Science in Fiction

Science in Fiction

02 February 2011

Trusting in Scientists

In my Communicating Science class, we were talking about the deficit model of relaying information to the general public. The deficit model is, basically, when someone just dumps information on you and then it's in your hands on what to do about the information. Let me give you a scenario I think we've all seen before to explain this.

You are a student in some class. And the teacher comes in and starts lecturing at you. They put the information up on the board/powerpoint/overhead. And they assume that by just seeing the information you understand it or that you will go find your own methods of understanding it.

I am in no way saying that all or even most teachers are like this, but I think everyone has experienced this dumping of information. I think that when this happens, we are likely to shut down and lose trust in the teacher and even in the subject. And these experiences lead to stereotyping in the media.

Scientists are stereotyped as pretty bad at this in the entertainment world. This leads to overall distrust between the general public and the scientists. Take this following video (sorry it can't be embedded, but the user requested it not to be) from the television show The Big Bang Theory.  In this show, Sheldon, the tall skinny guy, is always talking techno-babel and is hard for the general public to relate to.  It is perpetuated to the point that he gains comedic effect from his science talk.

This stereotyping furthers the distrust between the general public and scientists.  In Investigating Science Communication in the Information Age, Alan Irwin discusses how a trust between the general public and scientists is necessary.  And Jack Stilgoe and James Wilsdon gave the example of how the UK Alzheimer's Society went in pursuit of information about the disease from the scientists and, in turn, the scientists were able to gain new knowledge about living with and helping someone with Alzheimer's Disease.

My main point is that if trust is built between scientists and the general public, then both sides can only gain.  So, please, do not buy into the stereotyping of scientists in the entertainment world, though it can be funny, and don't hesitate in getting a scientists to talk with you and not at you. Once you get us scientists talking, you'll see how much we enjoy science and hopefully you'll catch science-is-cool bug too.

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