Ambassadors for Science
Much as I aspire to have a paying job with the word "ass" in the title, the truth is that as a PhD, I think it is already part of my "job" to educate the public about science and scientists.
I probably spend too much time wondering how much more we could get done, how many rockets sent to how many planets, how many diseases cured, how many electric cars invented, if only we were valued by our taxpaying citizens as much as wars and wall street already are.
I probably spend too much time wondering why we can't have high-paying contracts the way rock stars, lawyers, and ball players do to live the wonderful lifestyles they live.
But what I think it really comes down to is this: as a group, we are terrible ambassadors. Scientists themselves are responsible for not educating the public about science.
Just witness the comments on my last blog post.
Most scientists are more concerned with their own comfort than with the bigger picture. The one minute it takes you to get out there and give science some visibility by saying Hey, I'm a scientist! This is what a scientist looks like!
Is it really too much for you to give?
We love to talk about K-12 outreach and educating teachers, yada yada, when claiming we'll have a "Broader Impact" in our grant proposals. But let's be honest. It's too late by the time kids are in school. The truth is, their parents don't value science as an endeavor, and they don't see their kids as potential scientists. I know mine never in a million years would have guessed I'd want to work in a lab. And they really had no idea what scientists do as opposed to, say, medical doctors or engineers. I'm pretty sure they still don't quite get it.
I really hate seeing these surveys they claim "most" US citizens think science is important. I think it's complete bullshit. My own parents have zero interest in visiting my lab and seeing what we actually do there. We do some pretty freaking cool stuff, but somehow we've failed to spread the curiosity or excitement.
In real life, most US citizens are freaked out at the thought of meeting a scientist, and they'd rather pay more taxes to protect them from terrorists than they would to protect them from H1N1 flu, even though their chances of catching the flu are orders of magnitude higher.
You might have seen the "Americans sure are stupid" video floating around recently. Do you really think the people on that video value science? Of course not. They think we are all still the kids they picked on in school. The nerds. Nobody respected us then, and they don't really respect us now. They have no idea what our jobs entail, why we do them, or how it affects their daily lives.
Do us all a favor and get out of your comfort zone when you're out running errands or at a party meeting new non-scientist people. If somebody asks you what you do, DON'T LIE. Just say you're a scientist.