Despite having better things to do, I am very interested in science communication, particularly how the output of scientific research is conveyed to people through the mass media. I guess it all started when my mom tried to make me do and eat things that were claimed to be healthier than other things which had been the healthiest until then and her source was a 200 word page corner of the free local newspaper that showed up in our mailbox with Lidl’s weekly promotions.
When you think about it, it’s kind of scary!
Doing scientific stuff is a hard job because we rarely conclude anything and when we do someone concludes otherwise shortly after and we’re forced to rethink everything again. Officially, this ping pong of arguments and experiments and the cumulative knowledge therein is called scientific progress. When you follow a subject closely, you grasp that. But to those who only contact with science through occasional pieces when a journalist reports a scientific study as a new groundbreaking indisputable truth, these snapshots here and there of scientific moments with no context or flow can be confusing and even misleading.
The point of doing research is to provide humanity with increasingly better solutions for its increasingly complex problems. And the scale of these solutions is wide enough to influence us from our breakfast cereal choices to the policies that govern our countries. Many researchers and institutions are doing their best to link up to the industry and policy makers. When that happens, good communication has more chances to take place. But how much effort do we put in informing the guy in the bank or the supermarket cashier or the high school teacher?
Journalists don’t help much. Otherwise, my mom’s nutrient-supplement ideology wouldn’t shift so often. Just browsing through the “science section”of any top newspaper gives me the creeps! And I get extremely upset when I see things such as The top 10 greenest countries in the world! Then there’s those books on certain scientific topics, but let’s agree that a 300 page text attempting to explain mankind’s sexuality with evolutionary drifts (or was it the other way around?) is not exactly all-audience. And don’t even put Discovery Channel and para-scientific press on the table. Those only serve people interested in big engineering works, nice nature photography and trivia on animals. Scientific journals are out of the question, of course: they’re expensive and indigestible. What does that leave us?
I hope the solution will come in time to save yet thousands and thousands of children from excessive broccoli intake.