Scientists are a very passionate group of people. We devote years of our lives studying things that most people will never hear about. As mentioned in previous posts, curiosity is a major driver for scientists. That’s why scientists are so passionate about their work.
As passionate as we may be about our research, we are not very good at communicating it to the general public. We do our experiments and then publish our findings in journals that only other scientist will read. On some occasion maybe a mainstream journalist writes an article about our findings for a newspaper but get the essence of our work completely wrong.
Instead of hiding in the lab and occasionally rely on journalists to communicate our work (and get angry when they do it incorrectly), scientists themselves should talk to the public directly. Today, a lot of people spend a large portion of their time on the internet. In order for scientists to reach out to and interact with the public and vice versa, scientists need to have an online presence. We need to participate, be searchable and available.
The British scientist Michael Faraday (1791 – 1867) understood this and initiated a series of Christmas lectures (that still goes on today) where he talked about various scientific topics to non-scientists. In the digital age, social media platforms like Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, blogs etc. are great venues where interactions between scientists and the public can take place. Talking about your research through a blog or participating in online discussions on Twitter with non-scientists for example has many benefits for both parties. Some include:
- Prevent misinformation being spread
- Establish connections and collaboration
- Increase exposure of your research
- Improve writing and science communication skills
- Increase science literacy of the public
- Prevent policymakers to make decisions based on incorrect facts
The most common argument scientists give when asked why they are so elusive online is because of lack of time. Yes, time is a very precious commodity for scientists. Scientists need to conduct experiments, be updated about the latest research, write articles, apply funding, supervise students, attend conferences, prepare talks etc. We do a lot of things besides the experiments. But just like in research, maintaining an online presence and be available for the public can be a team effort too. The workload can be shared by several scientists. Just like the blog you are reading now is not maintained by one scientist, but by 16 of us.
Another aspect of having an online presence is not only about putting the science/research out there, but also to put the scientist out there. I guess I don’t have to tell everyone the stereotypical view people have of scientists. But by being active online, we can change this stereotype. Scientists are just like any other people, proven by the great posts in this blog. We have many interests and activities just like anyone else.
I am by no means an expert on science communication, it’s just an interest that I have. But what I’m trying to say is, if science and research is worth devoting years of our lives to, then it’s also worth talking about.