Post contributed by: Sonia Bhangoo
So I have a little secret. I know that as a Ph.D I am supposed to be buried in books and papers trying to tease out the next big thing in science. But I must admit, at times I just need the easy version. Instead of reading the complex work in all of the prestigious science journals... sometimes I just want to read the quick and dirty version to get the take home message.
I notice that I get a lot of this from reading articles in general news magazines or online news sites. You see, the average person will not necessarily pick up the latest version of Nature or Cell. The average person may read the newspaper or Time magazine. Or perhaps they will watch the nightly news on television. It is through these mediums of communication that we as scientists see the general public accessing information about what it is that we do. Take the health headlines for CNN.com this week as an example. One story highlights World AIDS day and the progress that is being made in different scientific studies. There have been stories discussing how scientists are still searching for new treatments and working on a vaccine. A second headline on the news website highlights a study of how early intervention has huge benefits in children diagnosed with autism. In fact, the first sentence of the article starts with "Researchers have shown....." . It seems the stories highlighting the results of scientific studies are becoming more common. I cannot help but gleam a little when I read the stories. The media highlighting science and the discoveries being made emphasize the importance of science in the solving today's health problems.
Helping the public understand how the process of science works and exactly how studies contribute to our understanding of health and disease is vital. After all, if we have a public that understands what science is and how it can change their world, then we can have a public that supports funding for research and development. Even more importantly, we have a public that will understand what the implications of cutting funding for the NIH may do in our quest to find treatments and cures for diseases.
Whenever I have a conversation with a non-scientist about what it is that I do, I find that they take a genuine interest in learning about the research process. When I ask why is it that they find science difficult to understand, the answer almost always has something to do with the fact that science is not necessarily communicated with ease. While having the media highlight studies in a more general tone helps, I feel that more must be done to get the message out. Our job as members and supporters of COPUS is to help do this. Talk about science.....help them understand that answers do not just simply happen. Research and hard work answers questions about health and disease, and research and science can help change their world.