I want to have a conversation with you about science

Don’t turn around to see who I am talking to because I am talking to you! Yes you!

The “lab coat” at the Children’s Museum in Denver may be too small for Potassium but she is still serious about talking to you!

It doesn’t matter to me how much science you know, if you won the science fair or if you hated science and avoided it like the plague. Mainly the point is that I want to have a conversation with you.

I was thinking about the way we discuss science with each other nowadays and I think one problem is that we are not opening ourselves up for a conversation. Everyone is guarded. Scientists are on edge because they are unsure that nonscientists will understand the complexities of scientific topics and why they are important. Nonscientists are on edge because they feel judged by the scientists, especially when scientists take to lecturing because it is probably how they learned science. I am pretty sure no one really likes lectures, especially outside of the scope of academia. I certainly don’t.

Potassium thinks she looks funny when she lectures high school students about laboratory techniques…

Strange things happen when we feel uncomfortable with each other. It’s really hard to communicate when we feel guarded and unsafe. I think one strategy that we (scientists, nonscientists, etc) use when talking to each other about science and popular scientific topics is asseveration (isn’t that a cool word?) – that is boldly stating “facts” such as “People who don’t understand science are not smart.” Or “Scientists are wasting all our money doing nothing for us.” The great thing about this strategy is that it feels like communication – you have told someone your opinion about a topic so yes! Check that off the list. The bad thing about this strategy is that it really gives the people you are talking to no way to respond unless they completely agree with you. Anyone who disagrees with you is completely caught off guard and has a huge energy barrier to figure out how to tell you they disagree. So… not so great for talking about science. Everyone leaves feeling frustrated.

So what do we do about this problem?

I think we need to have conversations about science. We need to start sitting down in coffee shops and bars and really getting to know each other. Conversations allow us to be curious about each other’s thoughts and beliefs as well as be authentic by sharing our own. In this way, we can have a dialog about scientific topics without insulting each other. Hopefully this method allows us to all come closer to an understanding of what science means and what is currently happening in the scientific world.

So let’s have a conversation! First, here’s me being curious:
What do you want to talk about? What scientific topics are you interested in/afraid of/curious about/etc? We can even talk about other topics such as science communication or what do scientists do?
Second, here’s me being authentic:
I am kind of scared about doing this series of posts. What if no one wants to talk to me about science? What if I can’t explain the main points of science to you? What if I just end up confusing us both? I am also kind of excited to see what we end up talking about!

Finally – I am talking on a panel about the difference between tolerance and acceptance on a college campus TOMORROW at CU’s UMC during the Diversity and Inclusion Summit. If you live in Boulder, you should stop by so we can talk about this topic some more! :D

Now it’s your turn!

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4 thoughts on “I want to have a conversation with you about science

  1. First off, I love this. I am definitely not a science person. I think it’s fascinating, but I was never very good at it. I think the things that fascinates me most is the medical stuff, because the human body is so complex, and there’s SO MUCH we still don’t know about it. But I admit, I’m generally intimidated out of any discussion about it that doesn’t stay fairly superficial. If I’m talking with anyone who really knows what they’re talking about, I usually feel like I’m in over my head in about five minutes. :-/ The hard part is that things that are “accessible” are the news stories that are filtered through mainstream media, which I take with a grain of salt, but I don’t really have the context or the vocabulary to go through actual studies myself.

  2. Great points. You nailed me. I am not a scientist. When speaking with someone who loves science and is trying tp explain something to me the only thought going through my head is, “I feel so dumb. Look at how much I don’t know! They assume I understood the basic concept they started with before they shot off to no man’s land.”…. glaze over and feeling stupid. I am just in awe of anyone who “gets” this and loves it.

  3. Nice blog. We scientists do tend to sweep off into the things we love without checking to see if anyone is with us. But so do others. I have have a friend that majored in theology and we can be having a normal conversation and then… zing…. she throws in some 25 syllable word like I know what she’s talking about. I have to take responsibility and say, “what does that mean?” Explain it to me! And she does. (Sometime with eye rolling). But once I get it I’m happy to continue the conversation. Non-scientist need to know they have permission to ask you to break it down, and if we are half the scientists that we think we are, we should be able to do it!

  4. Sarah, have you seen that PBS program called, “How We Got to Now”? Walt and I really like it, and I kept thinking, “Sarah could do this!!”. It’s obviously not precisely what you would do, but I think the show is a very good way to explain things to people who are interested in science, but it may not be their particular field of science, or they may not be scientists. The guy who does the program, Steven Johnson, is very appealing, usually looks kind of like he’s going to break into a smile while he is explaining things. I could SO see you doing a show about science like that. We also used to watch a show called “Connections”. (before your time!) But this new show reminds me of that older one we liked so much. It’s smart enough to be very interesting, but accessible to everyone with intellectual curiosity, no matter what their background education.

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