By: Dimitri Johnson
Historically, science and politics have not mixed well because scientists couldn’t communicate science well enough. For the past hundred years or so science has been very important in our everyday lives, but many people do not see this. There was a time when much of the general public was interested in science. During the space race in the 1960s people were curious about the Apollo missions and the Sputnik space journeys.
Part of the reason the public was so curious was because of how much science was in the media that people consumed. Now people can watch TV all day and be lucky to see even a couple minutes of science content. And this content usually involves diet and fitness. Since the 1900s the science section of the newspaper has overall shrank by two thirds. Also, Hollywood does not help the public perception of scientists. Most scientists in movies are depicted as freaks, geeks, or the bad guys. Recently though, some shows like Breaking Bad and The Big Bang Theory present us with more relatable scientists.
Scientists are trained to communicate in a way that does not translate to mainstream content. The terminology along with the charts and graphs used are often hard for the general public to figure out. Even if the general public could easily read scientific papers, most of these research papers are hidden behind private journals that people would have to pay to access. This leads people in having to sift through the internet where there is also a lot of pseudoscience present. A good way to solve these issues is for scientists to communicate through social media platforms. If scientists used
Twitter they could use that to provide specific content to a wide audience. Scientists who have published research behind a paywall are usually happy to send out individual pdfs to those interested in their work for free. Online social media is where most Americans get their news. If a research article becomes present on Twitter then it is more likely to get cited in scientific literature at a later point. Scientists can use Wikipedia and a website called Plumx to track the amount of engagement with scientific articles after being posted on social media. Plumx can also tell the user if their article has been mentioned by other sources.
A big reason that scientists should communicate to the general public better is so we can grow the number of people who are interested in science who possibly want to pursue the field one day. If we have more people wanting to pursue science it could fix other problems in science such as the lack of funding from the government. In our ever progressing society we need scientists and the politics to come together more than ever. Pressing issues such as climate change should be a political issue as well as an environmental issue since it directly affects people. Yet in the 2012 election, Joe Biden’s smile got three times as much media coverage compared to climate change. Americans also do not know much about the energy we use and where it comes from. They are also afraid of other sources of sustainable energy such as nuclear energy because of how the media has presented it to them.
Many other fields have information that is translated into lay terms in order to help a more general audience understand their field. This helps certain industries gain supporters politically and financially. For example, businesses that help people invest their money write many articles for lay people on how to get started and explain in
general what is going on. Eventually, once people start to care enough it will become a part political and gain more attention in the media. Science articles that are written in lay terms typically are not present among the social media and websites that the general population frequents. Scientists should present works like these on more popular social media platforms. People love to know where their money is going. If scientists talked about how taxpayer money is used to fund research this may capture the general public’s interest.
Science communication is important because it can open up communication between lay people and scientists, leading to new ideas. By opening up new ways for science communication we can help solve economic and environmental issues.