Woman writing on whiteboard / Pexels
Curating my newsfeed has become a lot like putting together a balanced meal.
I follow countless news sites to get my intake of current events. I follow Buzzfeed and its offshoots for a guilty sprinkling of entertainment and celebrity drama and the odd which-pizza-flavour-are-you? quiz. Then I try to load up my plate with scientific publications, only to find them sorely lacking.
In a post-Covid era, it’s evident that science communicators are a necessary part of the media. They condense and deliver the often-esoteric findings of research academics. They promote public health. They offer ways forward and hope for the future — and not just in the context of pandemics; for many of the world’s most pressing issues, like famine and climate change, science is at the forefront of the solution.
Except, I don’t hear a lot about the projects that are constantly evolving and progressing. In my ideal world, there would be a science segment in newsreels, right between sports and the weather. As it stands, however, there is a gaping void in lieu of accessible scientific content.
Don’t believe me?
Name a living researcher. (I got Siouxsie Wiles, and… huh.)
Now name a living celebrity. (I got more than I can list.)
Clearly, there exists a perception that science is less exciting and news-worthy than other sectors. Part of this is the inherent tension between science and news.
Science, as I like to call it, is a never-ending baton race. And not a fast one. The scientists to cross the line in front of the spectators (your Newtons, Darwins, Teslas) are but a small fraction of the field. There are so many nameless, faceless — to the media, at least — professionals whose contributions are slow, steady and methodical.
I can easily imagine why only high-profile scientific advancements make the news. Reporting on most research might yield narratives tediously similar to:
What’s new today?
What’s new today?
Because of these day-in-day-out efforts, perhaps months later, someone (namely, Arthur Ashkin) will discover how to use light to move physical matter. That’s new! That’s big! That’s TV-worthy! But, admittedly, it’s not really what science is like.
Subjects for studies take time to find. Studies themselves take time to conduct. Editing and peer review take time. When the study goes live, community criticism might declare it incorrect and require the whole process to start over. Sometimes finding the right path to take means traversing all the dead ends in order to confidently eliminate them.
And that’s fine. That’s science. That’s why, in the early days of Covid-19, many governments around the world had shifting policies about mask-wearing, social distancing and border control. The race had only just begun, and the data was constantly growing.
At the intersection of these two conflicting field sit science communicators, writers and content creators. Often, they have T-shaped knowledge: depth in one specialisation, and breadth across many. This allows them to relay academic conclusions in a trustworthy but relatable manner. (Bonus points if they are funny, like Mitchell Moffit and Gregory Brown.)
If science is the solution, it needs to be accessible to everyone. Vaccines need to be demystified. Statistics need to be properly interpreted. Misinformation threads need to be corrected.
Covid-19 made the need for qualified people to undertake these tasks strikingly clear.
In the wake of the pandemic, I hope this need is soon filled.
For accessible science content, see:Support Villainesse