IntroductionWhat is Science Communication? Science communication distills complex topics into more accessible lay language, to be shared with a non-expert audience. Effective communication helps the public understand the relevance of scientific research to their everyday lives. Effective science communication takes a lot of practice, and scientists are often worried that important (and exciting!) information will be lost in the translation to lay terms. Over the course of the summer, we continuously sought to improve our own abilities as science communicators. As we became more experienced, we developed communication tools, like analogies, to support discussions of complex topics. What are the Problems Facing Science Literacy? The general public often lack the tools to distinguish between legitimate science and pseudoscience. Social media has accelerated the sharing of information, but often this information has not been carefully vetted. Rigorous, peer-reviewed science and pseudoscience both spread rapidly on social media. The public would greatly benefit from greater exposure to the scientific method, and tools to enable critical analysis of information. Increased access to reliable sources of scientific content, presented in an accessible manner, is necessary to counter the spread of pseudoscience.
Our ProjectThis year, the theme for our human practices was science communication and science literacy. To efficiently explore this theme, we divided it into component parts. On this webpage, we describe our science communication efforts. We strove to raise awareness about the importance of science literacy and to establish communication platforms between our lab and the public. What did we do? We created a survey early in the summer to gain insight into how our surveyed population felt about interpreting science-based news articles. This survey was distributed around the world and received 271 responses in a span of a month. Afterwards, we formulated questions that reflected some of the surprising results collected from the survey. We then asked these questions to a series of experts in hopes of better understanding our results. Here are a few key results of the survey (focusing on the population who identified as having a university education):
- Approximately a quarter our surveyed population, who identified as having an university education, claimed to not be very comfortable interpreting scientific news publications.
- Most of our surveyed population, who identified as having an university education, claimed to trust scientific reports with dramatic and opinionated language to some extent.
- More than half of our surveyed population, who identified as having an university education, claimed that half the time they would not verify new scientific claims with a credible source.
- A small portion of our surveyed population, who identified as having an university education, claimed to share scientific news articles on social media based solely on the title.
- Science Sam: PhD Candidate at University of Toronto studying Cell Biology and Neuroscience who blogs about lab science on Instagram
- Bob McDonald: Canadian author and science journalist, currently hosing the CBC radio program - Quirks and Quarks
- Dan Falk: Canadian science journalist, broadcaster and author (most recent publication: The Science of Shakespeare: A Look at the Playwright's Universe, 2014)
- Dr. Catherine Reeve: Psychology and Neuroscience professor at Dalhousie University
- University of Toronto iGEM team: one of our collaborators
- Olivia Roberts: member of the general public, with a post-secondary degree in music
- Journalists and scientists who write articles are sometimes biased or exaggerate the results to grab the attention of the public.
- People often assume that science-based news articles are credible because they are “science.”
- Having a post-secondary education does not mean the person has all the skills required to assess and interpret a scientific article properly. Depending on the degree, and the quality of their education, the person might interpret science in a different way.
- Our sample size was not big enough to represent the entire global community.
- Most of our respondents were university students or members of other iGEM teams.
- We did not analyze our results based on the types of post-secondary degrees.