Over the past months, I went to several scientific conferences on a covert mission. While I was technically there to learn and discuss my work, I wanted to find out why so many academics avoid engaging with the public about their research.
I ambushed scientists at happy hours, in lounges set up for networking, and other social events. Every chance I had, I asked, “Do you try to engage with a broad, non-scientific audience about your research and ideas?”
While many scientists I talked to thought scientific communication and engagement were important, they didn’t do it themselves. When possible, I asked why they didn’t.
Imagine this. The check engine light comes on in your car.
You drive it to an auto parts store to get the check engine code read free of charge and an employee gives you their best guess for the needed repair. Feeling you have the solution, you drive to your local repair shop (that would have charged $100 to read the code!) and request the repair.
Proud of your resourcefulness, you pay, pick up your car and leave with a swagger to your step.
Until 3,000 miles later when the check engine light comes on. Again.