Science Communication, A.K.A. I’m Starting To Feel Like Doing Something Somewhat Unselfish With My Life For The First Time Ever And It Feels Somewhat Not Horrid (But I’m Still A Self-Serving Jerk For The Most Part)

This year, I have been becoming more and more preoccupied with the idea of taking science communication as a separate postgrad qualification after my geology MSc. I hated science at school, as it was never presented to me in a way that interested me – and so I slipped quietly through the years believing that science was just “not my thing”. The thing is, science is EVERYBODY’S thing, in some form or other. Science is the detailed exploration of the very foundation upon which every aspect of our existence operates, and there is definitely bound to be an area of science that excites you on some level, whether you realise it right now or not.

Something that heavily frustrates me are the limited ways in which science is being presented to the masses. There are scholarly journal reports which, although factual and highly important, are inaccessible intellectually for 95% of people, as the understanding of these usually requires experience in the specific field of the journal, or lengthy side-reading. Then there are the well-written science articles and blogs which are not nearly well-known enough, due to lack of exposure. Then you have your immensely popular sites such as “I Fucking Love Science”, which has many Facebook followers (showing that people are on some level trying to enjoy science), yet often offers clickbaity headlines and misleading statements (and by the way, if the title is presented in question format, the answer is almost always no, so stop getting your hopes up about pyramids on Mars).
Sure, these borderline pseudoscience articles offer links to follow, which are usually firstly links to other “news” sites, and if you follow the links back far enough you can usually arrive at a legit science report, which often does not state anything nearly as sensational as what the front end “science news site” is claiming. The problem with this is that the majority will not play “follow the hyperlinks”, and will just take the first article as fact (because hey, the news wouldn’t lie, right? It’s a proper website! I can’t wait to tell my friends all about the amazing new discovery of the “new Earth” that is definitely the same as us in every way).

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The thing is, people don’t go sifting through all the garbage in the internet to correctly inform themselves. They simply don’t have time – and why should they? They aren’t scientists or the Information Police, they are regular people, with lives going on and relationship problems and work deadlines and kids to deal with and all sorts of pressing bullshit that doesn’t afford them time to read three hours of articles to ascertain whether the shit that I Fucking Love Science is feeding them is actually legit.
So why aren’t we, as a society, reporting science more accurately? I mean, I get it – clickbait headlines serve to get people to visit your website. There are so many dollars to be made from this that people who aren’t really science journalists can be easily persuaded to start shoddily writing about science for a crust. It’s just sad that it’s being done under that guise of “loving science”. The thing is though, science is REALLY FUCKING EXCITING in its own right. You don’t NEED to make bullshit stretches of the truth to captivate and inform people. Look at Carl Sagan, arguably the most effective science communicator of all time – nary a sensationalist thing would cross his lips, yet he could bring to life a picture of the physical world at infinite scale in both directions, giving you a sense of wonder whilst pounding you balls-deep with scientific fact. That torch was passed forward to Neil DeGrasse Tyson, who not only upheld Sagan’s incredible vision, but brought it to the new generation in a spectacular way (and with much better CGI).

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What a pair of heroes! (art by Matt McManis)

Science communication is first and foremost, a middle-man role. It’s the task of undertaking the grunt work of reading ALL of the available facts and opinions, understanding them properly and then presenting them to the public in a way that excites and interests, without resorting to misleading or misinformation (a.k.a. bad scientific conduct).

All is not lost, there are many people out there doing this very thing and doing a great job of it – Ethan at http://scienceblogs.com/startswithabang/, Ed Young at http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/blog/not-exactly-rocket-science/ and Tim Urban at www.waitbutwhy.com, to name a few. It’s still an overwhelmingly male-dominated field – not because it’s an inherently sexist field in and of itself, but more because those of us reaching the age of career journalism, and those before us, still grew up in a society which on some level discouraged little girls from pursuing maths and science. I’m hoping I’m correct in considering my generation to be the last gasp of these attitudes, however there are bound to be some of us that are still blind to it and will continue instilling subtle gender roles into their kids. In general, sexism in science is beginning to taper off and hopefully will be gone within a couple of generations – Rome wasn’t built in a day, and all that idiomatic shit.

I’ve been growing more and more alarmed at the state of the world and from my perspective, the biggest underlying issue facing us today is a lack of knowledge. In a world oversaturated with the loudest voices and the most well-paid agendas, we are losing our ability as individuals to easily identify the truth on the most important matters. Although the internet is an incredible thing, it has made it so easy for the facts to become overshadowed or hidden, giving voice to anybody who wants their voice heard. Given this, how is the average person supposed to understand the important issues without doing a whole fuckload of additional reading? Ain’t nobody got time for that. So what happens when someone is overloaded with too many conflicting pieces of information or too much scientific jargon? They shut it off and place it in the “too hard/don’t care” box. And there are simply too many important issues facing our species today to be placing shit in the “too hard/don’t care” box.

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So, what I want is to be a strong part of the solution – to be the change I want to see in the world, and many other similar overused motivational phrases. I love to write, I love the truth, I love objectivity, I love entertaining people, I love edutainment. I’d love to shift my writing from glib inane thoughts about being a boring white woman with insecurities and whatnot, to earnestly readable pieces of scientific interest. I want to make someone feel the same way that watching Cosmos made me feel as a jaded 28 year old woman, and to spark determination in people to take issues like climate change seriously. I want to contribute to shutting down the confusion about critical topics created by self-interested organisations who have desperately greedy agendas that rely on the public being shielded from the truth.
I want to help, even if it’s just one person who reads.

Love, Chelle xoxoxoxoxooxoxoxoxox

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