As a scientist-in-training with a deep love of the humanities, I’m always saddened when my friends and acquaintances claim that they “don’t like science.” This seems like a failing on the part of my profession to make science accessible to the general public. Even if you don’t like every aspect of science, there is certainly something for everyone – after all, science permeates and influences so many aspects of our daily lives, from healthcare to technology, agriculture to global warming. Scientists are trying to answer a slew of interesting questions, and their results are often more fascinating than you might have thought, if only those results were communicated in a compelling and simple way.
The problem is that most of the writing we as scientists do in our professional lives is for the science journals where we publish our research findings. These papers tend to be full of scientific jargon and abbreviations, and the writing is usually incredibly dense. Because a large majority of research is funded by the government, and thus your tax money, there has been a push in recent years for research articles to be publicly available. Access to these articles may one day be free as soon as they are published, but for now a new law recently passed by Congress ensures that many articles will be free a year after publication. Seriously though – even if access were totally free, how many non-scientists are really going to wade through the long, hard to interpret titles and into the difficult-to-navigate article beyond? Next to no one. And who can blame you? Even fellow scientists often struggle to read articles about topics outside their areas of expertise (think biologist trying to read a physics paper). It’s a shame that good science is so hard to get into, because as I’ve mentioned, scientists are studying some pretty nifty things.
Science shouldn’t have to be scary, or intimidating, or difficult to understand. So I’m going to try to break it down into bite-sized, palatable pieces. Hopefully, at least a few of you will realize along the way that science isn’t as bad as you thought. A couple of final thoughts: I’ve been studying biology for years, so sometimes I forget what concepts are truly “general knowledge,” and what concepts are basic to me but not to a non-scientist. If I write about something and it’s still unclear, let me know – comments are welcome and appreciated. Also appreciated are questions and topic ideas. Is there a topic that you fleetingly wished you knew more about? Let me know, and I’ll find the answer, and do my best to explain the science behind it. Stay tuned for the next blog post – not sure yet what it will be about, but I promise it’ll be good. And not scary.