Science is Already Sensational
Two years ago, I signed up to G+ and was thrilled to discover so many scientists and science advocates on here – I found my kind! From those early days, we built a community, from the ground up, made of people who were passionate about communicating science and battling anti-science. Over time, we gained enthusiastic support from the public, and our followers on G+ grew, along with the engagement we received from the content we produced. Fascinating topics, insightful discussions, the occasional swatting of the pseudoscience troll, these were all things that brought us closer together. Pages and Communities sprang up, all with the common goal of science outreach and public education and I am so proud and happy to be a part of that. To that end, +ScienceSunday and +Science on Google+: A Public Database are excellent resources for any newcomers.
As a scientist, communicating science comes with a responsibility to be honest. When I write a science post, I do it because I read a paper that made me go “wow, that is so cool! I want to share that with people!”. My goal is not to hit What’s Hot, or to get more followers, or to become popular, or to increase a Klout score or whatever. I don’t care about those things because they are side effects.
Because of this, I don’t sensationalize my posts to become popular. I strongly feel that the science I write about is already pretty damn sensational. I don’t need to lie to you, the public, to make you excited about it, because I hope that my science writing skills can translate the jargon from the research so that you are excited about the science itself.
Sensationalizing scientific discoveries is patronizing. It implies that you, the public, is too stupid to understand or care about the science, and I need to deliver it in a form that you will consume easier. This is lazy, and ultimately doesn’t really educate anyone about the scientific discovery; it just spreads misinformation.
Sensationalizing science also leads the public to have false expectations about the science. A sensationalized title such as “Scientists Have Grown a Fully Functional Liver from stem cells” might hit What’s Hot, but is an outright lie. It leads the public to expect ‘fully functional livers’ to be made available to transplant candidates within months and years, whereas the reality is far from the case. This is not the fault of the science, or the scientist.
Misinforming the public to popularize science does not popularize science; it hurts science. The science out there is already so amazing, we don’t need to make it something it’s not. I understand that it’s not easy for everyone to always read the original paper and understand it, let alone convey the findings in a manner that the public can understand, but sensationalizing it to make people take notice is disingenuous and lazy at best, and harmful and detrimental to our collective goals of science outreach at worst.
If you have me circled, I won’t lie to you. I will do my best to share the research that I think is exciting, in a jargon-free manner that I hope you can understand, and be available to answer any questions you might have about it, or find other scientists who could answer you. You can expect to read about things like radioactive bacteria shrinking tumors, the evolution of snake venom proteins or how a compound in breast milk could be used to treat MRSA if I am in your circles. I am here to communicate science and to make you as excited about it as I am. I don’t need to sensationalize something that is already sensational.
Thanks +Tommy Leung, +Rajini Rao, +Hedwig Pöllöläinen and +Brian Koberlein for inspiring this post. It’s something that was on my mind for quite a while, and you guys were awesome catalysts 🙂
PS: Yes I’m not wearing a labcoat…shh!
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