Some days the job of a science communicator seems downright impossible. How can we continue to grow a love for science when there’s so much…well, lack of love for science? Especially when this lack of enthusiasm manifests in so many different and troubling ways.
Sometimes this manifests as a distrust of science and scientists. A view that scientists are a part of a system that doesn’t really have the public’s best interest at heart. Or that scientists simply go back and forth and forth and back, never really deciding and never really finding any answers. Or that scientists can’t be trusted because tomorrow they might change their minds, giving you a whole new set of guidelines and recommendations contrary to what they said yesterday.
Sometimes this manifests as malice toward science. Science is seen as a threat to a certain life or lifestyle. In this view, scientists have an agenda against certain groups of people, and are actively working against them, only performing certain kinds of studies or only highlighting certain kinds of results to deliberately do harm to certain groups of people.
Sometimes this manifests as pure simple apathy. No desire to explore curiosity or to learn new things. No desire to educate children in the techniques or results of science. No desire to engage with scientists on a personal, conversational level. In this view, scientists are seen simply seen as almost movie characters or mythical creatures. A certain kind of people that might or might not exist but don’t interact with us normal humans in our daily lives.
While it will take many techniques and many years of hard work and effort to slay this multi-headed hydra of anti-science sentiment, there is one critical key ingredient that any scientist or science communicator can easily employ: the relationship.
Everybody is unique. Every single person has their own pro- or anti-science slant for their own very personal closely-held reasons. And so the only way to responsibly engage with people is at that one-to-one, intimate, personal level. Yes this is hard because it sounds like an even more impossible task, but due to its simplicity to employ it might actually turn out to be easier than any other approach.
The central job here for the scientist or science communicator is to simply talk to people. As people. As other human beings. As beings worthy of respect and dialogue.
Talking to people as just people has an almost unspeakable power, because people let their guards down when they feel respected and safe. They can open up. They can talk about things that they normally don’t talk about in ways that they don’t normally do. In other words, they become free.
And once dialogues are created, where people are not just being spoken to but also listened to, common ground can be found. Not always, of course, but it’s the best shot. What are the issues that matter most? What are the actual bones of contention? And if we can’t agree on some fundamental issues, what are some things we can agree about? Can we negotiate on responsible policies? Can we spark curiosities? Can we build and develop and grow respect not just for science but for each other?
In case you were wondering, the answer is yes. But first we have to talk.