By: Grace Garrett
Scientific discoveries change the way we live our lives every day. Unfortunately, although science permeates every aspect of our lives, it is not becoming any easier to access. Between 1989 and 2001, the number of newspapers including a science section shrank by two thirds, and in five hours of televised news, there may be one minute or less of science and technology coverage. Now, scientific findings are often published in expensive journals many people are unable to access without granted access from an institution of work or study. Even if someone has access through their institution to reading these articles, comprehension has become more difficult due to increased scientific jargon and poor structural assembly of sentences. All of these factors combined decrease the approachability of the scientific community and its information, leading to fewer interactions with scientific findings by the public.
Scientific discoveries and exploration are important to society’s advancement. This has been most recently supported by the search for knowledge about SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 to gain control over the virus causing the current pandemic. However, recent critical work has also been performed studying CRISPR as a mechanism to alter eukaryotic genomes, differentiations of mental health risk levels for different groups within the LGBTQ+ community, and recognition of pregnancy complications as increasing risk for cardiovascular disease. It’s important people outside the niche scientific communities hear about these discoveries so they can reflect on its implications for their own life, health, and future. To increase accessibility to science, I propose increased use of media platforms to disseminate information such as televised news, Twitter, and Facebook. Successful instances of this include Dr. Julia Marcus using Twitter to share her poster virtually in lieu of an in-person conference poster session due to COVID-19 related cancellation and Dr. Kali Cyrus succinctly explaining how racism increases adverse outcomes from COVID-19 in Black and Latinx communities. Along with the benefits of wide reach, solutions would also need to be created to address the negative potential of misinformation spread through these spaces, which have a much higher potential for misinformation than with a peer-revision process at a journal.
Provided these media platforms are an effective way of sharing information to larger groups of people, we now need to address how to make them care. Capturing their interest is key to change in society, evidenced by the conversion funnel theory from general communications. This theory is the process by which a message sender aims to convert an audience unaware of their “product” to actionably completing goals set by the message sender. The sender exposes the audience to information surrounding the topic, generates interest, and facilitates continual desire for more information, which leads to the audience taking the desired action to fulfill the sender’s goals. To apply this theory specifically to science communication, the product could be new scientific findings, which the sender hopes the receiver to absorb. This re-integrating science into people’s thoughts through effective communication puts people’s health and lives back into their own hands. They can be presented with evidence and independently decide for themselves to adapt (or not) in response. As a future clinician, I am especially interested in the implications for medicine, and I believe this would encourage sharing responsibility of wellness between the patient and doctor. Doctors are facilitators of healing just as scientists are facilitators of learning, but neither can effect change alone.