Millions of news compete daily for the audience attention. Some news grabs the attention of readers, viewers or listeners much easier than other.
We are interested in politics or business issues because often they are directly related to one or another area of our life, we read the article with nutritional advice because we wish to be healthier and skinnier, and the stories of celebrity life simply satisfy our need of curiosity. At the same time, the science news has a more difficult time to secure a spot in our minds and the top news. Do the scientists have nothing to share with the society? Maybe they do not know how to properly present their news? Or maybe science is simply not interesting or meaningful for the majority of people?
Of course it would be wrong to claim that the science news does not permeate into the public space. Just recently the entire Internet, together with the scientific community were speculating on what is the mysterious cigar-shaped object, named Oumuamua, that got lost in our Solar System. And last November, thousands of people in the entire world together with NASA scientists were holding their breaths when watching the live broadcast of the Insight lander touching down on Mars.
The possibility of an extraterrestrial object reaching our Solar System definitely shakes our imagination. Or the tension and 7 minutes of uncertainty waiting for a signal from the lander, worth 875 million, from the Red Planet, can resemble the emotions after watching a good thriller. However, not all significant scientific news receives such attention even though some of it is much more important.
The recreational nature or content of science news can help it reach a wider audience, but not all scientific news should be announced in such way. On October 8th 2018, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on climate change together with the scientists have published a climate change report. It includes a threatening warning to mankind – we have twelve years to put an end to the disastrous effects of climate change. Despite the news being published by numerous media channels, it has not received considerable attention from the public. Few shares on social networks, few discussions with an influencer and silence again. But after all, the future of the planet depends on how seriously we treat this problem.
Today, strengthening the authority of science in public space is probably more important then ever before. In the times of post-truth, fake news and fact depreciation, the return of a rational argument, that is based on verified information and not beliefs, to the field of the media is an uneasy but extremely important task. Over the last decade, the expanded media spectrum, changes in information consumption habits and speed have created a favourable environment for dissemination of alternative facts and growth of conspiracy theories. Therefore, it makes it more difficult for science to convince the general public, or a part of it, with its arguments.
It would seem that it is not such a big deal that someone still believes the Earth is flat. Many usually just laugh from such people’s arguments. However, what if the majority of the society do not hear or simply refuse to listen to the warnings of scientists about the upcoming climate catastrophe? In this case, some important political decisions and our future may be based on whether the scientists were heard by others.
One of the most famous contemporary French thinkers, Bruno Latour, who has devoted his intellectual project to mainly study the scientific practice, is convinced that the scientific community should not lock itself outside of the world, but instead – actively participate in wider discussions and processes.
Latour believes that the scientific practices are always social, strongly dependent on cooperation and communication. For example, the famous philosopher describes the climatologists not simply as scientists, but as warriors, fighting in the climate war, who should not be afraid to politicize and should seek to spread their message as widely as possible. But how does one do that?
One of the main reasons, why the scientific community and institutions fail to draw the attention to their discoveries is probably due to the modern science in most cases being quite complicated and thus, not so easily understood by the ordinary people. As a result, the scientific phenomena and discoveries are not so easily expressed in an attractive form. For example, how should the aspects of quantum physics, that are best described by mathematical formulas, be translated into human language? Or how to shorten a research of few hundred pages or a detailed report into just a few paragraphs?
Nevertheless, there are attempts in doing so. Some of them receive great success and public attention. Why? Because they are capable of discovering a way, how to communicate an interesting, but usually several-hundred-pages-lasting content to the general public. One example of such success – an Internet platform Kurzgezagt (in a Nutshell), where scientific information is presented in short illustrated videos. A little bit of black humour, sharp self-irony for the inability to understand all phenomena of the universe and seven and a half million subscribers for a scientific content. A team of platform creators has used the most favourite form of continent of today’s users and hid the information the users would not normally read. And that created a desire to learn more.
Nevertheless, in the field of communication, science also has some undeniable trump cards. Fist of all – the innate curiosity of mankind and the desire to broaden the knowledge horizons. Secrets and unanswered questions attract people as a magnet – it is only important to know how to use them. Science allows to take a peek at the distant corners of the universe, capture the most fundamental particles of matter, and gives hope to a person to one day take a step on the remote planets. The representatives of any other field can only be envious.
In addition, as experience shows, the science world can have its own celebrities. Even after death of such scientists and science advocates as Stephen Hawking or Carl Sagan, thousands of people still buy their books and listen to their talks. The popularity of such platforms like TED (even though it is not only limited for scientific talks) proves that the need to know and expand the horizons indeed exists. Maybe it’s about time to learn to actualize this need properly?