April 21, 2021

In recent years, the US has experienced a growing distrust of science and scientists, primarily influenced by prominent public figures and widespread miscommunication of science. As a scientist, witnessing this decline in trust is profoundly disheartening yet not altogether surprising; scientific research today is written and published in a way that makes it widely inaccessible to the public, either through journal subscription costs or field-specific jargon. Barriers to entry such as these prevent non-scientists from knowledgeably participating in major scientific discussions, most notably including climate change and vaccinations.

Arguably the most problematic aspect of science inaccessibility is the public’s reliance on political or famous figures to communicate significant scientific developments. Most politicians are not scientists and are therefore likely to spread either unintentional misinformation or even intentional disinformation when communicating science. One obvious solution to this problem is to recruit scientists to share their work with broad audiences. However, a few issues accompany this apparent solution: first, because public communication is not highlighted in many research-focused degree programs, communicating science to non-scientists does not come easily for many academic researchers. Furthermore, research career incentives place little emphasis on learning to convey science to such audiences. Additionally, even when scientists attempt to connect to the public, they can be thwarted simply by a lack of attention.

For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Fauci and other scientists spoke to the nation about the science behind public health and safety measures to prevent disease spread. But, epidemiologists spent years leading up to the current pandemic warning of just such an outbreak. Ideally, communication between the public and the scientific community could have garnered support

Alternatively, suppose scientific research was made publicly available and written so the average person can understand the research methods and results. In such a scenario, the general population may be more involved, scientifically knowledgeable, and trusting of the scientific community. This could lead to greater participation in vaccination, public and political support for climate change initiatives, and better funding for critical research.

Ultimately, science is a public good that is currently not available to much of the public. While solving this problem will require systemic change, there are small things we as scientists can begin doing today. Engaging with the community and learning science communication are essential steps to making science more accessible. Including abstracts written for broad audiences and posting jargon-free research summaries in free or open access sources allows invaluable, direct public access to the scientific community. Link your publications along with an accessible description on social media and other public spaces to engage those who may not usually be exposed to science. As scientists begin to incorporate science communication into their jobs, the public will become more knowledgeable, interested, and trusting. Creating this partnership between scientists and the public is essential for a science-friendly future.


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