Thursday, June 21, 2007

Making Science more palatable for the public

Science is like the Brussels sprouts on a child’s dinner plate. Just like a mom insisting her child eats his veggies; the American public is needs to learn science.
But the American public just has no interest in science or math. Many people have no liking for science.

So the scientific community has three options.
1) Make the science fun and light – like the mom playing airplane to coax the veggies in a child’s mouth. And there are lots of great fun science programs being hosted by zoos, botanic gardens, science museums, children’s museum, even at school programs like Family Science Night. But how long can we play that game. Not too long. By middle school most students’ interests in science has peaked. Not only that, the extra-curricular and professional development support offered by informal science institutions stops abruptly at grade 8.

2) Force science on them. “You can’t leave the table until you’ve cleaned your plate”. Science is required for most public school students until grades 11. But requiring more science doesn’t necessarily translate to better science understanding or interest in studying science further.

3) Make the science lessons relevant – of dress up the veggies in cute arrangements, serve with ranch dressing. Focus on sharing science that is relevant to people, that appeals to them. “Framing” science information may be our best strategy for getting people (of all ages) to gulp down more science.

Why? Right now, science is a very heavy subject. It is weighed down with lots of jargon and technical information. Technical information isn’t interesting to most people. As scientists, we are very
Concerned with the details – blame it on our training. We unconsciously think “Surely you can’t really understand or appreciate the matter at hand if you don’t know the whole story – the whole twisted, up-and-down, every caveat and exception story?” It depends. Do you need to know how the food is grown and transported in order to take it home and cook it, and feed it to your family? No, but if you’re a farmer or produce manager those details might be more interesting to you. The average person wants to know the basics. The more they know the more they will want to know, later. The average person doesn’t care enough or doesn’t have the time and/or energy to get that deep, all at once. It’s a process and if we’re lucky, they’ll want to come back for more.

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