Scientific Outreach: The Challenge of Sparking Interest in an Over Informed Society

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Science, with its roots laid by Galileo in 17th-century Italy, is defined as the branch of human knowledge consisting of objective and verifiable insights derived through observation and experimentation. However, in an increasingly polarized and information-saturated world, misinformation has become ubiquitous, especially in crucial areas like health, where what appears as established evidence to many may be the genesis of parallel theories or post-truth for others.

According to a 2022 Statista survey, Peruvians and Mexicans, just behind the Philippines, were the highest consumers of fake or misleading news at 87%. This stands in contrast to the 40% of Spaniards, as highlighted by the European University, who claim not to identify distorted or false information, emphasizing the urgency to foster the ability to discern between legitimate science and unfounded claims.

Amid this informational crisis, the precarious state of the media, particularly in Latin America with limited spaces in health or science magazines or traditional media, has led to exploring new ways to disseminate scientific advancements, with social media emerging as a crucial medium.

Is there a demand for scientific information? Despite the common perception that science is not of interest, channels dedicated to science in the United States alone exceed 12 million subscribers. This suggests a genuine appetite for science when presented attractively. This fact was widely confirmed during the pandemic, leading to a 180% increase in online activity among minors. According to the 3M survey, “The State of Science in the World,” in 2021, 75% of Mexicans viewed scientists and doctors as inspiration for future generations.

The answer is clear: science is of interest, depending on the format and the impact of communicated innovations or medical advancements. This is optimistic for a society that requires seamless communication between scientific institutions and the public, necessitating specialized communicators. Thus, scientists, journalists, communicators, institutions, and companies play crucial roles in this task.

The Role of Scientists, Journalists, Communicators, Institutions, and Companies

Scientists play an essential role in disseminating science, given their expertise, which provides them credibility, knowledge, and authority. However, as explained by the authors of the Guide for Science Communication from the Complutense University of Madrid, while some scientists possess great communication skills, many find the challenge daunting, struggling to strike the right tone and level. This often results in either oversimplifying content or not sacrificing depth for better understanding.

Journalists remain relevant in scientific outreach, with the objective of showing readers how scientific information is vital to their lives. However, in Latin America, newsrooms are reducing their staff, and to ensure quality journalism, the solution lies in paid subscriptions, akin to users of Netflix or Amazon Prime. In the U.S., according to a 2017 Pew Research Center study, most Americans trust mainstream media for scientific news, but more believe specialized sources report accurately on science, highlighting a scarcity of scientific information in Spanish.

In the third place, communicators, whether professional or amateur, fill a crucial space by taking scientific knowledge beyond traditional media. Their more didactic approach contributes to the overall understanding of science, and although not their professional duty, they should bear the responsibility of nurturing critical thinking and relying on reliable sources.

Finally, institutions like international scientific research centers such as NASA or CERN, along with private companies, must promote scientific knowledge, facilitate immediate access to key information, and encourage more researchers, especially young women, to choose careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, as only 30% of researchers are female scientists.

Comprehensive Solutions Involving the Entire Society

Similar to how we stay informed about politics or the economy, few aspects can have such a significant impact on our lives as scientific advancements. While it’s understandable that not all citizens are motivated to read detailed scientific advances presented in a journal like ‘Science,’ it is crucial for us to collectively prioritize an interest in science.

In this regard, implementing effective solutions to address challenges in scientific outreach requires a comprehensive strategy. This involves encouraging scientists to actively share their discoveries in an accessible manner, establishing effective communication channels, fostering continuous collaboration, exploring new forms of independent funding to enhance the quality of scientific journalism, and creating educational programs highlighting the dynamic nature of scientific information and promoting critical thinking. Finally, to ensure informed decision-making, the presence of professionals in science and technology in political teams must be promoted, ensuring that policies are backed by solid scientific evidence.

Coordinator, Healthcare Americas