Science Communicators – We Need Them Desperately

9 years ago

Today, I want to toot the horn for science communicators, science writers and bloggers who are taking up the slack. Most people, including some women, have no interest in science. I know because if I compare the stats between my writing about science with my writing about sex, well, let’s be real. I know where folks interest are centered. So why waste my time?

Here is why. You got your pseudo science, your misinterpreted science and journalists who don’t know science but scare the bejeebers out of you for ratings science.

You got the rank and file portion of the population who don’t or refuse to believe in science, both faith and non-faith based. I don’t want to forget the latest celebrity selling a non-health, non-nutrition diet book based on their own personal non-documented experience. I’m sure I’m leaving something out.  Oh yes, infomercials.

There is a great post about the status of science in society by Shwu at I Was Lost But Now I Live Here. I’d copy 75 percent of it if I could but to give you a little taste:

As the daughter of two scientists, it never occurred to me growing up that science as a profession or a method of inquiry could be controversial. How else were we to discover life-saving treatments, develop better technologies, or advance our understanding of the natural world? I took for granted the fact that science is the foundation of modern civilization and makes improved standards of living for more people possible.

My recent forays into blogging, however, have shown me that nearly everything is debated, even things that should not even seem debatable. Evolution is one of them, and, apparently, so is vaccination. My open letter to Oprah sparked an unexpected flurry of responses from many scientists, parents, and concerned citizens, giving me a taste of the kind of “discussions” people have on issues near and dear to them. I realized that people on both sides genuinely care about improving health, but also that productive conversation is elusive when the assumptions and objects of trust are different.

Honestly, this bunk reporting and non-reporting is killing us. Intellectually and physically. It could also put the democracy at stake. In my opinion.

Well, not just my opinion.  In 2007 Mona Mohur Sidhwa recorded her commentary on the importance of scientists, the public and a request for inclusive engagement between the science community and the rest of us.

Mona would like both sides to come together in respect. Here is Mona's video:

The loss of newspapers and magazines jobs have too many science reporters and communicators among the unemployed. You might think you do not need them. I ask you to look back at the coverage of tainted food, so-called pandemics and natural or environmental disasters of the past year.

Casey Rentz is thinking about these same concerns. She is a science writer at Wondering Around the Universe. Casey also contributes to Science Journalism in New Media where she creates online slide presentations on Science Journalism.  One of the questions she is asking is:

How will the average joe get science news, if mass media is not going to get them into it? How are new technologies enriching niche news?

So every time you hear about Salmonella, or cholesterol in eggs or the benefit of Olive oil you have to wonder if it is just hype, misstated science, public relations manipulations (Remember the high fructose corn syrup ads?) or the truth. How do you know if you don’t have access to a skilled and informed science writer, journalist or blogger?

We all have witness local TV news anchors trying to explain science topics that they did not understand. If they do get an expert to feed answers to them you hope to heaven the expert can convey the information you need in plain English.

Victoria Jaggard at Breaking Orbit/National Geographic blog talks about her frustration with the misrepresentation of “Black Holes” both in entertainment and in factual articles. In her post on Why Black Holes Don't Suck:

In the world of science journalism, we writers and editors often walk along the edge of a very sharp sword.

On one side lies the realm of Pure Accuracy, filled with semantics and pedantry and enough qualifiers to turn the discovery of giant squid fossils on Mars into a 40-page report on "the theoretical life-cycle and behavioral dynamics of a novel Architeuthisspecies as revealed by spectroscopic analysis of Noachian coprolites in the Syrtis Major quadrangle."

Zzzzzzzzzzzzz.

But on the other side of the sword's edge lies Pandering Sensationalism, where almost every headline seems to end with an exclamation point [Missing Link Found!] and every discovery is hopelessly lacking in context.

Victoria points the way to Barb at Galaxy Girl who explains how she has to re-explain the crud that is spewed out by scientifically mal-informed people.

In fact, this is the very misconception of black holes that plagues those of us who interact with the general public. There is a widespread impression that a black hole will suck up anything in its vicinity.

For the sake of the country, do your part and increase your science knowledge base. This isn’t painful.

One of the places you can get started is the Understanding Science – How Science Works website created by the UC Museum of Paleontology of the University of California at Berkeley. and it was funded by the National Science Foundation. You can check out the Resource Library or if you are a home schooling parent or homework parent you might be interested in the Teacher resources. Heck, you don’t need kids to find goodies at this site.

Science does not have to be boring, if you want a little entertainment with your science visit Science and Entertainment Exchange Blog where you can be in the know about the intersections between popular entertainment and the science that may or may not be present.  I don’t agree with everything written at the blog but that is ok.

Questions are good. Science indifference, bad.

Gena Haskett writes at Out On The Stoop and PCC Libtech when she isn’t star gazing.

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