Sometimes it’s easy to forget that most of our research is funded indirectly by the public. With this funding comes a responsibility to be able to communicate our science clearly and simply. This is important for a number of reasons, but one of those is that poor science communication can lead to erroneous media reports. We’ve all seen the inaccurate articles in national newspapers that make our inner scientists cringe. ‘Everything causes cancer and you can prevent it by eating 500 types of super foods a day’. Some of this can be written off as bad or lazy journalism, however scientists should do their part by better communicating their science.
Writing science in a way that can be understood by non-scientists is an essential skill. Not only does this enable you to publicise your work, but removes unintentional misunderstanding of your work. Well written science is less likely to lead to an inaccurate newspaper headline. There are plenty of ways to practice your writing – the KCL science blog being one. You should also take the opportunity to explain your project to non-scientist friends and family, getting them to see understand your project is a good way to start. For the more adventurous you could apply to talk or submit work for the Pint of Science festivals that happen around the country. Once you are able to simply and concisely describe your project, you will find that you not only have a better understanding of your project but that your scientific explanations also improve.
Once you’re able to communicate your science to anyone, you can tackle the bad science that is floating around out there. Understandably, people have their issues with the peer-review system, but it generally does work. If it didn’t exist, scientific journals would read like science sections in newspapers. And this is where you come in: Newspapers need a peer-review system but it only works if people voluntarily do this. The #AskForEvidence campaign started by Sense About Science aims to encourage scientists and the public to ask journalists and policy makers for the evidence behind their articles and decisions. You can do this by tweeting authors, emailing MPs, or visit the AskForEvidence website and they will ask on your behalf.
Public confidence in science has increased but there is still plenty of room for improvement, especially regarding controversial issues such as GM foods. Scientists have a duty to the public to increase public confidence, and that will only happen when motivated scientists take an active role in science portrayal in the media. The world will be a better place when everyone has a basic understanding of science, and public opinion becomes fact-based public opinion.
Ask for Evidence Campaign:
The art of writing science:
Written by: Jake Howden