Have you ever written a blog post about your field? Tweeted a link to a new scientific publication? Joined a forum discussion about the latest research?
As it turns out, your likelihood of answering “yes” to one or more of these questions is no better than a coin flip. Fifity-two percent of respondents to a 2014 Nature News survey reported never having engaged in an online discussion about research. The recent Pew Research Center’s survey of AAAS members backs up this statistic. Only 47% of their respondents reported using social media to discuss or follow science, and only 24% said they blog about science and research. And it’s not just me saying that outreach is a public good. Eighty-seven percent of the Pew survey’s respondents agreed that scientists should “take [an] active role in public policy debates about science & technology.”
This is a sad state of affairs. For one, in an era in which a growing number of people get their information about scientific advances online, scientists cannot afford to remain unengaged. Areas of science as diverse as embryonic stem cell research and vaccinations have triggered bitter societal debates. Active participation in public outreach by the scientists conducting this research is crucial to defending its value.
The fact of the matter is that science today has reached a point in time where it can have as far outreach as it wanted it to be, but it needs to start engaging with the audience in an up-to-date manner. The scientific community does not like to shove things down the throat of the people, but due to this reason, there are many misconceptions about many scientific discoveries that could easily be debunked if scientists found a more interactive way to talk to the audience. Online outreach is the best tool that the scientific community has with which it will battle ignorance, and the truth is it should start using it as soon as possible because we are at the point of no return in many scientific areas.