To begin let’s quickly establish why it is important for scientists to engage with the public. Firstly, science is expensive and much of the money used to fund it ultimately comes from the public. Given this fact, the public should have access to knowing how this money is used, and I’m sure many people will argue this point when discussing the issue of public engagement. Alongside this though I do think there is more pleasant reason to ensure that a dialogue between the two groups exists other than, ‘honestly we are using the money well, please keep funding us’. Ultimately, coupled to their interest in science many scientists like doing research because of helping towards some greater good. I think there is a very strong case that simply by increasing scientific understanding within the general public would be a step towards this.
Now we all agree it is a good idea, how do we make public engagement better? Currently shed loads of ways to get scientists talking with the public exist. Universities and funding bodies often have departments dedicated to funding public engagement. Furthermore, with the internet it is very easy to communicate to huge audiences of people. As a result, public engagement does indeed exist and is easy; we just need more of it. It should be encouraged from the top down and we should reward those who do it. I wonder whether or not it would be too far to make it compulsory. As a result, I guess my argument can be reduced to: we should simply use the tools available and just do it!
To truly engage people we cannot simply dictate facts to them.
On top of this, however, there is another way to better public engagement and that is reassessing how we define this process. It is likely that scientists telling the public about their work will come to mind when thinking about public engagement. However, what is rarely considered is listening to what the public have to say about science and actually building a dialogue between the two groups. To truly engage people we cannot simply dictate facts to them. We must listen, address concerns and value their input.
I will finish with a little addition of my passion for this subject. Science isn’t owned by anyone. It is for the masses and everyone should have the opportunity to experience the awe of discovery. We might be the experts when carrying out the science but we should endeavour to ensure that everyone has the means to understand the beauty of the natural world. Nowadays communicating is easier than it has ever been before. So, let’s communicate!