You must have met a scientist. They’re everywhere. They live among us. In fact, you probably saw a scientist today and you didn’t even know it.
Now, that opening isn’t my crack at writing the autocue script for a tabloid current affairs show. It wouldn’t be out of place though. That’s because despite all the scientists out there trying to engage, you sometimes get a feeling that each day a new angry mob dropped by the pitchfork shop to stock up for an anti-science march.
Science Under Attack
Maybe it’s because there’s cancer conspiracy theories suggesting the cure is already out there, but researchers are hiding it to make big bucks. Just look at all those cancer scientists buying tropical islands.
It could be the growing influence of industry-funded organisations attacking science making scientists feel a bit unloved. Maybe it’s the news of despotic regimes trying to limit public chatter from researchers about the stuff they find. Like the jackboot-wearing thugs from Canada, for example.
To launch attacks like this, it seems to me that you have to start with the assumption that scientists are some other species. A species that doesn’t recognise normal moral codes. A whole breed that would happily deny the world a cure for horrifying and deadly medical conditions or abandon any pretence at integrity and promote science they know isn’t true.
So maybe the first step is to start building up a public profile of what a researcher is. Well everyone goes nuts for those shows on TV where earnest suit-wearing people profile serial killers from the contents of their cereal bowl and the haircut they sported in their primary school photo. (Alright, maybe the serial killer reference isn’t helping me here.)
Profile of a Researcher
• My name is Andrew and I live in a city.
• I like sport. I even sit down and watch Test cricket.
• I find tea anticlimactic, particularly when compared to coffee.
• I am not particularly impressed by actors. It’s not that I don’t think what they do is cool, I just don’t think that being paid vast amounts of money to pretend to be someone who does stuff makes your opinion more valid than people who actually do that thing.
• I have never seen or read Game of Thrones.
• Despite this, I could have predicted that an episode called “Red Wedding” was probably not going to be a reference to a cultural practice of wearing red for good luck. What were you all expecting?
• I think ties serve no purpose. And bowties? No. Really, just no.
• I am also a drummer. This means that when I listen to music for the first time, I listen almost entirely to the drums and bass.
• I have a habit of singing along. Out loud. Wherever I am. My apologies.
• Hip hop has excellent rhythm. I am a middle class white guy. I have not been to “the hood”. I tend to sing out loud (see above). This makes hip hop awkward for me.
• I’d probably choose winter over summer, and the desert over the tropics.
• I’m also starting medical research on brain monitoring at accident scenes.
The thing is, I could state the exact opposite of every one of these sentences and I’d still be describing a researcher.
So if that’s true, maybe the challenge is right there. Because it turns out that scientists are just people too. How do we get that message across?