An Italian version of this article was published by the Italian Researchers Association.
I attended a public engage event last night, called PubhD. PubhD is a monthly OutReach event running in all the biggest cities in Europe where PhD students go to a pub and talk about their research to the general public. Stay tuned as I will be presenting my research on C-H activations next month in Nottingham.
The event I went to yesterday was very interesting. A researcher at the University of Nottingham found out that it was important for deaf people to start learning sign language at a very early stage in their life. In fact, this time in life is the best for our brain to develop skills essential to communication.
This applies to sign language and any other language in general. They also found out that learning sign language as a kid won’t interfere with the development of sight and the visualising process later in life. These findings came in a delicate moment for the deaf community as parents stopped teaching sign language to deaf kids because they were told that this could compromise kids’ visualising process development.
I left the event asking myself loads of questions. If you think that sign language is the only way for deaf people to come across and communicate, it is important to spread the message that they must learn it at an early stage in life. In fact, if they don’t, it will get more and more difficult as adults. This is only an example of the importance of research in academia and how these findings have a significant impact on people’s life.
So, to go back to my first question, is it a duty of the scientist to communicate their research to the public, or is it better for them to focus only on their work, publish, publish, publish and apply for grants? With the massive spread of disinformation about any scientific topic on social media, such us the weight loss, climate changes, pollution etc. etc, is it wise for scientists to use social media channels to communicate real and reliable information or is science still a holy grail of knowledge accessible to a small elite of people?
I believe it is a duty of a scientist to communicate their research to the public as:
- Research fundings come from tax-payer money, so they must know what’s going on with their money. If you pay for your kids’ school fees, you want to know what they teach them. Why does it have to be different for research?
- Research and science have a strong impact on people’s life, they drive progress and innovation and contribute to creating a better society. If people know more and enjoy it, it’s likely that they will try to learn more and have a different attitude toward science news and events.
- Although the misinformation is a big issue, science communication might ease the problem facilitating the diffusion of reliable information. There are a few topics which I am very passionate about weight loss and climate changes. The amount of disinformation on them is shocking. Any fool can come up with a new diet and people will listen to them, only because they want to lose weight no matter what. Climate changes are even worse, I heard from people saying that the problem doesn’t exist and the fact that the world temperature is raising is only temporary. In fact, periods of cold and warm wheatear have been always alternating since life was born on earth. So, this is just a period of warm wheatear and winter is coming. I even heard that heavy metals don’t represent a problem as we are made of heavy metals!!! Totally shocking.
It is a duty for scientists to prevent this from going any further. It is a duty for scientists to engage with the public and provide trustworthy information about science. If you want to start off, I would suggest using YouTube as social media channel. Its power to spread information and knowledge is immense as teenagers and kids spend most of their time watching YouTube video. Just to mention an example, everyone knows about the periodic table YouTube videos recorded by prof. Martyn Poliakoff. They were a successful OutReach project to encourage kids to learn chemistry.
What’s your opinion? Make a comment below. Also follow me on Instagram @phd_to_success, Twitter @teres4amb.