and how we're going to farm better and live better lives. And so science yeah, it's a process by which we learn things and solve problems. But science is also something that's so easy even a baby can do it.

Ted Simons: Yeah. But --

Lawrence Krauss: Or Ted.

Ted Simons: Thank you. The state of science journalism, though. Where are we right now?

Mariette DiChristina: So let's talk about differences maybe. So if I look at old-fashioned science journalism like what we did as a newspaper at scientific American in 1845, things have really changed quite a bit. We're not all reading our science in our newspapers anymore. We're not necessarily reading them in magazines. Of course, we have the Internet and the level thing about that is we're all sharing news about science with each other. And Lawrence is one of the examples of people who do it who wouldn't have once upon a time. Once upon a time you would have always had a filter between you and the process of science and that would have been people like me, but now people who do the science themselves also tell the stories about it.

Lawrence Krauss: In fact, they changed interestingly almost the first time I wrote for science was for scientific American many, many years ago before you were born, in fact, and now it's true. We can communicate directly and by a lot of things including social networking, and I think it's a very different -- and this way, too, in fact, and it's really nice I think for the public to be able to -- it's really important to have science journalists because they cannot only communicate with the scientist and the public but it's really important for the scientist to be able to communicate directly and that's why I'm happy to be here and to be able to write because I think the public wants to often hear from the horse's mouth, as well.

Ted Simons: You talked about not having a filter there, though. Sometimes, a filter is an important thing to have.

Mariette DiChristina: It totally is and I think we play very important but different roles for people about science. So scientists like Lawrence will tell you about his work or about the work of people in the field and you're quite a specialist. You will always know things way deeper than the typical journalist will but a journalist is able to speak with a lot of other people and weave a story together that requires a lot of reporting legwork that a scientist, it's not training you have to do. So I think they give different perspectives that are really important.

Ted Simons: But how do you get what a scientist says, a scientist discovers X. okay. It's now your job to teach me or let me know, just inform me what X. is all about. How do you do that without dumbing things down, making it accessible but not so over the top that I have a blank look?

Mariette DiChristina: I like you stopped the term dumbing things down. I like to say inviting people in. We all do this no matter what we're talking about. If you're speaking to a child you speak one way, if you're speaking to an adult you speak another way. So when we are talking to people about the products of science, a thing that's always in my mind is what does this person care about knowing and how do I translate it for them so that they get at least at the high level something useful that they can get out of what I'm telling them? They don't need to know all the formulas that maybe Lawrence used in a theory that he was working on but the outputs of it, what does it tell us about how the world works is something we can all get excited about.

Lawrence Krauss: What's really important is she's not a scientist and I love working with editors like her who aren't scientists because if they can understand it and explain it in a clear way, then the public can but also, although I try and I spend a lot of time on this, it's sometimes to think oh, when you're so familiar with something that it's obvious, and it's really important to have someone to bounce that around and say that's not obvious at all and also, who has experience knowing things that people are interested in. And because we've talked about this before, I often tell science teachers the biggest mistake they make is going into the classroom and assuming the students are interested in what they have to say. You have to make them interested and that's true for journalists as well as teachers. Where are people coming from and how can they be interested? The important thing is one of the reasons I'm so happy to be on this program is if science is a vital part of our lives in politics and everything else, getting people to realize that things they're interested in is actually science is an important thing.

Mariette DiChristina: I would like to add to that actually and explain my baby comment from before, too, because I meant that in a specific way. People are born curious. They're born with the desire to learn how the world works around them. Look at a child in a high chair throwing a cheerio over one side and a meatball over the other and they fall differently and you can see them learning. That's a baby scientist. So we all like to discover things, and I think one of the ways that we translate the products of research for people in ways that are valuable to them is explain what was the human journey that was taken there and what does it mean to people in the end? Do we learn something? Can we solve a problem?

Ted Simons: People are also interested in things that affect them directly. How much of a factor is that? I mean, we could talk quantum mechanics until the cows come home.

Lawrence Krauss: But it affects you directly, I've said it before.

Ted Simons: You've got to be able to do that.

Lawrence Krauss: You have to be able to do that, and I think you're absolutely right. People are fascinated by esoteric ideas in science, there's no idea about it but people do want to know how does it impact upon me? And I think it has to be a healthy bit of both because the problem is with science, I often say it's unfortunately producing practical results. That may not -- why is that unfortunate? Because people realize that there's also a lot of science that is just fascinating that doesn't and often people say what good is that going to do? How is that going to build a better toaster? I say what good is a Mozart symphony? Science is a human activity, and it's fascinating for that reason just as art, music and literature are.

Ted Simons: Does there have to be a story arc? I use quantum mechanics because we've discussed this many times on the program.

