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When it comes to science outreach, the setting matters

Written by Amelia Douglass, PhD for Neurocrew

Science benefits everyone. We don’t need to look further than our phone screens, the vaccines we receive at doctor’s office or biodegradable plastics to see and feel the ways in which science touches our day-to-day. Yet, distrust in science is high and a positive attitude towards science is declining among US citizens (1).

Climate change is accepted by 50% of the American public compared to 87% of scientists (1). Genetically modified foods are considered safe by 37% of Americans compared to 88% of scientists (1). The lack of trust in science is problematic. If people can’t trust science, they are less likely to make evidence-based decisions — both for themselves and for their community.

Find the spots in your community where people already gather. Share your science there.

If you’re a scientist, consider stepping outside of your university and into your local cafe. In popular science outreach events such as Pint of Science and Nerd Nite, scientists present their work in the form of short talks, songs and even poetry in pubs or bars. The goal is to share the research and improve the perception and understanding of science (2, 3).

A recent study published in the journal of Science Communication (4) suggests that this is a great strategy to counter mistrust:

We propose that science communication programs should be developed around the locales of the target community as an effective strategy to counter the rising mistrust in science and scientists.

Other events, such as the Taste of Science festival, which occurs all over the U.S., features hands-on demonstrations and artwork inspired by science. Another spin on this concept is the presentation of science in public spaces such as parks. Soapbox Science, is one such event in which women in science interact with passers-by through stories and hands-on demonstrations.

By extending the presentation of scientific findings outside of formal journals and conferences and into pubs, bars or coffee shops, scientists are helping make their work more accessible.

Sharing your science does not mean you have to give a lecture. Just have a conversation.

A key advantage to presenting science in locations where people already gather to chat? Accessibility. When a scientist steps off the podium and into the local cafe, bookstore or pub — there is a chance at a real conversation. Interested listeners and curious community members can discuss the science directly and ask questions (4).

Presenting science in this way is also beneficial for the scientists themselves. It gives researchers a chance to better contextualize their studies, to look beyond the incremental advances at the bench and connect with the people in their community. It reminds both parties that science is a messy and human endeavor — and that we all have a stake in the outcome.

Perhaps when we realize that scientific research is a shared endeavor, no matter who is wearing the lab coat, we will all champion for its progress.

References

1. Pew Research Center. “Public and Scientists’ View on Science and Society”. (2015) https://www.pewresearch.org/science/2015,1/29/public-and-scientists-views-on-science-and-society/

2. Brownell, S. E., Price, J. V., & Steinman, L. (2013). Science Communication to the General Public: Why We Need to Teach Undergraduate and Graduate Students this Skill as Part of Their Formal Scientific Training. Journal of undergraduate neuroscience education : JUNE : a publication of FUN, Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience, 12(1), E6–E10.

3. Leshner, I. (2003). Public Engagement with Science. Science, 299(5609), 977

4. Tan, S. Z. K., & Perucho, J. A. U. (2018). Bringing Science to Bars: A Strategy for Effective Science Communication. Science Communication, 40(6), 819–826.

5. Paul, P., & Motskin, M. (2016). Engaging the Public with Your Research. Trends in Immunology, 37(4), 268–271.

6. American Academy of Arts and Sciences. “Encountering Science in America”. (2019) https://www.amacad.org/publication/encountering-science

7. American Association for the Advancement of Science. “Theory of Change for Public Engagement with Science”. (2018) https://www.aaas.org/page/theory-change-public-engagement-science

If you are interested in securing Neurocrew talent for your next project, drop us a line at hello@neurocrew.com

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Neurocrew is a team of neuroscientists committed to improving the way neuroscience is communicated.

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Anahita Vieira, PhD

Anahita Vieira, PhD

Neuroscientist. Senior Science Writer by day. Creative writer by night. Twin/NICU Mom 24/7. But first, coffee.

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