For me, allowing people to understand science is a fundamental aspect of being a scientist. New knowledge is gained via scientific study, and it is our job to share that knowledge: the main route of which has been through peer-reviewed journals. However, it is important to engage with people who do not read the scientific literature.
Looking back to look forward…
Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) is a great example of this. Famed for his breakthrough in microbial fermentation, vaccination and pasteurization, Louis Pasteur stands as a shining example of a world-class researcher. However, it is less known that Louis Pasteur was a keen educator. Pasteur believed that we should not just talk to students, we should engage with them on a practical level, with an emphasis on how to understand the science process .
In the 119 years since Louis Pasteur, microbiologists have made some of the biggest contributions to healthcare cross the world.
But we still have a problem…
However, we live in a world where people refuse to believe or act upon scientific theory and evidence.
For many, the usual places to look for information (Google) is full of mixed messages about scientific evidence and what should be believed. For example, see the results below of a Google and YouTube search from last week about the choice of vaccination, an issue which angers many scientists (including myself).
Essentially the anti-vaccination movement stems from various issues (either real or perceived) including a distrust of scientists (who are believed to be funded by the big bad pharma industry) and, importantly, a lack of understanding of scientific evidence. After many years in higher education I am pretty confident I can assess a piece of science and understand its outcomes and implications, however, it could be claimed that some of these skills are missed from general education, and the underdeveloped scientific literacy of the general population has led to some confusion on who/what or how to understand ‘science’.
Yet scientists cant be dismissive of this. Scientists themselves can often confuse matters. For example, in September this year, Frontiers in Public Health, a peer-reviewed journal, published an article questioning the link between HIV and AIDS (known as HIV/AIDS denialism). Much to the dismay of much of the scientific community (see Aetiology’s blog for a great overview of this debate).
And these issues are likely to go nowhere any time soon. The way people access healthcare and information is becoming increasingly more diverse. It is not uncommon for people to Google medical symptoms, so much so, Google are considering a ‘Talk With a Doctor‘ feature to help people who seek information on their search engine.
So for me, its evident that scientist need to play an ever-important role in shaping the way people interact with our findings and discovery, and the numerous issues that microbiologists hope to solve in the laboratory are not necessarily the whole answer.