President Donald J. Trump is wildly inconsistent on many issues. Under different circumstances, it might be amusing how often he contradicts himself. But one issue he has unfortunately been very consistent about is a dismissal of science and outright attacks on the scientific enterprise. The Trump campaign, his transition and appointees, and now his nascent administration, have deeply scared many of us who care about science.
Content Editors: Christina Vallianatos, Molly Kozminsky
Senior Editor: Alisha John
“Well, that field isn’t really science.”
“Oh, that’s just a soft science.”
Most people who work in the sciences have probably heard phrases like these. Translation: that field is lesser. The physicists say it about everyone lower than them in the pecking order, as do the chemists, biologists, and so on down the line. The nuclear physicist Ernest Rutherford famously said, “All science is either physics or stamp-collecting.” People argue about this at scientific conferences and inthemedia. The science and pop-culture webcomic xkcd has even parodied the issue.
Growing up, I was an avid soccer player. But, I never wanted the glory of being a team’s leading scorer. Defense was my home. That is until I scored my first goal. I was elated, but quickly realized that I had never in my time on defense received anywhere near the validation that I had for that goal. I could save goals or shut down the other team’s star player, but that usually went unnoticed. If anything, I was typically criticized for something I didn’t do more often than I was praised for something I did. This experience taught me something important – defense is a thankless job.
The same pattern that I saw in my soccer experience happens all the time with public health.
“The great enemy of communication…is the illusion of it.” –William H. Whyte
What if 9 out of every 10 Americans had trouble understanding and responding to ordinary traffic signs? It would be a national emergency, of course. Imagine the chaos, the crashes, and the loss of life that would occur if people didn’t know how to interpret stop signs, one way signs, do not enter signs, speed limits, and sharp curve ahead warnings. The public’s health and safety would be in grave danger and immediate action would be required.
“So, what do you do for a living?” It’s a simple question you’ve probably heard more times than you can count, but it isn’t necessarily easy to answer. When you’re a scientist, jargon is king in your day-to-day interactions. A seemingly simple question like this can induce an internal battle between the highly technical, scientific part of your brain and the social part that wants to relate to people outside your area of study. Winning that battle is only achieved by effectively communicating your work with people outside your field.Continue reading “Keep it simple: Explaining (science) with only the ten hundred most used words”