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Opinion: Scientists Must Engage the Community

The world is full of difficult problems that have been or can be solved using science. Right now, these solutions go unheard or worse: ignored. The long-growing trend of miscommunication and distrust between scientists and the public means that scientists need to reframe how they participate in public dialogue. Science for Georgia is working to engage scientists and the wider community in productive dialogue by providing tools to reestablish mutual understanding and trust.

The old paradigm of “science says…” isn’t working.

For example, the scientific world created vaccines that have helped to almost completely eradicate diseases like measles. The science hasn’t changed on this in over 40 years, but now there are measles outbreaks. What happened? Often, skeptic’s reasons are based on their distrust of corrupt or inept scientists. These perceptions point to the scientific community failing to communicate their science or their process clearly

Given both a fundamental lack of trust and a failure to communicate, scientists and the public are both frustrated.

Science for Georgia was formed with the purpose of improving communication among scientists and the public, increasing public engagement with science, and advocating for the responsible use of science in public policy. Scientists need to change how we communicate if we want to meaningfully engage with the communities we aim to help. Scientists are trained to do research and to write up the facts in a journal and let the facts speak for themselves. This is not going to cut it anymore. Science can’t count on government indoctrination or its long-held status to polish its image anymore. It needs to adapt to the current state of things and create a relationship with the people. To help Science re-establish its position of trust and respect, it needs to back up statements and conclusions with easy to understand, compelling arguments and contextualize these to the real-world.

To earn back trust, scientists need to engage the community in useful and productive ways. Science for Georgia is helping this happen by:

  • Providing communication training to scientists.
  • Building a network of scientists who are engaged and accessible to fellow scientists, policymakers, the media, and the public.
  • Providing outlets for people to share their science.
  • Creating a healthy science ecosystem that betters serves the public good on many levels: combating poverty, addressing educational disparities, growing the GA economy, and attracting and retaining talent

The rise of the internet means that scientists and their messages are competing with information that is a lot more accessible and understandable, but not necessarily true. Now it’s our job to step out of our comfort zone and create content that is not just factually accurate, but easy to understand and easy to access.

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Science for Georgia is a 501(c)(3). We work to build a bridge between scientists and the public and advocate for the responsible use of science in public policy.

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