Lawrence Krauss: I know you're fascinated.

Ted Simons: I'm absolutely fascinated. When you talk about something that complicated and that just hard for the mind to bend itself around, does it matter if the writing style? You've got to find a way to break through?

Mariette DiChristina: Absolutely, I think it is. Anything should be interesting. And the thing that's lucky about science is it is intrinsically interesting. And actually more often than not I think Lawrence you're talking about the Einstein example, the theory of relativity and how it's used in your GPS and so on. So you're carrying around physics every day in your phone. You just don't think of it that way. Pretty much everything that society is talking about now, whether it's having people live healthier, happier lives or solving some of the world's big problems, the studio we're in, the cameras that are filming us, all of this was developed and evolved through the process of science and when we got started in various basic research areas, we didn't know where it was going to go, that was part of the fun.

Ted Simons: It's part of the fun as well taking the student who just blitzed out on science, I can't take this anymore, if I see one more formula I'm going to scream, and reining that person as an adult back in.

Lawrence Krauss: And that's one of the reasons why things like Scientific American are so important because what we want to do, of course, is get people excited by something so they become life-long learners because, you know, once school is out, that's when you begin to learn really and so having the opportunity to go to reliable sources because the Internet is great, but the Internet isn't filtered so there's equal amounts of nonsense and sense so it's nice, too, to have a magazine like Scientific American where you can go to once a month and find out something interesting that's going on and spur your interest. I think that's the main thing. I should say she's here because we're going to have a dialogue for the origins project tomorrow, and, as you can see, she's fascinating and I can't wait to have that discussion.

Ted Simons: That's going to be at the Herberger center.

Lawrence Krauss: Tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m. and there's tickets available.

Ted Simons: Good to hear that. I talked about how people want stories that affect them. Correct me if I'm wrong, but people kind of want to hear about things they could have the slightest bit of control over. I have no control over what I see at night in the sky. I find it fascinating, thousands, hundreds of thousands, if not more light years away. I don't really control that. But there's a little bit of a -- if I go out tonight I'm going to see Scorpio or I'm going to see some sort of constellation with some stars, maybe a couple of planets and I feel like I have a little bit of control over -- does that make any sense?

Mariette DiChristina: It totally does because what is science but a way that we start to understand what's around us? And that makes us feel better because understanding, you know, is the first step towards solving anything.

Lawrence Krauss: The first step to action. Until -- it's having control, science has given us for better or worse control over the world in ways we couldn't have had and I think -- and without that control, I mean without knowing a little bit, you can't make the predictions about what to do next. It's true you can't control the movement of the stars but what you could do is know when to go out to be able to see the things.

Ted Simons: The funny thing is, Lawrence, they are always there. I go out every night and they're always there.

Lawrence Krauss: And it's amazing and they look the same but sometimes, every now, and then they look different, when there's something neat in the sky, don't you feel good when you know to go out in the sky and to see all the planets as they were five planets out and if you got up at 6:00 in the morning you could see that and people can participate in it. Because we are born scientists. I think what we do is beat it out of people in school. But kids are naturally curious and want to find out about the universe around them because it's the way we survive. And we just want to keep that excitement going.

Ted Simons: For those who say, critics who say, remember as a kid there used to be a science section in the newspaper, they don't have science sections in the newspaper anymore, critics saying science journalism is basically going out of existence. You're a specialized publication notwithstanding; in general, it's harder to find that. Is that a valid criticism?

Mariette DiChristina: I wouldn't call it a criticism. I would call it evolution and evolution is something that I am inclined to embrace. What I would say counter to that, not counter to that but alongside that is yes, certainly, the world has changed, there aren't the science sections in the paper. There are those of us who didn't like that you had nicknames of ghettos, things would be stuck there. I had a feeling that science is actually covered more widely than ever, we just don't call it that and just to test my own feeling, I counted the front page of my paper just for fun to do it on paper, you can get websites but it was just fun and every day, local papers, more than half the stories were always a science story but they didn't call themselves science stories. They called themselves medical advance to save people's lives or, you know, new way to be more creative in your home.

Ted Simons: It's there; it's just not shunted off into its own thing.

Mariette DiChristina: Yeah.

Ted Simons: And you both are going to be there again Herberger theater when?

Lawrence Krauss: Tomorrow night 7:00 p.m., be there or be square.

Ted Simons: It's good to have you both here, especially you, thank you for helping! Appreciate it. And you thank you.

Lawrence Krauss: It's always good to be back.

Mariette DiChristina: That was so fun.

Lawrence Krauss: Arizona State University Physicist, Mariette DiChristina: Editor in Chief of Scientific American

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