Archive Chris Cole

We need to talk science…

By Chris Cole

Over the past few decades, support for the concept of communicating science and research to the public has exploded. Gone are the days of scientists being largely able to stay locked away in the labs doing their research and having little regard for the world outside. Instead we are now actively encouraged to try and communicate our research when possible and always think on how our research can affect society. For some in academia, this push to share the concept of their work and engage in dialogue with the public is frivolous, but I would argue that given the past decades it’s now more important than ever that we as scientists do not lock ourselves away in labs (however tempting it may be!).

You may ask why I think it’s particularly important? Well, not to flog a dead horse (excuse the macabre expression) but I’d like to briefly visit the MMR vaccine scandal of the late 1990s. No doubt most (or hopefully all) of you reading this will know of the scandalous (and now revoked) paper in The Lancet in 1998, which falsely claimed a link between autism and the MMR vaccine. Now, this has already been tackled by countless people far smarter than I, so I will not be ripping this shameful aspect of medical history any further. But why do I bring this up?

Well, simply put we are now seeing a resurgence of measles in the western world thanks to parents, even today, not vaccinating their children. A debilitating disease that should rightfully be eradicated is still afflicting children 20 years on from that paper. Clearly many people have engaged with the public trying to explain why they should obviously vaccinate their children, but even today there are charlatans posing as experts pushing this dangerous misinformation. More and more it seems like there is growing distrust of scientists, doctors and experts by vocal parts of society (e.g. the flat earth society) who, thanks to social media, can spread their ignorance far and wide. So, I ask, isn’t getting a better dialogue going between the scientific community and the public one of the best ways to remedy this?

For examples of organisations and events both here in Newcastle and on a national level who are engaged in getting science out to the public visit:
– Bright club
– Pint of Science
– Soapbox science

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