Is there anything that scientists and science communicators can do to help rid the world of junk science reporting The first and last step: don't play into it.
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As with most things media related, the social world is turning everything upside down, if not outright destroying it. This is the case for science communication too.
Want to engage someone in science? Try telling a story. They might like that.
Some days the job of a science communicator seems downright impossible. How can we continue to grow a love for science when there's so much...well, lack of love for science? Especially when this lack of enthusiasm manifests in so many different and troubling ways.
Want to know what a scientist looks like? Look in the mirror.
Quite honestly, the current brand of science is...all over the place.
So what does it mean for a scientist or science communicator to have a mission when it comes to the public?
Sometimes you encounter people who believe differently than you do. I know, crazy, but let's explore the hypothetical scenario just in case it were to happen.
The phrase “popular science” has a benign enough definition: explaining science to the general public.
But we are not competing in the marketplace of commerce. We're competing in the marketplace of ideas.
There are of course a few challenges to public outreach from the perspective of a scientist: difficulty in translating the jargon, fear of saying something inaccurate, discomfort in presenting to large crowds, and so on.
First off, the very act of using natural language to describe scientific concepts can be considered "dumbing down".
But we often hear the narrative that STEM literacy is declining, and that our mission is to fight that decline lest the general public becomes ignorant and afraid of the world around them. But here are three questions in response to that claim: 1) Can you actually reliably measure STEM "literacy"?, 2) Is it really declining?, and 3) Is that the true motivation of our mission?
So what to do? Well in the words of famed English novelist and critic George Orwell, "the quickest way of ending a war is to lose it."
So while many scientists agreed with the messages of the March, they didn't necessarily agree with the methods.
But not all scientists and members of the scientific community joined in the efforts. The March's slogan was "out of the labs and into the streets," but many scientists chose to stay in their labs. In this two-part series I'll weigh the pros and cons of the effort, starting with the pros.
There are many features of the scientific enterprise that we can incorporate into our everyday lives. These are all well and good, and with a properly trained mind can be wielded to great effect. But there's one more feature of science that has only emerged in relatively recent times: the rise of the collaboration.
In a perfect world we would just open up the doors, let folks filter in to take their seats, and start talking about science. They would listen, agree that it's pretty awesome, and go home to tell their friends and family what they just learned.
But how many times do scientists not actually mind the stereotype, and even actively work to encourage it? I've met more than one scientist who deliberately puts on an air of aloofness, who has judged society to never be able to understand their work, or who thumbs their nose at social conventions because they're too important.
If a single person walks away from an educational moment not understanding the concept, we have to assume that it's entirely our fault.