We are THEY and why YOU should care
There is a disconnect between the scientific community and the rest of the world
Need proof? Look at this picture and tell me what you see. If you are involved in research a common answer could be graduate students running an assay or working on silicon chip production…nothing too exciting. However; if you have never worked in a clean room, or any research lab setting for that matter, this photo can evoke a different reaction. These figures represent faceless, genderless scientists working in a building with no windows that is possibly underground. What are they working on? Zombies most likely. The general rule is blue gloves for zombies, purple for nuclear bombs if I remember correctly.
While this example is exaggerated, it is more slight than you might think. Think back to when you first told your friends and family that you wanted to pursue a career is science, and NOT be a doctor (M.D.). Hard memories to relive I know, but if you’re experience was anything like mine you probably got two specific reactions on more than one occasion.
“So what are you gonna do? Make bombs?”
“Wow, let me know when you cure cancer!”
Besides showing that most people think that the only things being researched are cancer and bombs, these two reactions show two very different but commonly held views on the scientific community. The bomb question underlies the feeling that some people have that researchers are simply trying to push the forefront of progress without any thought to the consequences. This attitude is prevalent since the advent of the atomic bomb, but can be seen in regards to many current projects like stem cell research and the LHC “black hole dilemma”.
The “scientists are people who cure cancer” view is opposite in the love/hate spectrum, but equally as dangerous to the community, if not more so. This implies the view that researchers are these benevolent entities that sit above the masses like guardians just waiting for a problem to arise so they can save them from it. There are several major scientific problems in the world today: New energy sources, providing food and water for an ever expanding population, curing an endless list of diseases, the list goes on and on. If every person in the world were working to solve these problems we still couldn’t be certain that we would solve them, but the reality is that more than 99% of people are just waiting for the answers to come down from above.
Why WE (Read: the scientific community) should care
1. THIS IS OUR FAULT. I cannot stress enough the fact that ignorance/malice of scientific research cannot be blamed on anyone but the people who have the knowledge but do not disseminate it. The underlying problem, as I see it, is the difficulty in finding first-hand reports of research for the average person. Research articles are spread throughout a plethora of journals, each of which charges handsomely to read its articles and most do not make it very easy to find studies which are reputable and applicable. The problem is then furthered by the fact that once you DO find a research paper, it is impossible to follow without years of experience reading, and often writing, articles on a similar subject. Google scholar – great for writing bibliographies, terrible for obtaining knowledge.
2. WE NEED THEIR HELP. I would never downplay the importance of education, experience, and subject-focused genius in scientific discovery, however it is certainly not all that there is. Anybody who has ever set out to do research with a specific goal in mind has to admit one thing: We use a largely luck based, hypothesis driven, guess-and-check methedology. Given that, we can follow an obvious line of logic to the fact that the more people we have working on any given problem, the more likely we are to find the answers in a shorter period of time. There are now almost 7 billion people on this earth, with maybe 10 million involved in any kind research. Talk about only using 10% of your brain.