We are coming out of one pandemic, but the pandemic of distrust in the scientific community remains strong. With every update, the public loses more and more confidence in the ability of science to make life easier. Science is commonly misrepresented, with a significant portion of the public basing their idea of what a scientist is from Hollywood portrayals and poor media reporting. How do we show that science isn’t only a profession but a universal problem-solving tool available to everyone? A good start may be sharing our research experiences and findings in an accessible way.
The documentation of my life in the lab began back in undergrad. At first, my target audience were those with similar research interests, but then I recognized these posts were important to those who have never stepped foot in a research lab. The scientific community on twitter (#scitwitter) exposed me to science communication, the idea that science can and should be available to anyone, regardless of prior education. By posting images and stories of my research I could share an experience of working within the scientific community. Becoming a science advocate and fostering relationships between the general public with science was a way I could build more trust in researchers.
The idea for the blog started as a resource for a friend with dietary restrictions similar to ones I have dealt with for six years. Over the last few years, I was able to figure out ways to create food that I could not normally eat by being selective of the dairy products I used in my cooking, this way I could enjoy my favorite foods (like pizza) that would normally cause issue. However, I realized it may not be so simple for other people. The web contains tons of misinformation, and it can be difficult finding trustworthy sources, which can be extremely discouraging.
My passion for science predates my passion for cooking; it was my Organic Chemistry professor that taught me that a hydration reaction (the combination of water and starch) was partially responsible for cooking pasta. My scientific background provided me with the ingenuity to find solutions for my intolerances (e.g., dairy).
At first, I would try to find substitutes for the foods I did not tolerate well, but what I did not foresee was that my journey navigating my dietary restrictions led to creating foods, like cheeses and yogurts I could handle. I found joy in discovering the science behind creating food and being able to tweak how things turned out by applying what I had learned in the literature. This whole process was reminiscent of troubleshooting protocols in the lab.
Having graduated from graduate school during the peak of the pandemic, the only “lab” I had access to was my kitchen. My partner and I found solace in cooking meals, and I began photographing the food we created. The pictures I took garnered the most attention of all my posts, and I recognized that people are genuinely interested in cooking. Food is a creative way to introduce people to scientific ideas and experimentation. I can show people that science isn’t only practiced in a lab, but also in everyday life. For example, when you make a bowl of macaroni and cheese and play around with variables, that is science!
I realize that a blog post will not formally educate someone on how to critically think like a scientist, but I think that if the scientific community informed people how extensively research is conducted, we would be off to a good start. More voices are needed to paint a picture of what science is truly like to the general population. The media can no longer be relied upon to accurately portray science to the public; with news cycles inaccurately reporting on scientific studies and poor studies being peddled for their shock factor, it is no wonder the public doesn’t understand the true nature of science. Often inaccurate headlines are the entirety of what is consumed of a possibly substandard scientific study, but how do we teach the public to look past the headline? There are steps we can take to make science more accessible to the general public, one idea is encouraging scientists to publish their findings in a way that is tailored towards a more general audience, and these outlets cannot be not behind pay walls. This would also aid scientists in avoiding misrepresentation of their work by the media. Another strategy to make science less of a mystery is sharing day-to-day experiences in the lab, both the fun and the not so fun. Prospective scientists and underrepresented students could find this resource to be incredibly valuable. If the public is able to see the amount of work we, as scientists, do to produce even small amounts of data, maybe, that would influence the public to appreciate science a little bit more as a human endeavor.
About The Author
Sarah Khoury is a Class of 2020 graduate of the M.S. in Cell Systems and Anatomy program. Her mentor was Dr. James Lechleiter. Read her article “Navigating Dairy with Lactose Intolerance” on SynapticSarah.wordpress.com. Interested in connecting with Sarah? Find her on gsbsalumni.com.