Wait – what? Questioning and science literacy

Students examining contents of an ocean dredge - seaweeds, sea stars, etc.

Throughout my career and education, it’s been clear that at the root of it, I love communicating science. But what does that mean? Essentially, I love getting people excited about the nerdy, mathy, messy world of science, especially biology.

What comes as a surprise to me is the resistance of many to this magical, unknown world. Wading through the stacks of information and research is challenging, especially for those who want to digest their science with their coffee and go about their days in peace. Many websites and shows have tried to make this possible, with varying degrees of success. Mythbusters, Daily Planet, Science in Seconds, Science Friday, National Geographic, and ScienceBlogs come to my mind immediately.

How do we, as science communicators, rate our success of communicating science, and ultimately, helping people become scientifically literate? It’s complicated, for sure. Those who are not scientists are not going to spend hours and hours researching the benefits of coconut oil or likelihood of oil spills, but for me, the  measure of success behind communicating science is all about one key point.

If we can get everyone thinking to themselves, wait – what? when they read an article about a new procedure or scientific fact, we are encouraging the process of the scientific method and scientific literacy. Questioning what is right in front of you is the whole point of science. This questioning effort is engaging the viewer/reader in a different way than just accepting.

I approach my communication in a different way than some. My focus is to have each viewer, with their baggage, knowledge, and expectations, take away what they want from our interaction. Maybe they don’t care about my talk but are interested in some specimen in the background – great! I want them to question, challenge, think, and discover. All of these actions come from a place of wait – what? Science is all about learning and re-learning what we don’t know. Narrowing down possibilities, refuting the status quo, and re-visiting previously known “facts” are how we move forward!

When you read my blog – think about what I write. Ask me questions, refute my points, and decide for yourself what you take away from each one. And when you read or see science in the big, scary, world out there – remember to ask, wait – what?


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