Science and Society

Fact vs fake in science news

Bridging the Gap Between Science and Society

Along with the impact on public health internationally to respond to existential threats over the past few years, the COVID 19 and Monkeypox pandemics have brought to light another emerging crisis; a palpable disconnect between science and society. This crisis, is perhaps, the most dangerous public health issue because it is largely underrated and can have serious consequences. Tackling public mistrust is crucial, not only in the event of other pandemics but also for overcoming any global threats like climate change, food insecurity, and water scarcity. The growing crisis of public mistrust will have a detrimental effect on our public health and will affect the future of us all. With the scientific community and the general public more divided than ever before, proactive efforts to rebuild this trust and promote understanding are essential for the survival of both. Any scientific progress that is not well-received or trusted by the public cannot effectively contribute to society.

The credibility and accuracy of reliable evidence-based scientific information are hard to maintain in the era of social media platforms that are filled with biased opinions, politicised sources, and polarized views of the world. The difference between facts and opinions is, now more than ever, harder to separate. The absence of accountability for sharing falsehood on these platforms has created a worrying trend of widespread distribution of misinformation. Unsurprisingly, this fuelled the division between science and the general public, creating an alarming barrier of skepticism and mistrust. The evolving nature of science, as it has played out during the COVID-19 pandemic in the ever-changing health recommendations regarding issues like masks and social distancing, created uncertainty among the public. Many argue that the responsibility is also partly on scientists, who often communicate with their communities in a language that is complex, leaving a lot of room for confusion and speculation. Furthermore, in attempting to identify and fill knowledge gaps of the general public, an unhealthy power relationship between a dominant all-knowing science and a subservient public is created.

The bottom line is, that there is a growing general mistrust in the scientific community that cannot be ignored. There has never been a more pressing need for scientists to rethink how they communicate and engage with the general public. Experts can help rebuild trust by being open to different opinions and starting a constructive dialog. Creating opportunities for conversation between scientists and communities that enable people to ask questions and actively engage in research can help heal this division. Scientists and communities must work together to make sure that uncertain times like these lead to a new period of enriching conversations and joint effort. Several movements have taken action to break scientists out of the ivory tower and restore the relationship between them and their community. Pint of Science is an annual festival that aims to make science accessible by getting people to engage in the world of science in a fun and approachable way. They hold events where scientists and the general public can discuss the latest scientific research findings in an exciting non-informal setting.

Another way to tackle this disconnect is by involving individuals in the process of research and educating them about the scientific method in order to help them rise above the torrent of misinformation and improve scientific literacy so that they will be able to separate fact from fiction. It is time to move research away from complexity to a meaningful, collaborative team effort, where both researchers and people, feel united in the goal of scientific progress and discovery. Inviting them into scientific studies where there is a sense of shared responsibility towards their common goal can help foster understanding in face of disparities. An example us, WeParticipated, which is a platform that connects the dots between the public and opportunities to take part in research studies. Not only does it help people find fascinating research studies to participate in across the country, but it also provides opportunities to engage with the scientific community and gives access to tons of educational material. Initiatives like Pint of Science and WeParticipated, are hoping to spark necessary conversations to help move science forward and make it accessible to everyone. We need to recognise that demystifying science is as much of a responsibility for experts as it is for policymakers, the media, and the public. Through impactful movements like these carrying the burden of bridging the gaps, our communities will be better equipped to face global challenges as they arise.