Talking with the public about science is important. Note that I said talking “with,” not talking “to” – and certainly not talking “at.” A conversation is necessary. Engagement is necessary. And, frankly, the science community, in general, is not doing a very good job in this area.
We’ve known for years that the level of scientific literacy in the United States – even the ability to answer basic science questions – is painfully low. For example, in a survey a few years ago, only 53 percent of respondents knew how long it took the Earth to travel around the Sun.
Scientists have limits on their time. They run labs. They write papers and grant proposals. If they’re in academia, they work with students. They have families and friends and hobbies. I get that. But if something is important, you have to make time for it.
And this is important. Developing new products and innovations is essential to a healthy economy – and you can’t do that without science (and engineering, for that matter). So getting young people interested in science is important. And it’s difficult to do that without science outreach.
Science outreach is also important for us grown-ups. To understand political issues ranging from medical care to climate change, you need to have at least a passing familiarity with the science involved. Without that understanding, we’re not making decisions – we’re guessing.
I’m writing this not to convince you that the need is there, but to offer some resources to those of you who already think public outreach is important – and don’t know where to begin. I’m including a lot of links below, which will hopefully serve as a starting point. Nature’s Soapbox Science blog is also running a series of guest posts on this issue, called “Reaching out,” which I encourage you to check out. These posts may not answer all your questions – they may even make you ask new questions – but hopefully they can (fingers crossed!) motivate you to get started.
Have questions? Want to share advice or encouragement? Need to kvetch? Please leave a comment. Dialogue is a good thing.
- What Scientists, Science Writers and PIOs Should Expect From Each Other
- All A’Twitter: How Social Media Aids in Science Outreach
- How Academic Biologists and Physicists View Science Outreach
- Twitter and Why Scientists Should Bother
- Social Media: Taking Science To The People
- How to use Twitter (for scientists)
- Engaging audiences via social media
- 10 Ways Researchers Can Use Twitter
- 10 Commandments of Twitter for Academics
- Twitter for Scientific Communication: How Can Citations/References be Identified and Measured?