Before deciding what needs to change, it is first important to recognize why the public needs to be engaged in science. Government bodies or local authorities, whose money is obtained from national taxes, fund a large proportion of scientific research. An ever-increasing volume of research is also being funded by charities, which only exist as a result of public backing. The taxpayers are entitled to a level of transparency, and the public-run grant programmes are accountable to their donors as to what research has been funded and why. It is clearly important that the public understand why this research is necessary. Scientists should therefore be able to make their work comprehensible to the wider public and not alienate a critical source of financial support. Another reason to improve our relations with the public is to address various misconceptions about research. One example of this is the persistent belief that animal research is tantamount to animal cruelty. As this research is currently an essential part of developing new clinical strategies to combat human disease it is important that the public understand how it is regulated and considered. This would allow a more open dialogue between scientists and the public, bringing unbiased and fresh perspectives to research issues. One way to begin closing the gap between these two communities could involve school science lessons. Perhaps these should not just focus on the facts and figures of biology for example, but also on what research actually involves and why. Why not introduce class debates on science policy as part of the curriculum?
Research science can sometimes appear as an exclusive club, unintelligible to those not directly involved.
Research science can sometimes appear as an exclusive club, unintelligible to those not directly involved. But people can enjoy and understand art without being artists themselves. Can this not be true of science? Are scientists so conceited that we feel that our scientific discoveries cannot be appreciated by anyone other than scientists, or are we just lacking the skills with which we can share an enthusiasm for science? Most scientists are unaccustomed to presenting their work to those outside of research, and therefore unsurprisingly find this difficult. It should be a vital part of a scientist’s training to be able to explain and make their work relevant to audiences beyond their research niche. Public engagement activities are not currently a mandatory component of a PhD, and perhaps this is an important change to make.