Three simple ways you can get started in science activism right now
Are you fed up of seeing quacks peddling snake oil, friends being misled by cynical marketing and politicians putting science on the back burner? Do you want to help fight pseudoscience, make your voice heard and help make the world a more evidence-based place?
Happily you can do all that — and more — right now. The best part? You can put in as little effort as you like. You don’t even have to get out of bed.
One of the easiest things you can do is to integrate some science activism into your social media time. Pseudoscience spreads rapidly through social media; fuelled by people like David Wolfe, anti-science messages can reach huge audiences and cause real harm.
I’ll focus on Facebook as its large user base and “relevant content” algorithm make it the one where you can do the most good for the least effort, but you can make an impact no matter what sites you use.
The easiest place to start is by liking pages that put out scientific or skeptical content. There’s a huge range of pages out there, from serious to irreverent, so you’re bound to find something that suits your interests.
Once you’ve liked some pages, be sure to interact with them. Reacting (Like, Love, Haha, etc) to posts is a very easy way to do this, and if you can think of a helpful or witty comment all the better. You can also share posts to your personal timeline which gives you a chance to start your own discussion; this works best if you add a sentence or two of your own opinion to get things started.
When you interact or share posts you’re increasing the chance your friends will see that content. Note that even sharing doesn’t guarantee that although it will have a bigger effect than simply interacting. Essentially the major goal at this stage is to feed the algorithm with signals that content is good, so more people see it.
On Facebook you also have the option of joining relevant groups. Groups have their own rules and cultures and can be a great place to meet likeminded people or find opportunities for activism. One big advantage of groups is they can be private rather than public, so you can have more open discussions. This may be important to you if you’re worried about repercussions of certain views, for example atheism.
Of course, if you’re not into Facebook many of the principles still apply. Shares, responses and follows are valuable wherever you go.
Once you’re comfortable with the basics you may want to branch out, for example by starting your own page or by actively seeking out misinformation to correct, but that’s a topic for another article.
Another way you can make a difference is to let the companies you give your money to know how you feel. Companies live and die by the approval of their customers, so are incentivised to listen to them.
Unfortunately that has already been exploited by the anti-science crowd; people like Food Babe have been able to marshall large numbers of people to put the pressure on and convince companies to make non-evidence-based decisions in the name of appeasement.
That doesn’t mean it’s futile though. Some companies are firmly on the pro-science side, and those that are on the fence could be swayed by some simple activism.
So, we need to let them know how we feel about the direction they’re going in.
“Non-GMO” label appeared on a brand you like? Get in touch, let them know how you feel and see how they respond.
Fishy-sounding claims on a product? Have a discussion about whether there’s any evidence to back them up.
Company sticking up for science on social media? Give them a like or a retweet. Even better, send them a message to let them know how much you support them and hope they continue to make pro-science statements. This is still very important because we know that the anti-science side won’t be shy in letting their opposing views be heard.
For companies that are more neutral you could try playing them against each other by comparing the relative virtues. If brands know why we choose them over their competitors, or vice versa, they can make decisions based on the information. The threat of losing customers to more pro-science brands may just be enough to convince some fence-sitters to make a decision, or at least dissuade them from going down the other road.
In the case of anti-science decisions we could even stop buying the product altogether, although that’s a personal decision you’d have to take based on the availability of viable alternatives, price etc. The crucial thing is to speak up.
The last area I’m going to talk about is lobbying your politicians. It may require a greater investment of time and/or money than the others, but it also gives you the ability to influence how your representatives engage with science-related issues.
The areas where science is currently strongly politicised are arguably some of the widest-reaching and most important: issues like climate change; vaccination policies; and the regulation of things like genetic engineering, pharmaceuticals and alternative medicine.
Your local representative is the usual first port of call, but sometimes relevant public bodies or committees will hold consultations that take input from members of the public, too. Try to make sure your messages are personal and on-point; some campaigning websites will give you templates you can use but you probably have a better chance of a response if you take the time to express yourself in your own words. If you can manage a phone call or even a face-to-face meeting, that could be even more effective.
As well as lobbying directly, you can join advocacy groups like the American Association for the Advancement of Science or the British Campaign for Science and Engineering. It costs a little to join, but you’ll be supporting large movements of like-minded people and helping to make a difference for very little effort, and there are other benefits you can enjoy such as access to publications or discounts on events.
The bottom line
Some of the ideas here might seem basic but that’s exactly what they’re intended to be; a “getting started” guide rather than a complete manual.
I think the most important thing you can do is to simply do something. Every Facebook post liked, Tweet retweeted or email sent is helping to make a difference, however small it may be. The more of us there are doing little acts of advocacy, the more impact we can have as a whole.
I’d love to hear about your simple ways of spreading the love of science – please drop me a response here or Tweet me @skepticalkris!