Missions are pretty straightforward things. You have your objectives that you want to complete. You have your plan of action. You know what the potential threats are. You know what you have to do to get the job done. And you know the risks.
And once you accept the mission you commence to action. Follow the plan. Or maybe you improvise. Whatever you do you keep your eye on the goal.
We follow many spoken and unspoken missions throughout our lives. No matter what they help guide and shape our actions and help us make decisions and achieve goals.
Scientists in their professional careers obviously follow a lot of missions. They seek to understand how nature works. Their goal is to gain understanding. Their plan is to follow a very strict method that eliminates bias. They use the tools of statistics and inference and logic to achieve those goals.
Those are noble and worthy missions, but those missions are purely in the scientific world. Now more and more scientists are being called to communicate their work to the public and interact with the public. What’s more, fans of science are being called to not just be… fans of science, but to start sharing in that work of science communication.
So what does it mean for a scientist or science communicator to have a mission when it comes to the public?
First off, the goals. Science communication has a lot of potential goals, and many of these goals are intertwined with each other. One goal could be simply to raise more public awareness of the things we’ve learned about the universe and nature through the methods of science. Another goal could be to better inform policymakers and the public so that we can make better decisions on very critical problems facing our country. Another goal could be to combat anti-science and pseudo-scientific ideas. Yet another goal could be to inspire youth so that they pursue careers in science and keep the whole enterprise going. Or another goal could be to simply have fun because learning things about the universe is really fun and sharing that is also fun.
The scientist or science communicator has a lot of tools and tactics available to achieve those goals. There’s online publishing like articles, blogs, videos, and social media. There are big events like science pubs or public presentations or coffee hours. There are school events and lecturer opportunities. And then there’s good old-fashioned conversations with friends, family, and neighbors.
The plan of action is also pretty straightforward. It involves a lot of talking. And it involves a lot of sharing. It involves a lot of common understanding. It involves a lot of empathy. It involves a lot of honest hard work. it involves a lot of desire to engage people so that they see the world the same way scientists do.
As for threats, they come from a lot of directions. They come from people who don’t think the scientific approach is a valid viewpoint. They come from people who want to use and abuse science for their own purposes rather than for just the understanding of nature. And they come from unscrupulous scientists themselves who distort their own results or who misrepresent their results to the public.
Like any other mission in life, goals are set, threats are known, plans are made. What are you waiting for?
Question assumptions, explore the universe, have fun. More at pmsutter.com.
Paul M. SutterContributor
Paul M. Sutter: Astrophysicist | Agent to the Stars