It is a slow science news week, and sitting here at home Iâ€šÃ„Ã´m realizing I havenâ€šÃ„Ã´t the foggiest idea how to get my e-journal fix via SIUE without being at an SIUE IP address. Iâ€šÃ„Ã´d like to riffle through Science or Nature from my sofa. Iâ€šÃ„Ã´d like to think there is a way to do it. Iâ€šÃ„Ã´m not certain however, and after reading through the SIUE website, Iâ€šÃ„Ã´m mostly just confused. Luckily, I know that I do have access to information somehow, it just may not involve being on my sofa while I read. No matter what, I am lucky. Not everyone has access to Science.
Limited access to information (and the decision to actually access that information) acts in many ways to divide our society. It takes money to get the cable and satellite news feeds. Prolonged access to online content – the type of access needed to hunt down links and read background material – takes money or the right job. Knowing how to access information takes education, which is another way of separating the haves from the have-nots. And sorting through digital, video, and audio content takes that most precious resource of all: time. It takes effort to be informed, and one must choose to know what is going on.
With time and access often limited, many people rely on the main stream media to tell them what they need to know in 30 minutes a night (30 minutes minus commercials, minus special interest topics, that is). It scares me sometimes how much a person can miss by not having the time or desire to spend a few minutes checking the headlines on the sidelines: Bird Flu is back, China shot down a satellite, cows are starving in heartland snows, and citrus is suffering in the Sonoma ice. Sure, a lot of it doesnâ€šÃ„Ã´t affect me. To make informed stock decisions, I donâ€šÃ„Ã´t need to know the Oscar picks, but in understanding todayâ€šÃ„Ã´s transportation sector, it helps to know new laws now govern travel to neighboring countries and Virgin America Air was a US no fly.
So knowledge is power. We all learned that from School House Rock, right? So how do we get people to seek knowledge? And more importantly, how do we get people to be informed critical and skeptical thinkers? I have ~ 70 channels on my cable TV. I can tune my content to almost any whim. I can self-select to have people carefully â€šÃ„Ãºproveâ€šÃ„Ã¹ the paranormal, demonstrate the power of prayer 24 hours a day, and show me ways to solve all the worlds problems with little magnetic bracelets. I can also decide to have the MythBusters demonstrate the scientific method as they take on the urban legends and old wives tales of US society. To get people thinking critically, we scientists need to somehow make people want to spend their time watching us. We need to make what we do cool and trendy. We need to make people want to be skeptical and think. We must somehow make people want to invest the time and resources necessary to be informed.
And I see this happening. The Skep Chicks and Skep Dudes calendars are showing that critical thinkers can be sexy too. Sex sells. The media is also letting scientists be more than thick-glassed geeks. The scientists in Numbers and Bones arenâ€šÃ„Ã´t always the most socially adroit individuals, but they are sexy.
Its a start. Laura McCullough, a physics professor at the University of Wisconsin – Stout, told me that part of getting women into science is showing them an environment in which they can (and want to) see themselves. I think this is true for anyone. By making the faces that portray scientists and who inform about different science fields a little more hip, a little more fun, and a lot more charismatic, perhaps we can inspire more people to follow us into the trenches of science. Perhaps we can inspire them to get informed and get skeptical and get online and get hip to whatâ€šÃ„Ã´s hot in Nature (or at least on their free podcast).