The following is the most amazing discussion amongst science writers ever!
Names have been removed to maintain anonymity
Do We Need More Science Writing for the Public?
Since my retirement from active research at the Universityon the molecular genetics of sexual reproduction in fungi, I’ve kept myself busy by writing a book. It is memoir about how I got to be a scientist when girls were not supposed to aspire to such professions. The memoir describes the difficulties of achieving success as a scientist regardless of gender. It describes the way of science as relevant to my own research. As complicated as research on reproduction in mushroom bearing fungus with 20,000 sexes is, I’ve tried to make it reader friendly to non scientists as well as scientist who are not familiar with the field. In my opinion, the public is abysmally ignorant of the relevance of science to their existence. An understanding of how scientific research is done and why research in model systems is important should be communicated more actively than is currently the case.
Answer 1-This is my question too. I guess a scientist to write for non-scientists needs to have a sort of skill in science fiction writing and change the writing style in that direction.
Answer 2- I agree and have tried to write for the public as well as for other scientists throughout my career. In fact — though I hate to admit it to my scientific peers — I have found that my scientific papers are better received/understood if I write them more in the tone that I use for the general public. YES! we need more good, clear, straightforward explanations of science for the public, in my opinion.
Answer 3- Yes, it is important to improve the general knowledge of public. But, it is very sensitive job that I think should be done by academic people with no special commercial interests. Many academic research papers are published every day but they are not useful for public and hard to understand for ordinary people. We need science writers to translate the interesting scientific topics to articles easy to understand by public. In some cases the public are misled by such writings; for instance in the case of BPA in polycarbonate bottles. That is very critical and sensitive job.
Answer 4- We can’t hope to have society support science if all non-scientists learn about it is a few hours a week in school when they’re young. Science is not some exclusive club that only a certain educated minority can understand or appreciate. It’s a way of observing, thinking about, and interacting with the world around us. I can explain to a ten year old how science is done in an hour, and they can apply that to their life immediately. Hiding what science is or does or pessimistically saying that no one cares will only perpetuate the feeling that science is elitist, secretive, and not to be trusted. THAT will lead to pushback by EVERYONE.
What we have today is a society that is interested in science when it helps them. Medical advances. Cheaper energy. Cleaner air. Lives saved. Quality of life improved. There is some general anti-science rhetoric, but in my experience this is based on ignorance of what science IS or centers around particular belief-based issues. The key to more science support is demonstrating how science is helping people, even if it is basic science that doesn’t seem relevant to “real life”. Improving transparency in science and increasing the public’s contact with science and scientists will show that scientists are doing positive, important, and exciting work that should be encouraged.
Here is the leading Science Communications YouTube Video
Answer 5- Agree with you completely, something interesting which European scientists were doing which I think there should be more of.
Have PhD students and researchers present their science to year 6 students in 5-10 minutes. The students then question the researchers on anything they didn’t understand and help them with their presentation for it to be clear to this audience.
This gives children an appreciation of what researchers do and how science benefits humanity and gives the researchers a new perspective on science communication for general audiences.
This understanding is crucial to for changes in government policy, community acceptance and research funding.
Answer 6- That is an AWESOME idea! We can all do, every now and then, with pulling back to see the forest, as my old boss used to say, rather than the trees.
Answer 7- You seem to be following in the grand tradition of scientists who retire and discover there is a world outside their lab. There is more science writing now than ever before. There has always been a segment of society with a genuine interest in science. These are the people who might buy your book, provided you don’t treat them as “abysmally ignorant” readers. What you and others might have achieved had you had this epiphany during your active careers.
Answer 8- It is not purely lack of science in the news that leaves people ignorant of it. There is also the fear of change.
This is particularly the case with much writing about climate science. The reality is shocking and the changes needed seem incomprehensible to many people. So they shut themselves off from it and grasp for the lies of the deniers.
If we hope for people to want to understand and appreciate science we need to help them see how science can help them to adapt to new realities. Terror was never a tool for understanding and ignorance is no help in adapting to change.
Answer 9- Your seniments are echoed in a Pew reseach paper “Global Warming’s Six Americas http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2009/05/6americas.html
also Heidi Cullen‘s The Weather of the Future http://www.amazon.com/The-Weather-Future-Extreme-Climate-Changed/dp/0061726885 plus my own small contribution to the debate Do not be alarmed: Why responsible scientists avoid alarmist rhetoric in writing about climate.
I too like what has been said. I would add another point. A widespread understanding and appreciation of science keeps our inborn sense of curiosity alive. It benefits not only our physical well being but also an appreciation and comprehension of how we humans fit into the world.
Answer 10- I find it amusing that some anti-science folks think that we are out to explain everything and suck the fun out of the universe. Every time I understand how something works, I find another ten things that I didn’t even know we didn’t know. Discovering new things is never dull. Ever.
Answer 11- I recently got an email from a former science editor at the NYT. Her suggestion was to read from a variety of science writing to see which one works, and not to be afraid to throw stuff out. If the audience is lost and disengaged, then we haven’t done our job as writers, right?
Answer 12- “An understanding of how scientific research is done and why research in model systems is important should be communicated more actively than is currently the case.”
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