Does the public like science? Do the people trust scientists? Sometimes, I wonder. As a young scientist fresh out of a postdoc, a lot of my friends are also scientists. Of course, many of those friendships were forged over those strenuous years of grad school. My friends and I, we’re like-minded folks. I like science. They like science. We trust in science.
But this past summer, I met up with a friend who had become quite disenchanted with science. I consider her a highly-educated person and I respect her opinion. She has a number of impressive degrees under her belt, research experience, a lot of scientist friends, and is even married to a scientist. It wasn’t so much that my friend didn’t believe in hypothesis-driven research or facts in data. She just flat out didn’t like the way some (not all) scientists behaved professionally. I won’t go too much into scientists behaving badly (poorly) – that’s probably enough for a whole separate blog entry and perhaps a totally different forum.
Suffice to say, my friend was not feeling favorable towards the bureaucratic infrastructure in science and challenged that she was not alone; trust in science by the public had fallen dramatically.
Well, that thought certainly made me wince. So I Googled it: “public perception in science.” As I scrolled down the hit list, I wondered, “If the public doesn’t trust scientists, who do scientists trust?” Well, I regard the Pew Research Center pretty highly, so I clicked on their link. I was comforted briefly, but then annoyed at the headline I read:
Public Praises Science; Scientists Fault Public, Media
Well, golly. It doesn’t look like there’s a lot of trust going around here either. Then I read through the overview, which was published back in 2009. I was encouraged that at least a majority of the public (86%) found science’s effect on society mostly positive and scientists were held in a favorable view by the public. You can check out the article for yourself here: http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1276/science-survey
Still, I wonder what I can do to promote the good work of science. I’m constantly looking for opportunities to reach out to the public and share all the cool stuff we’re doing. As it turns out, I’ll get another chance in a few days. There’s a neighborhood street festival coming up and the DOE will have a booth set up for the day. I signed myself up for an hour slot and am looking forward to it. Hopefully, there will be sunny skies in California, fun festival food, and friendly talk with the good people of the neighborhood. I’ll be sure to report back in my next posting.