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Science has a PR problem

Today sees the start of a series of blog posts on’s Soapbox Science blog. Starting with a post by me about how scientists can begin to change the face of their industry, and hopefully rectify some of the damage that has been done over the last few years. Click on the doodle, have a read, and then get involved in the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #reachingoutsci.

P.S. The image is intended to represent what the public sees science us as now. We have a long way to go, folks.




Whilst I really agree with the sentiment of this article there is a huge circular problem at play here. It goes q little something like this-

I want to inform people on my difficult complex research without exaggeration
However if I present it as it stands currently the public will not read it
I must make my research very simple for it to be comprehended by everyone
I now must state my research in its broadest terms
Now I have exaggerated the impact of my work

This isn’t an inherit issue but it is where I arrive at when trying to explain my work. I work on cancer in biophysics, but trying to explain what I do on a day to day basis to people is all but impossible.

What do you work on?
I’m a biophysics graduate student working on cancer
Oh but what do you actually do?
Well I investigate proteins….do you know what a protein is? An enzyme?

And that’s where the problem lies. Telling people what they want to hear – what we are actually exerting ourselves over day and night – is almost impossible without huge simplification


I see what you are driving at, and sure, often simplification can lead to sensationalization through generalization. But your example of explaining what you do makes me a little sad, because I think you actually can explain it to everyone. Take a step back, assess what really matters about what you do, and then give people enough building blocks to make sense of it. Explain what a protein is, how it’s made by the conversion of DNA to RNA and then into protein. Then choose an example, such as haemoglobin, and explain its importance in the body. Now you can probably explain your protein of interest, what is does, and why you study it. Perhaps this seems like a lot to explain, but if we can’t take the time to educate our friends and families, how on earth are we supposed to tackle scientific illiteracy in general?

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