PZ Myers … whose blog “Pharyngula” I’ve come to read on a daily basis, gave the commencement speech at USC this week. It’s very short, and encapsulates exactly how I feel.
While I don’t consider myself a “public intellectual,” I still abide by much of PZ’s advice. Here are two paragraphs that I found most inspiring:
– Here’s another one you may take for granted, but I assure you, much of the world outside your circle of nerds does not: Criticize. It’s one of the most powerful tools in the scientific toolbox, and self-criticism and constant testing and evaluation of our ideas is how we make our understanding greater. If you haven’t gotten out of the lab much in the last few years, you may be surprised at how much shock and dismay you can generate with the simple words, “I think you’re wrong, and here’s why.” Don’t be shy about using them!
– Go ahead, be offensive. I’m offensive all the time, and I’ve got reams of hate mail to prove it. I say that women should have the right to decide what to do with their own bodies, and are just as good at science as men, and the angry mail streams in. I say that gay people should have the same rights as straight people, and I have offended a vocal horde right there. I say that all religion is foolish tosh and an affront to reason and the dignity of humankind, and boy, do I get outraged letters. And it’s all good. You don’t have to agree with everything I say, because the role of the public intellectual is to spark the argument and provoke change, not to dictate it. Do it.