Ken Wood: Lay-Mee-Zay-Rahbl | Pieces of Pi Shared – Science Narratives
Sharing his Pieces of Pi to our Nodes of Science series exploring rich narratives from many perspectives, Ken Wood describes his progression from actively practising skeptical inquiry into helping communicate science. From his history, we can see that getting involved in public science issues and helping others does not have to be a stereotypical pretentious affair. Ken’s work with many science communication projects shows that no one has to wait until becoming an expert in a specialised field to make a tremendous impact in helping the public become more capable of engaging with science.
Science is not only about answers. Science is more importantly about questions and Ken has become an experienced guide for the curious.
One by one, I started doing some internet research to dig into the claims he made. He even joined me, and we learned as much as we could. We even went to friends who were in college at the time, and asked to use their school books to study up on topics. After a while I realized he didn’t believe these crazy claims. He just didn’t accept everything that was handed to him, and was willing to question his beliefs, and do the work to find the truth. This was hard work, but worth the effort. ~Ken Wood
I was a very naïve child. I was one of those kids who believed in Santa Claus way longer than I should have. At one point someone told me I was too gullible, and I, being unfamiliar with the word at that time, asked what that meant. He made something up, and then my friends made fun of me. I spent the rest of that day asking people what gullible meant, and continued to get messed with for the entire day. Luckily, my Mom eventually showed me some pity and explained what was happening.
I think the first time I had a skeptical response to a situation was in seventh grade. I had done a book report on Les Misérables. As I stood at the front of the class, after I had announced what book I had done my report on, my English teacher interrupted me to explain that I had mispronounced the title. I had pronounced it, “lay-mee-zay-rahbl.” She said the correct pronunciation was, “lay-mee-zer-rob-uhls.” I started to argue with her, but I quickly realized it wasn’t worth it. Nothing I could say could change her mind; she was set in her misguided ways. This was a professional teacher of language.
Unfortunately, I didn’t do so well in school back then. I had plenty of issues, growing up, and I didn’t get along so well with most students, or many of the teachers. I ended up dropping out of a couple different high schools, and then was finally kicked out of my last chance high school when I was 16. I had already started working at that point, so it didn’t really bother me, at the time.
The years went on, and as I grew up I became more skeptical of things. I started shedding those early beliefs I had clung to, and started seeking out the truth. By my mid-twenties I felt I had a pretty good handle on my beliefs, and then an old friend returned to my life. This person had been on his own journey, and it was much different than mine. When we started hanging out again he would bring up things that seemed completely ridiculous to me. Things like, maybe the moon landing was faked. He read somewhere that HIV didn’t really cause AIDS, but the medication for HIV did. Have you seen those contrails from jets up in the sky? Maybe they’re not contrails, but something called chem-trails, a chemical sprayed in the air by the government as a way to control weather, and our minds!
These things were so ridiculous, it was hard not to just ignore him, and ask him not to hang out any more, but he was pretty relentless in his pushing. One by one, I started doing some internet research to dig into the claims he made. He even joined me, and we learned as much as we could. We even went to friends who were in college at the time, and asked to use their school books to study up on topics. After a while I realized he didn’t believe these crazy claims. He just didn’t accept everything that was handed to him, and was willing to question his beliefs, and do the work to find the truth. This was hard work, but worth the effort. Many times we were left with open questions, but I felt that was better than assuming we knew the absolute truth with absolutely no reason to assume so.
One day, about two or three years ago, I started noticing all these memes popping up in my Facebook newsfeed. Basically, pictures of farmland with men in scary HAZMAT suits spraying the crops, and there’d be a message saying, “if these chemicals are so safe, why are these men wearing so much safety gear?” At first I was pretty curious. I mean, it seemed like a fairly good point. Why were they wearing so much safety gear, were those chemicals safe, what was even happening in those pictures, were they even spraying food crops? So many questions, and I wasn’t entirely sure where to go for answers.
Then I started having some discussions with friends about the subject of GMOs. I started hearing that GMOs were creating “super weeds,” fish DNA was being spliced into our fruits and vegetables, evil corporations were buying up our DNA, suing small farms and forcing them out of business, and causing suicides to happen in India. I was asked if I would vote for or against labelling them, and my immediate response was, “yes, absolutely!” I didn’t even know what GMO stood for, but I knew I had the right to know if I was consuming them.
And I still feel that way. I DO have the right to know what I’m consuming. You can’t just trick me into consuming something, that’s not fair!
Then I learned about a place called GMO Skepti-Forum. When I first ventured to this place, I was very cautious. I didn’t want to leap in, say a bunch of stuff, and give people a chance to make up their minds about me before I had a chance to ask any useful questions. I wanted to learn, so I mostly just watched, and read. And I kept reading, and the more I read, the more I started to feel comfortable. I eventually made my first post. A friend of mine had posted something to their wall about how terrible GMOs were, and all the things they did to your gut bacteria. This was some “study” done by a scientist named Seneff.
I was met with some rather useless comments, at first. People were making pointless jokes about the source, or just equating the article to worthlessness. Eventually, however, some of the members started making some comments that explained some things that were discussed in the article, and they shared links to actual studies. Someone explained who Seneff was, and why her conclusions might not be worth taking for more than their weight in helium.
I started to realize I was among friends. Some were at the same level as me, and were just as excited I was to learn. Others were way ahead of me, and they were excited to help me learn. It was such an eye opening experience. When you put a bunch of nice, smart, respectful people into a room with a common goal, you get results, and you get them in an unexpected way. People are polite, and are willing to go out of their way for perfect strangers. They’re even willing to do this in the face of adversity.
I wanted to be one of those people. I didn’t have the knowledge base that these people had, but I had the desire, and willingness to do hard work, so I jumped on board as a moderator, and started doing my part to help communicate science. It’s only been a year or two, but I’ve already grown, and the future looks bright. Whether I’m seeking out articles to bring to people for discussion, joining in on discussions to ask different questions, bringing evidence to help support or refute claims, searching for new tools and resources, or trying to contact professionals to help join the cause, I really love what I’m doing. It’s fulfilling, and it helps me in so many ways.
My message to anyone who has a desire, but isn’t sure how to contribute, I’d say to go for it. Start small, ask lots of questions, and listen to what others are saying. I know it can be scary, but you’ll eventually feel comfortable, and then it’s time to push yourself out of your comfort zone again. Just take small steps, and follow your desires; you never know where you’ll end up.