Is this a real problem? Do we have to do something about it? Or will it pass?
These are questions raised and discussed during the recently concluded Annual Meeting of New Champions 2017 Dalian, World Economic Forum by the Experts and Young Scientists. Some concur that it is a problem, while others revealed that it is perhaps a long-standing issue that comes and go. In brief, here are some of the reasons why there is (or might be) public mistrust in science:
- Some may feel that science is ‘important but not for me’. You can put forth the most brilliant data, but it still won’t convince people.
- Who holds scientists accountable? Accountability of facts (or reproducibility of results)?
- Scientists are perceived as dispassionate and ‘lack emotions’ when conveying scientific knowledge. An alternative view is that good-looking scientists are perceived as inferior scientists! 😛
- Scientists tend to evade doing science communication.
- Basic scientific literacy is lacking. Examples here and here.
Local perspective (Singapore)
In Singapore, a survey of public views and attitudes towards Science and Technology (S&T) issues was conducted for the first time in 2015, and the results are presented here. In this report, they mentioned that public perception towards science is generally positive in Singapore, but they fear that S&T is changing the pace of life too quickly. Other mentions include public members are unwilling to engage with scientists themselves, and that scientific literacy among public is uneven.
As an avid science communicator, these are issues very close to my heart. When I first started science communication, my motivation was to make science accessible to laypeople by verbalising concepts in simple terms.
As I grow in my career, I began to see how my efforts have translated to many layers in the society, such as bringing science to the masses via my blog, inspiring my students in the University to become advocates of good science, as well as having the opportunity to speak to our government officials about the work we do for the marine environment.
More recently, my efforts have extended beyond Singapore through a TED talk! I have been heartened and encouraged to see others taking up similar efforts to protect our oceans! My most recent post also received a thumbs-up from a FaceBook reader! 🙂
Inspiring science to the masses
So here are my five takeaways from the Forum for scientists (and practitioners of science!) doing public engagement:
- Don’t be afraid to step up and champion for science! Become ambassadors of science. Inspire science to the next generation.
- You need to become more visible! Because you love science, and support the rigour of scientific inquiry, scientific accountability and transparency! Particularly, when your research may underpin informed decision-making in society and policies.
- Lever on the power of the Worldwide Web to disseminate fun facts about science, and especially the social media outlets such as FaceBook, Instagram, Twitter, Youtube, and WeChat.
- Be story-tellers of science. Understanding what your audience responds to is an important skill in helping them embrace science better. And that science can help to better our world.
- Focus on the science, but also don’t forget its social impact. Be relatable. Public masses gain a greater appreciation if the science of things are conveyed to things that they care about most, such as health and technology.
So a shout out to my fellow scientists and science advocates out there, let’s continue to reach out to the masses, and keep trying to reach into the hearts of sceptics! 😀