With 2017 behind us, it feels appropriate to ponder on a phenomenon that has become increasingly present and problematic for early career researchers: mixed messages about public trust in science. In a way, we now live in the age of emotions, where resistance to facts and denial of knowledge is something that many researchers often encounter. Basic facts are often worth as much as someone’s feelings. Some even argue that there is an ongoing war on science around the world, where areas of scientific knowledge and the people who work in them are under daily attack. This may foster a general sense of scientific illiteracy in the public, where voters are increasingly willing to reject science and to elect antiscientific politicians. These politicians and their supporters argue in favor of scientifically unsupported ideas like vaccines causing autism, or that global warming is a hoax. Also see a previous PLOS ECR post by Steven Eastlack on why science is being ignored.
Today’s tech-driven world also makes people more vulnerable to misinformation, leading to the paradox where people actually are voting against their own interests, which was the case with Brexit in Britain, the U.S. election in 2016, and the subsequent proposed changes in healthcare and taxes.
As a consequence, scientific integrity may be at stake where a researcher, and especially one newly-graduated, may not be taken seriously or even actively opposed. Government-employed scientists in particular may experience political interference in their work. Just before Christmas, we saw worrying trends in the US administration, like the censorship of U.S. agencies like the CDC, and banning of certain words and the targeting of employees at the EPA . It also sends a clear signal when after almost a year in office for the new administration, there is still no science advisor in place at the White House.
That’s why the important role scientists play in conveying good science to the larger audience cannot be overstated enough; democratic societies need to learn how to value science in this new age of uncertainty.
Therefore, let 2018 be a year of science and reason. As editors for PLOS ECR Community, we will continue to embrace evidence-based research and be a forum for the next generation of scientists and science writers. We welcome all aspiring student contributors.
#SciCommPLOS is a good source if you want some tips for researchers communicating your research to the public.
Featured Image: View over Paris. The image belongs to the flickr account of Carlos ZGZ and is used under a Creative Commons CC license Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)
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