Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Say this over and over: "I am the public"

A student asks in this Scientific American piece:
Science is conducted for the greater good of the community—so why aren’t we engaging with the largest beneficiaries of our work?
Well, ok, this is not an undergraduate student.  Not even at Harvard.
Katherine Wu is a third year graduate student at Harvard University and Co-Director of the science communication organization Science in the News.
Good for Wu to ask such questions, and to co-direct this initiative.

For me, of course, this is old territory.  So old, and so often that I have talked/written about this, that I am tempted to shrug my shoulders and say, "if only the world listened to me!"

Not only scientists, but non-scientists, along with business folks and cultural elite, all seem to think that they are not a part of the public, and they like to operate in their own rarified world.  I have forever tried to argue that it is extremely important to engage with the public--at least for selfish reasons.  One would think that scientists want to convince the public that science is important and so is funding it.  Business folks would want to convince that they are doing things for the public good.

But, nobody cares a shit--unless and until they feel that the lack of engagement with the public is affecting their own rarified world.

trump happens, and now scientists are worried.  Seriously, why did a trump have to happen for scientists to realize that not only they need to engage with the public, but that they too are a part of the public?
Scientists are, just like everyone else, a subset of the general public—that is, “people.” For each and every one of us, there is at least one field that is unknown, a field in which someone else considers us the general public.

If we had the intellectual humility that we do not know it all, and that we could not possibly know it all, then that alone would have reminded us that we are the "public" according to an expert in a field about which we know nothing.  Right?  You see why this is all old story for me?
As scientists, we should engage in conversations with the general public whenever possible, whether it’s over Thanksgiving dinner or by volunteering at a local high school science fair.
At a minimum, scientist or non-scientist, each of us should commit to simply showing up. Without participation on both sides, communication doesn’t happen, and we can’t challenge each other to relay information effectively. Communication is a conversation, not a series of lectures. Don’t just expect that conversations will happen—take part in making them happen.
I am all for conversations. But, hey, nobody listens to me, and I am merely talking with myself all the time! ;)



Ramesh said...

I am the public.
I am the public.
I am the public.

Sriram Khé said...

more importantly, never forget that ;)

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