Sunday, April 7, 2013

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibilities

Looking back, our society has progressed a long way in terms of equality. From times when everyone but white men were heavily discriminated against to current times when, under law, all races and genders must be treated justly. While we still aren’t perfect, we have finally reached a point in time when equality is something that our society prides ourselves on. Why, then, do we still continually discriminate against homosexuals? Putting aside the religious argument, the discrimination against gays, like all other historical discriminations, can be traced back to ignorance. We are not only ignorant about the culture but also the definition of homosexuality and the “causes” of it. The problem is that people in positions of power, like leading scientists or public figures, are not only not refuting the wrong information, but they are the ones endorsing it. Take prominent Italian scientists, Gian Paolo Vanoli, for example. He claims that homosexuality is a disease. Certain substances in vaccines, Vanoli says, inhibit certain brain pathways therefore causing a person to be gay. The scientist does not blame people for being gay, he just believes that it is something we must cure before it becomes an epidemic. Even though this claim has been proven wrong time and time again by several different studies, Vanoli and other scientists still support it. Sadly their support is much more influential than a typical persons. This is because they are scientists and scientists are supposed to only state the truth. Therefore when Vanoli and other Italian scientists say homosexuality is a disease, countless numbers of people believe it, resulting in the discrimination of gays. This example reinforces the fact that, as scientists, we have power over common knowledge. People do not only listen to our findings, but they accept them as the truth and act on them. Therefore instead of immediately releasing every potential finding, like Vanoli did, we must first examine the societal impacts. If these impacts are too negative, such as leading to the discrimination of an entire group of people, then the release of the findings should be reconsidered. This would then result in a more just and cohesive society.

Sunday, March 31, 2013


         I have a confession: I hate Fox News. I cannot turn it one without cringing at every word that is uttered by one of the old white guys or young gorgeous women each of whom wear a pound of makeup. Where does this burning hatred stem from? Simple. Fox News’s blatant bias.
          Seriously, no matter what topic is being discussed, Fox cannot help but scream “conservative bias”. I’m not actually angered by their conservative viewpoint though. Instead, my fury comes from the fact that Fox advertises themselves as “fair and balanced”. This means that the people watching Fox believe that they are receiving all sides of the story, when, in fact, they are only getting a very narrow perspective. This results in a very misinformed, unknowledgeable audience. These misinformed people then make decisions, like who will be our next president, based on the bias, sometimes even wrong information they received from the news, therefore affecting the rest of us.
         Now, Fox has two ways it diminish my hatred. The first way is fairly simple. Just change the slogan. Saying Fox News is fair and balanced is a lie that directly leads to a misinformed society. If changing the slogan is too difficult though, Fox can always take the second option, which is to truly make the news fair and balanced. This does not mean they have to get rid of their bias. It simply means that they have to provide their audience with the facts from each side, which they can then comment on as they wish. Providing the facts at least gives the people a base of which they can form opinions and make well-informed decisions.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Fair and Balanced?

In the mid-1990’s Fox News was created as an alternative to the popular liberal media. Murdoch and other creators advertised the new station as the news source that was “fair and balance”. Setting aside the fact that Fox is actually completely bias, this slogan raises the question: should news always be balanced? Your first response to this question is probably “of course! News should report all the facts and sides of every story.” While this style of reporting is great for some stories, it actually is very problematic in science media.
         The issue of balance in science media arises from the fact that no matter how certain a scientific discovery is, there will always be a small group of individuals that oppose it. Take global warming for example; even though the connection between the emissions of green house gases and rising temperatures has been proven time and time again, there are still a few people that adamantly deny it. Even though these deniers are usually few and far between, the balance aspect of news requires that their ideas receive just as much media coverage as the ideas of the majority. This balance leads to the public taking sides, when, in reality, there is only one side that science and the majority of experts support. Therefore hindering the scientific literacy of the public.
         As a science writer myself I am not fully against a balance story, but I do believe you have to go about it with great tact. We still have the obligation, just as other reporters, to report all sides of the story. Where our jobs differ though, is that we have to make sure to address the validity of each side. We must make it known that even though some people oppose the science, these people do not have any really ground to stand on. By explaining all sides of the issue, the readers will be more likely to accept the true science and also be able to decipher what the true science is in the future, which would increase our nations scientific literacy. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Old White Guys

As much as I like to consider myself as individualistic and an “out-of-the-box” thinker, I sadly failed to be original when drawing my stereotypical scientist. Before I even picked up a pen, I knew that I was going to draw an old white male with crazy hair and scarily curious eyes just like the majority of people, from children to adults to my own peers. Even though my actually drawing looks more like a stick version of bozo, the notorious stereotype was still present.

            The stereotype of scientist, along with all other existing stereotypes, has several negative consequences. One of the noteworthy consequences is the fact that the stereotype may deter young scientist, especially women and minorities, from continuing on the path of discover.  As young children, many of us are amazed by the world around us and are determined to discover more through experimentation. Sadly though, we quickly learn that the only people who actually do this in life are white males. This is never blatantly said, but we still quickly pick up on it through snide comments from peers, lack of encouragement from teachers, and the media’s and textbooks constant barrage of white male scientist. This discourages minorities’ and women’s love for science and indirectly forces them into a non-scientific field therefore further perpetuating the stereotype along with further reducing the world’s scientific literacy.

