Editor Describes the Challenges of Talking About Science

Sharon Begley, Newsweek senior editor and science columnist, spoke at the Whitney Humanities Center about the difficulties of explaining science to people who reject rational thought in favor of unsubstantiated emotion and opinion.

Her Nov. 12 talk, “Science Journalism in an Irrational World,” was sponsored by the Poynter Fellowship in Journalism at Yale.

Begley, a Yale alumna and author, offered a fairly pessimistic assessment of science literacy in the United States, citing evolution, in particular, as a subject that has become bitterly politicized in the United States. She said this is not true in other countries, illustrating her point with a chart that showed the percentage of people in 34 major countries who believe in evolution; the United States was second from the bottom. Only Turkey had fewer non-believers.

Begley noted that thinking rationally is not the same as “common sense,” which she said can often be grounded in emotion. People must make a conscious decision to think rationally, she asserted.

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