Science outreach - why aren't we more involved?

Laura Berzak Hopkins
Jul 21, 2013

As scientists, we are too frequently caught up with both the grand and minutiae of our research problems and too often feel like politics are remote, irrelevant, or boring.  But, the truth is that politics and policy affect all of us both as citizens and as scientists, and it is our right and our responsibility to step up to the challenge and begin to demonstrate that scientists have a voice and perspective. We as scientists can and should contribute to the ongoing political discussions; there is no better time than now to speak up and speak out.

We as scientists also must recognize the privilege and responsibility of utilizing grants (i.e., tax dollars) to pursue our research.  Nearly every research program owes some debt to all citizens for the contribution of their hard-earned tax dollars, and we need to reflect our recognition of this, and we need to make the effort to communicate what we do, how we do it, and why we bother to do it to the general public.  The public outreach component of grants is a too-oft overlooked aspect, and we frequently only do the bare minimum.  If we want the general public to be excited about science and to support science, we must make the effort to describe why what we’re doing is exciting and potentially important.  As a Congressional staff member, I was excited to see how many people from various backgrounds were genuinely excited to learn about science and excited to be able to ask a scientist their questions.  They were eager to hear scientific research patiently described in relatable terms, and I was more than happy to try to live up to this role.  

Inspired by my time as a Congressional Fellow, I have founded a science outreach project called Why-Sci.  Through our website, www.Why-Sci.com, we seek to increase and improve communication between scientists and the public.  Why-Sci is working to address this goal by publishing research “snippets”, which are brief responses to four basic questions about the what/how/why of a research project accompanied by one associated image.  These “snippets” are collected on our site and presented in an approachable and easily searchable manner.  In doing so, Why-Sci aims to provide an outlet for scientists to gain experience communicating their research to the public and to build a venue where non-scientists can learn about and gain an appreciation for scientific research.

I would encourage you to visit our site and submit a research snippet; share your research!  Each small step we take as scientists can and will make a significant difference toward bringing science to the public and demonstrating why what we do is important, valuable, and a good investment for our country.

Reviewed by Stephanie Byng

Laura Berzak Hopkins

Dr. Laura Berzak Hopkins is a research physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Outside of the laboratory, Dr. Hopkins manages the science communication and outreach site Why-Sci (www.Why-Sci.com) in order to develop a forum for scientists and non-scientists to share their knowledge and passion for science.

Disclaimer

This blog does not necessarily reflect the views of AAAS, its Council, Board of Directors, officers, or members. AAAS is not responsible for the accuracy of this material. AAAS has made this material available as a public service, but this does not constitute endorsement by the association.

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Comments (1)

Judy Keen (not verified)
July 22, 2013 at 6:33 pm
Laura, I agree, scientists do need to talk about their work more. It is frustrating to hear the misconceptions that people harbor about science. One sure way to limit these conversations is for scientists to talk more, and more openly, about their work. Why-sci is an excellent forum for such a discussion. Sci on the fly and why-sci websites are critical to open dialogs about science research, policy, and controversial issues, I applaud your efforts to increase that conversation!

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