Why should I care about science?

Science communication, in essence, deals with informing the public about new theories, discoveries and understanding. People may have an interest in science for various reasons, or have little interest at all. In the past, media has been limited to certain methods of disseminating science – via newspapers, radio, television, word of mouth and so on. Nowadays, people with a vested interest in science can research for themselves efficiently online, and people with little interest in science can easily sidestep science websites.

This sidestepping is called “fragmentation”. In the past, watching the news may have exposed people to science alongside other stories; and flicking through the daily paper may have caused them to glance at a science headline and be enticed to read more.

Because of fragmentation found in new media outlets such as online news, blogs and podcasts, people may be less exposed to science news than previously, and only find what they actively search for. The article “Science communication reconsidered” addresses current issues for science communication and proposes some strategies to combat them.

The paper discusses the framing of a science message as a tool to incite the lay public to pay attention or become interested in a science topic.

“Frames are interpretative packages and storylines that help communicate why an issue might be a problem, who or what might be responsible and what should be done”.  

A particular frame can mean the success or failure of the media to disseminate a science story, and can determine the amount of value the lay public will give to certain science research initiatives.

My question is: Why should the lay public care about science? If we are to succeed in disseminating science, there has to be a reason for people to want to listen. We have to appeal to a wide audience for science to gain support. People need a vested interest to care, and the message must be framed in light of their values.

http://www.simpsonscience.com/)

The question of why the public should care about science can be viewed from a utility point of view. The public ought to be interested in science because it may become useful to them now, or in the future. It can also be considered as a question of truth. The public should be interested in science because it is a path for knowledge. Such as: evolution theories can help us find methods to explain the truth of our existence. Others may find science useful for the entertainment value – having a vibrant topic to discuss at their next dinner party.

The value of science depends upon the individual. Some people may not care about where they came from – and hence evolutionary science is of little consequence to them. Other people may not have a use for science information, and therefore ignore it. Others may have no desire for discussing science with their friends. The value I put on science is that I want to know more, I have a desire for knowledge and find science interesting. I also want to discover ‘truths’ and use science as a tool to help me.

Why do you think people ought to value science? And why do you value science in your own life? Are there any other reasons you think science is valuable that I haven’t mentioned?

Bubela, T., Nisbet, M. C., Borchelt, R., Brunger, F., Critchley, C., Einsiedel, E., et al. (2009). Science communication reconsidered. Nature Biotechnology, 27(6), 514-518.

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By polc01

12 comments on “Why should I care about science?

  1. Understanding how science works (i.e. the scientific method and critical thinking) can enable people to hold onto their cash when someone tries to sell them “magic healing crystals”.

    To me, science is a way of understanding the world and satisfying our natural curiosity that encouraged early explorers to climb mountains, cross deserts and sail out into the unknown.

  2. Agreed! Basically, we are science. Everything we do, whether it be simple tasks we don’t even think about (e.g. breathing, our heart beating) to more complex human acheivements (e.g. building bridges, discovering and using electricity) and everything that we are, is linked to science. I think that’s why people ought to value it.

    Great post Carmen! Very thought provoking.

    • I agree! Science is a major part of our lives, whether we acknowledge it or not. Civilisation wouldn’t be what it is today without it.
      As Alan said as well, it is useful for satisfying our curiosity.
      Thank goodness for pioneers of science, otherwise we might have been wiped out by an epidemic years ago, or still think the earth is flat.

  3. Yes, we may be science but only seem to appreciate the value of it when things go wrong.

    Families suddenly want to know everything about a disease if a loved one falls ill. Others only now want to know more about biodiversity because more and more animals become extinct and nature may loose its appeal. And there are of course those that are finally interested in the science of climate change because they soon have to pay a carbon tax.

    I start believing that, besides framing, it is disaster an unfortunate events that draw attention and appreciation to science. Those with a genuine interest and curiosity in science may only reflect a minority on our planet.

    • I agree with you – but I wonder also whether it is solely unfortunate events that cause the attention and appreciation. Amazing discoveries in astronomy tend to cause an increase in interest in the area, as do things like the lunar/solar eclipses. Just food for thought.

    • I definitely agree with you that traumatic events and a ‘need’ for science in a person’s life makes it more relevant for them, and will spark interest.
      It’s sad to think that people genuinely interested in science are the minority, but it is most likely the case. Often science is only ‘interesting’ if it affects people personally.
      Thanks for the comment!

  4. I think it may actually be an early education issue. We are raised to take medicine and machines and innumerable other advances for granted, as though they are not really worth attention, and I think the general public’s appreciation for science suffers as a result. Rarely do people think “Wow it would have been really hard to be the first person to make one of these.” As a result people have less of an understanding of the ramifications and significance of the scientific method when it is introduced to them.

  5. I agree to Ankev.
    I think most of eole want to know science to protect themselves in case they got diseas or mental problems with them or with their lovers.
    As Brogankate is mentioned, we are science and we are living in science. So, when we got any accidents or problems, the only way to resolve them is related science.
    I think lay public feel science or take it when they are in trouble.

    Also, I think science are used for earning money.
    Not only in the medias but also in the entertainment, they use science. For example, the magic show is based on science, and sports are based on science as well.
    Some times people dont feel them as science but when they realise it as science most of them get interest.

  6. Science and technology is all around us! No matter who you are, where you live, or what you do, you have definitely benefitted from advances in science or may have fallen victim to them.
    I don’t think anyone could feasibly argue that they would have been better off without many of the benefits we see from discovering science & technology. That’s why I think its so important to our society.

  7. Is science and culture related?. Growing up mainly in Europe I felt I was more exposed to science and it was considered to part of our lives. The media always had something interesting and we learnt without knowing it. Since living in Australia, there appears to be a lack of interest, particularly amongst secondary school students. I wonder if this might contribute to this idea of not caring about science which may be a result of the media exposure to this subject. Is science put in a negative frame in the media?

    • Interesting comparison! Yet I would think that in Europe problems like Mad Cow Disease have led to a greater public distrust in science compared to Australia.

  8. As a teacher, I often hear students complain, “Why do we need to know this? We’ll never use this in later life!” Yet when it comes to parent-teacher interviews, parents often tell me, “Science is so useful – you just don’t realise it until after you’ve left school.”

    Let’s face it whether we like it or not science is interwoven with our lives. Your digital alarm clock, the weather report, the transport you ride in, your decision to eat a baked potato instead of fries, your cell phone, your IPod, the antibiotics that treat your sore throat, the clean water that comes from your faucet, and the light that you turn off at the end of the day have all been brought to you by the technology enabled by science.

    Many scientific thoughts and processes are just common knowledge, and if students did not possess this, they could not fully understand society and the world. Scientific knowledge can improve the quality of life at many different levels — from the routine workings of our everyday lives to global issues. Science informs public policy and personal decisions on energy, conservation, agriculture, health, transportation, communication, defense, economics, leisure, and exploration.

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