The 21st century is brimming with emerging technologies and (some groundbreaking) scientific discoveries. With new trends in science/technology (S&T), people are adopting new perspectives, formulating new hypotheses, and challenging current universal truths. While this is all happening, is the growing global population struggling to keep up with these emerging trends and ideas?
Scientists: The modern day superheroes?
In 2012, America’s National Science Board found that many US citizens trust their military, medical, and scientific community. Similarly, the Council the Canadian Academies (CCA) asked the Canadian public on their perspectives and attitudes towards science. The CCA panel observed that 93% of respondents are interested in new, emerging trends in S&T. Furthermore, 72% of respondents agree that S&T is improving our daily lives, making them more comfortable, healthier, and easier.
Whether they are working in a laboratory, treating patients in a hospital or assessing the quality of food, scientists are modern day superheroes. They go under the microscope and sometimes venture into extreme environments to observe the raw beauty of nature and develop new ideas about the world.
Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge. –Stephen Hawking
But not everyone views scientists and science this way.
The schism between the scientific community and general public
Under certain lights, scientists aren’t always seen as the saviours in white lab coats. Despite observing optimistic attitudes towards science, the CCA panel found that 35% of respondents feel that science is changing our lives too quickly while 25% of respondents argued that we rely too much on science, and not enough on faith.
In fact, some people view scientists as…well, how should I put it?
“Scientists are brainwashed by corporate propaganda.”
“Scientists are aggressive, misinformed individuals that are being brainwashed by corporations.”
“Scientists are funded by evil corporations and organizations to spread the propaganda; don’t believe the lies they are feeding you!”
The Oklahoma State University conducted a monthly, online survey towards American consumers, asking for their opinions on food quality, safety, and price. While 82% of respondents state that they support mandatory labeling of GM produce, 80% of respondents also support mandatory labeling of foods that contain DNA.
Currently, there is public opinion that GMOs are excessively toxic, vaccines are laden with toxic chemicals, and/or that global warming is an old wives tail generated by the government to milk the cash cattle.
Some people who hold these beliefs are recycling arguments seen in heavily criticized, retracted, outdated research papers or quoting medical practitioners who advocate certain health products with little medical merit. To many science aficionados, these beliefs may be humorous, yet can harbor negative implications.
There is a schism between the general public and S&T because there is a lack of communication between the two parties. As the scientific community is unfolding new trends in S&T, who will be the scholar to translate the scientific jargon and data to the general public?
The Washington Post’s Ilya Somin sums up this predicament perfectly.
For many people, there is little benefit to understanding much about genetics or DNA. Most Americans can even go about their daily business perfectly well without knowing that the Earth revolves around the sun…we all have to focus our time and energy on learning that information which is most likely to be instrumentally useful, or at least provide entertainment value. For large numbers of people, much basic political and scientific information doesn’t make the cut.
Projecting your scientific passions to the public
Derek Hodson, an Emeritus Professor of Science Education at the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education and Adjunct Professor of Science Education at the University of Auckland, identifies four major components of science education. These elements include:
- Learning the theoretical aspects of science,
- Learning about the history of the field,
- Encouraging scientific problem solving via activities involving real world problems,
- And encourage the initiative to take action on social/economic/environmental/ethical concerns that are related to S&T.
These elements should not only be applied to the classroom, but outside the structured environment as well. Whether you are a science student or a distinguished individual involved in a science-related career, it is your responsibility to educate the public about science.
Fellow science majors, no matter what career path you decide to pursue, don’t underestimate the power of your education. Your science education helped you develop your critical thinking skills, which is transferable to life. Our skepticism and ability to see through the shoddy pseudoscience should be taught to the general public who may not share our scientific experience.
We need to have more faith in our general public; they typically consist of well-intentioned individuals who may be misinformed about certain topics in science. We ourselves may not be well-informed people. In fact, I have no doubts that there are scientists out there who may not be completely well-intentioned.
But for those of us who want to change and improve the world through science, it is our responsibility to properly educate the world about our work. We need to stop laughing at the ‘scientifically ignorant’ and start informing them about what is going on in the discipline today. We need to encouraged the general public to engage and participate in science. We need to entice and fascinate them.
Ultimately, we must draw the public into the revolutionary, wonderful world of S&T.
Renee C. has received her B.Sc. in Honours Life Sciences at McMaster University. She loves educating others about different topics in science, and has developed a passion for scientific outreach. When she’s not writing articles for Hemtecks, she’s either volunteering or checking her social media accounts every 20 minutes. Along with Tiffany (Tianhemtecks), she also facilitates the blog’s Facebook page.