People, Science, and the Media
In an article with The Atlantic, Lawrence Krauss, a theoretical physicist and Director of the Origins Institute at Arizona State University, noted that “People are interested in science, but they don’t always know they’re interested in science.” The spectacle that goes on when NASA launches a spacecraft or when there is an eclipse suggests that there may be some truth to this. However, we have all experienced the general disinterest in science that most people seem to have. It is quite obvious that most people get turned off by science at some point in their lives.
Of course, there may be people who are not ready for science. They may see their curiosity something little kids do, and feel as adults that they should move. For most people, however, this is likely not the case. The problem may get started in school. Kids hate doing work, and any science, regardless of field, requires hard, repetitious work. The trick here is would be to make science fun, but I don’t think education is the whole story behind the general, apparent disinterest in science. The true reason may lie within human nature, and to counter that we may have to look at the entire information interchange between scientists and the general public.
There is an old adage that states that the truth is stranger than fiction. That is the universe is weirder than we can imagine it to be. This is a very telling statement as it declares that just about any scientific breakthrough will reside outside of the normal everyday human experiences. Since it is human nature for people to ignore anything they feel does not affect them, it makes sense that most people will not find most breakthroughs interesting on their own. Normally, this should be livable compromise, but there is a constant stream on false information pretending to be science. Thus, it is up to scientists to ensure that the general public which information to trust, and what to avoid. This, of course, brings us to what I believe is the root of the problem: science journalism.
If you ask just about any scientist, regardless of field, and they will tell you that science news media is a joke. Science news is almost always melodramatic. Newspapers, magazines, and news sites are more interested in selling advertisements than reporting the truth and most articles are written with a political agenda. For instance, did you know that coffee drinkers have a lower risk of death? I don’t drink coffee. Does that mean I will die tomorrow? Probably not, and it is this sensationalism that can leave the general public confused and will just feed their disinterested. The only way to get the truth is to read the original journal articles, but most people either don’t have access to or are not trained enough to read the jargon they often contain.
If Krauss’s statement is true, and that all people are interested in science on some level, then there may be a way to bridge the gap between the two camps. To do this we have to improve the way science is presented to the general public, but are we prepared to do what we need to do?