Scientific Illiteracy and Outreach

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but today a friend posted this NY Times article and it reminded me of why I started this blog in the first place.

The science world can become so small and insular that it is easy to forget that not everyone knows what a gene is, or even what the scientific method is, let alone can even fathom the basic premise of my PhD. Often our interactions with the ‘outside world’ are with the undergraduate students at large universities, who are in the classes to check a box and would rather not be there. We get bogged down in the details of our research and the politics of our fields, and we forget how important it is to remind people of why we chose this career. It is a tough, time-consuming job and we all do it because we love it. How could we not? We’re exploring the universe and understanding life itself! What is more empowering than that? 

We often get frustrated by the ‘outreach’ and ‘broader impacts’ sections of our grant proposals, and how they take up precious space which we could otherwise be filling with more information about the project we’re trying to get funded. But it is good to keep in mind that for all intents and purposes it doesn’t really matter if your research gets funded if 46% of the people helping fund your research don’t even understand science well enough to comprehend that evolution isn’t something you ‘believe in’–it’s a theory, like gravity. So, I say to you, fellow scientists–be grateful that your grant proposals are forcing you to think of ways to interact with the community! I sure am. Part of my NSF Predoctoral fellowship grant proposal was my citizen-science project, and the few people who have contacted me with photographs have consistently brought a smile to my face. 

And to all my non-scientist readers: give yourself the challenge of periodically learning something new about science. If you’re looking for good sources of information, here are some of my non-jargon-heavy favorites:

The major journals, like Nature and Science, also have recaps of some of the more notable papers of the day/week. 

So remember to be excited about science