In today’s world, we are more connected with our fellow man than at any other point in human history. The evolution of technology has yielded television, computers, the internet, smartphones, tablets, and many other nifty gadgets that allow us to communicate with one another. Whether its a phone call, text, or Facebook message we are now capable of connecting with people on the opposite side of the planet within seconds. Through these technologies we can also access information about the world around us including breaking news, weather, entertainment, government policies, and even scientific discoveries. Though technological advancements have vastly improved life as we know it, they are also creating a variety new problems for modern society. It is my opinion that the greatest of these problems is hindering the promotion of sound science.
Before all this technology came about, research and academic knowledge was communicated via printed text in books, encyclopedias, academic journals, on chalk boards, and even in newspapers. In order to contribute to content to these sources, one had to have certain credentials and demonstrate adept understanding of what they wished to publish. This meant that those sharing said content were usually experts in a related field (or had received formal education/training on the subject) and, generally speaking, would provide reliable, accurate information based on sound scientific findings. Now that everyone has information (and the ability to share it) in the palm of their hands, pretty much everyone can share their thoughts and opinions on a topic. Though this can stimulate thought-provoking discussion, it also provides an ample opportunities for the spread of “alternative facts” and pseudo science.
As a academic, I see myself and my fellow colleagues work diligently to make scientific discoveries and contributions that will advance our understanding of the world we humans live in. So, it makes me incredibly upset to see the media and general public toss sound science aside in lieu of pseudo science or trendy pop-culture ideals. Seriously, a simple scroll through my Facebook newsfeed almost always ends with me becoming irrationally angry. When did society:
- Stop trusting scientists and start believing any self-proclaimed “experts” who happen to be trending, despite their lack of credentials?
- Become “sheeple” and stop thinking for themselves ?
Sometime during our technological evolution, the public withdrew their trust from the academically-credentialed and placed it in the present-day “mommy blogger”, news reporter, and Hollywood celebrity. How we found ourselves in this backwards reality, I will never know. What I do know is that those of us in academia are challenged to win back the public’s trust.
Now I’m sure you’re asking yourself “Just how do we go about slaying that beast of an issue?” The battle begins by training scientists to communicate in a relatable and understandable manner. If we want to public to hear us out, we need to get on their level and partake in conversations they understand and are able to contribute to. This means that we academicians need to become bilingual — we need to speak the language of science as well as the language of the public. It is pertinent that we not only develop this skill, but ingrain it in the scientists of tomorrow. Similar to learning a second language, the sooner young minds begin learning a skill the more adept they become at using it. The next step in slaying the beast that is the public’s misplaced trust is to actually engage the issue head-on. We are never going to win this war if we don’t step out from behind the safety of university walls to fight. When someone attempts to spread “alternative facts” or pseudo science, that’s our cue to charge in and combat it with sound factual knowledge. The best way to do this is by making the information we are relaying relatable and transparent. We need to show the public that academia has nothing to hide, that what we do is is with the best of intentions and ultimately for their benefit. By properly arming ourselves with effective communication skills and sound science, I believe academia can win the war for the public’s trust.