To be or not to be? That’s one of the questions
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Communicating science is hard. Science is not an easy subject, period. The methods of science go against our natural inclinations and biases. The discoveries that scientists make are often small, marginal, and highly technical. It’s slow. Very slow. Ideas take years or even decades to germinate into fully-fleshed theories – if they even succeed at all.
Overall, science is a complicated, messy business.
So it’s easy for communication of science to focus on the results. The latest discoveries, the latest insights. The newest, flashiest things, hot off the academic presses. This is one of the reasons that astronomy – an incredibly technical field of science – is so popular with the general public: astronomers make really pretty pictures.
New results are sexy, even if they’re wrong. But they grab eyeballs and drive ad revenue, so the game can keep going.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with communicating the wow or the gee-whiz parts of science. The fruits of scientific labor are genuine. They may be provisional or nuanced, but they’re still results and deserve to be talked about, mentioned, discussed, and disseminated. After all, the vast majority of science is funded by the public, and they deserve to know what they got for their money.
But most presentations of the results of science skip the most important part: the methods. Sure, the methods are technical, arcane, and (let’s face it) incredibly boring. But they’re just as real and even more vital than the results. In science, the final answer matters far less than how you arrived at that answer.
This is no surprise. Given the limited bandwidth available for science communication and the limited attention spans of audiences, getting into the guts of science can be a real challenge. But that’s where the real heart of science lays. Where people can begin to think with a scientific mindset. Where kids and young adults can grow an awareness of a potential career. Where, as they say, the magic happens.
With this in mind, even a modicum of science methodology injected into a popular article or video can work wonders. If you’re going to talk about science, after all, you might as well actually talk about science.