Science and communication: what are we missing?

science communication

There’s a gap between the scientific community and the general public. How do we close it?

Image: Bigstock.

There’s a lot of information on the Internet nowadays, so much, that it’s easy to get lost, especially when so much of these data can be biased or even false. In previous articles, we explored the fake-news prevalence and its adverse effect on the value of the information we receive, but the whole miss-information phenomenon cannot be explained by only one cause.

We live in a time in which presidents and high profile public servers can publicly say that they don’t believe in climate change, or that there’s such a thing as clean coal.

This situation shows a severe disconnection between scientific research and the way its results get out to the public. Is very clear that something is amiss in the process of getting discovery in the lab and communicate that to the public.

A matter of trust

Science has the best method to help us understand our surroundings, but is not as effective when it comes to communicating the knowledge it produces. This weakness has caused a worrying setback in science credibility lately.

A study produced by Harvard informed that only 46% of Americans trusted scientific information, that was in 2006, by 2017 the number went as low as 35%, as discovered by a YouGov survey, according to the marketing research firm, the number of people that don’t trust scientific sources at all has grown a 50%. These numbers raise a question that is key to understand the root of the problem. Why don’t we believe scientists?

Philip Hunter professional writer for science and tech content, explains that communication in the scientific community can be influenced by ulterior motives. Some scientific papers can have self-serving purposes, like bolstering up the reputation of a scientist or an institution or use scientific information to get to a political or economic means, all of these are plausible reasons for which sketchy and untruthful research gets out to the public.

To say that all cases are like that is a useless generalization of the big picture. But we ought to consider how the notion that science serves a limited group of people has really hurt its public perception. Given the circumstances, there’s only one way to close the gap between the scientific community and the rest of us.

Get out of the lab

Science is precise, it has a method, it doesn’t need to eat nor sleep, it’s free of insecurities, but it’s also deprived of unique talents or qualities. It doesn’t need to relate to people or to communicate with them, that’s a human’s job. To read, interpret, and transmit data is when people come in because they supposedly have the personal skills the science lacks.

We need to get involved, explain to the people what we do. We have to point out those headlines that are scary and have nothing to do with real facts.

Jane Doudna has a Harvard Ph.D. in Biochemistry; she’s a pioneer in genetic editing practices. She offers a candid perspective about the difficulties scientists face when it comes to publishing their research.

“Its true that in general, we are reluctant to speak in public, we feel comfortable in the lab and uncomfortable before the public eye. But I would like to see us make a change in time”.

Doudna was hopeful about the possibility of learning in the scientific community, an advancement that leads them to empathize with people and help them understand that every scientific breakthrough, is meant to serve the public.

In its ideal form and intended use, science responds to necessities like improving people’s lives, protect the planet, to enable us to do things we couldn’t do before, and more. For science to keep serving the public, is instrumental to direct the public attention to this principles, and regain their trust. “We need to get involved, explain to the people what we do. We have to point out those headlines that are scary and have nothing to do with real facts,” concluded Doudna.