A couple of weeks ago in Mexico we were able to read in several news media the so call #ladygrapheno, an undergraduate student with a robotics major who won a science fair with a product containing graphene, stating that it was capable of cellular regeneration. Sadly, she used the media coverage to sell this product and make some money out of the need and despair of many people. Understandably, the scientific community was in a raw and within days managed to expose this case nationwide. Many blamed the media for not having scientific literacy or people trained in science communication, but none to what I believe is the origin of this problem, the indifference of the scientific community in science communication.
Many asked, how is it possible that the media managed to pick up that story and not one of many awesome advances or discoveries done by actual scientists? The answer is simple, where exactly we think a journalist is going to read what I or any of my colleagues actually do? In the papers we publish in journals where you have to pay to read them or in the patents we submit? In the outreach/science communication office that many institutions don´t have? Or in the outdated news section of institutional webpages?
It is all too common to hear scientists to complain about the lack of sufficient funding and disinterest of the general public and government for what we do and the continuous grow of pseudoscience movements. However, how much time do we, scientists, actually spend promoting and explaining our work away from the academia? How much time do we spend training the next generation of scientists on how to better explain what they do and why anyone should spend millions of pesos/dollars on their work?
As a research scientist working on a federal research centre I am well aware that for many, outreach /science communication is not part of our contract, and with our endless list of e-mails to answer, reports and papers to write, proposals to submit, thesis to read and students to mentor, we hardly have any time left to do anything else, so why we should bother?
I believe we should bother because it has a positive impact on society, the institution, the PI and the students.
Science communication not only allows the general public to understand what we do, why we do it and why we should continuously get money to do it, but also helps to humanise the challenges faced by students and Professors in achieving that new product, theory or idea. It allows us to connect with other people beyond the hard numbers and graphics, generating not only empathy but interest in what we do. Without science communication all those papers in Nature and Science will get limited impact since apart from our peers no one would understand them. Science communication can impact our students not only by improving their communication skills or help them to get noticed, but also by allowing them to see and feel what science can make in the life of a kid or a person when engaged in hands on activities. Science communication can change the perception not only of the general public, but also of the scientists who spends their days and nights in the lab for an ideal. Without science communication our work has a more limited meaning. This is what I try to convey my students when I get them involve in science communication/outreach.