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Science Misinformation and Communication

Hi everyone!


For the past few months, I've been working on looking further into the field of science communication, introduced to me by no other than some of the wonderful women I interviewed last summer (on this blog!). Ever since I learned of the field, I've been sucked into the world of exploring science stereotypes and misinformation.


I wanted to take a look at this issue from the perspective of a 17-year old girl who's heavily interested in pursuing a career in STEM, and potentially research. And so, here are some of my findings.

THE QUESTION

How can we define scientific stereotypes and improve the trust and communication of science?

STEREOTYPES AND STEREOTYPES IN SCIENCE


Google defines the word "stereotype" to have the definition: "a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing."


With that, you can probably tell how there's going to be both pros and cons with stereotypes. A pro is that it helps people respond in quick situations, and it is often a major influence in children's lives, especially when it comes to choosing their future profession or career path. It has been found that young girls are specifically affected by this phenomena.


Now, on the flip side, the generalization of a group of people neglects their uniqueness and differences. This may mean pre existing opinions, and often incorrect judgement.


Science has a pretty typical stereotype: scientists are highly intelligent, socially inept, and disconnected from people and the real world. As someone who's interested in STEM, I find it pretty hilarious yet understandable. Science can sometimes seem out of this world to some, including myself sometimes, that causes complete awe and of course, confusion.

LACK OF TRUST


Another issue that came up is the lack of trust between the science community and the general public (more specifically, people who do not pursue professions in science). Americans who are more knowledgeable about science are more likely to believe that scientists act in public interest. At the same time,


“No more than two-in-ten Americans believe scientists across these groups are transparent about potential conflicts of interest with industry all or most of the time.” (Pew Research Center)


It's honestly not too difficult to see why this is true. The worldwide pharmaceutical industry alone is worth $1.25 trillion USD. People may see various motives with science research in Industry. In addition, people are more likely to trust people close to them- like a family doctor or practitioner.


There's also a fear of misconduct.


"For doctors, for example, 71% of blacks and 63% of Hispanics say misconduct is at least a moderately big problem, compared with 43% of whites." (Pew Research Center)


Lastly, there's the case of scientific dishonesty. Theranos.

THERANOS


While looking for the biggest cases of scientific dishonesty, it seemed as though Theranos was one of the most impactful of them all.


From the outside, they were an up and coming biotech company. They had loads of investors, were set up in Walgreens. It seemed as though nothing could go wrong. Until it did.


Most people in the science community could take one look at what she was doing, and laugh, saying there's no way that's possible. And they would be right- her one drop of blood tests were indeed impossible.


This led to great scientific distrust- investors seemed to be scammed, people were unhappy, and it became exponentially more difficult to gain science funding and investments.

UNDOING STEREOTYPES AND BUILDING TRUST


The first step to breaking stereotypes about science is undoing them. There are quite a few methods to do so, and here are some of the top ones I found:

  1. Exposing children to science at a young age. There's an example to this: Bring an adult to a science lab, and they react with awe but yet disconnect and confusion, because they simply don't understand what's going on, and they probably aren't interested either. Bring a kid to a science lab, it's completely different. If we can get children to believe that science is accessible and not disconnected, they're less likely to believe the science stereotype.

  2. The internet. There are so many ways for people to approach science with ease. That's the beauty of science communication. My favorite example is TED Talks, with titles like "Zombie Roaches and other parasite tales". In addition, science YouTube and animations have become increasingly popular over the years.

  3. Responsible writing. Less clickbait, more real information. There has to be a balance between interesting content and ethical reporting.

CONCLUSION


Science communication is quite an impactful field that has the potential to flourish in the coming years. Science stereotypes won't be easy to break, but it is possible. I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing this. Thank you!


Fiona

ABSTRACT: Research in the past has concluded the rough relationship between the science community and the general public. In general, these are caused the most by cases of stereotyping, mistrust, and highly publicized instances of scientific dishonesty. By studying and analyzing the communication channels used by scientific research, the understanding of science can be improved in the future. Ways to improve this channel include exposing children to science from a young age, creating and improving on accessible resources for the general public, and promoting an image of reliability in science. This hopes to lessen the effects of conspiracy theories and false information. Yet, on the flip side, attempting to make science more appealing may also led to misinformation in the hopes of grabbing people’s attention, which counteracts the original purpose of science communication.

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