            Along with discouraging potential scientists, the stereotype also amplifies people’s hatred for science. The majority of people in the world are not white males. So, by making the face of science a spitting image of Albert Einstein we are making most people feel like the science is irrelevant to their lives since they cannot personally relate to the person behind the science. In addition to not being able to relate, most people also do not have the literacy needed to understand science’s complex jargon, which results in people turning away from science and goods science writing and towards non-scientific, overly personable sources, like celebrities.

As both a female scientist and a science writer, I believe that I have the duty to eliminate the prominent scientist stereotype from society, beginning with myself. This can be done by showing the world that the science community is not only made up of old, crazy white men. Even here at Ursinus, we have an array of scientific students and teachers, from the typical old white guys all the way to young, minority women. By getting this fact out there, we are not only providing scientific role models for everyone in the world but also bringing science from a remote, incomprehensible subject to one that much more personable and accessible therefore increasing the world’s scientific literacy potential.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Santa Clause is Real

December 15, 1999. Christmas morning at my grandmother’s house in Springfield, Mass. While kids around the country were tearing wrapping paper and joyously playing with their new toys, my six year old self was laying in my bed devastated. I had just found out Santa Clause was not real.

I laid there angrily crying for a few minutes until me dad entered the room. He quickly swept me up, sat me on his lap, and gave me a big hug. As I started to calm down he began to explain to me in a very hushed tone why he had lied. He told me that even though Santa wasn’t a real person, his spirit still existed in our hearts. People around the world chose to keep him “alive” because he represented joy. My dad  ended his explanation by telling me that even though it wasn’t the real truth, I should continue believing in Santa in order to keep the Christmas spirit alive.

Little did I know, but my dad at that moment was explaining to me something much more than the belief in Santa Claus: he was explaining to me the difference between truth and truthiness. Truth is accepting the unquestionable proof that something is the case not matter what the consequences of it may be. Truthiness, on the other hand, is not fully acknowledging the truth and instead going with the gut feeling in order to benefit yourself and others around you.

As a scientists, I struggled with this distinction growing up. I had been taught in all of my classes that, as a scientist, I must search for the truth by objectively examining the world. Only by knowing the truth will our society be able to make the right decisions. When ever I tried to employ this life strategy though, the idea of truthiness became stuck in the back of my mind and I would begin to question if finding the truth was the right thing to do.

After many years of pondering this issue, I came to the realization that I, along with other scientists, should never give up on searching for the truth. If we did than people would miss out on many potential benefits that could possibly make the world better. Instead we as scientist must understand that truth is equivalent to power. Therefore scientist must be tactful with how they use the truth. They are obliged to spread the actually truth as much as possible. If the truth does need to be twisted in truthiness though, the scientist must ensure that the media, politicians, or even individuals are twisting it for the good of all people, not just a few

Sunday, February 24, 2013

5 O'Clock

It’s five o’clock. You just got home from work. You walk into the kitchen, grab an ice, cold coke, and plop yourself down on the couch. As you flip on the TV, Jenny McCarthy’s and Jim Carrey’s enticing voices fill your living room. You quickly become captivated by their heartbreaking story of how vaccines caused their poor son to get Autism. You watch as Jenny’s eyes swell up with tears and can’t help but to be enraged by Doctors everywhere. “I will never, ever”, you find yourself saying out loud “give my child a vaccine!”
            There is one issue with this scene: there is NO link between vaccines and autism. This fact has be proved time and time again in numerous studies. Why, you may ask, do McCarthy and Carrey still believe there is? Even worse, who allowed them to spread potentially very harmful falsehood to the public?
            Well, there is one main culprit in this situation: the scientific community. First off, scientists do not make their findings accessible to the public. They often release important results, such as the lack of linkage between autism and vaccines, in reports that are filled with complicated scientific jargon. This results in non-scientific people, such as McCarthy and Carrey, trying to understand the results. Sadly though, these people simply do not have the tools or the know-how to understand ever part of a study. They are not ignorant but they are merely not an expertise in a scientific field, which is the majority of the public. The wrong interpretations of the non-scientific people though, are the ones that are shared with the public, therefore spreading harmful falsehoods. Even when these falsehoods become a common belief the scientific community still fails to address it in an understandable way.
            As a scientific writer, it is my along with other scientific writer’s responsibility to ensure that these falsehoods no longer persist. We need to be the intermediate between the scientists and their jargon filled-studies and curious, information, seeking public. Translating the science writing and making it available to the public via science writers in social media sources is the only way to ensure that correct facts are distributed to the public. 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Follow Me On Twitter!

Now, I am usually the person who is all for the new and exciting crazes, whether it is the latest Jeffrey Campbell shoe, the up-and-coming underground rap group, or the new hit Broadway show. One trend that I completely missed though, was twitter. When it came out I thought it was the worst idea ever. Why would I or anyone else in the world want to know what everyone was doing constantly? I don’t really care that @teenageboy had the new McRib from McDonalds or that @highschoolgirl noticed that the popular girl wore missed matching socks on day. Slowly though, my hatred for twitter, tweeting, and twit-picing diminished and after a year of an over-whelming amount of peer-pressure and increasing curiosity I decided to get a one.
My recent step into the twitter world has made me realize one thing about our society: information is accessible.  You can log on to twitter and see what NBC news is covering at any second. You can scroll through your news feed and see a video of the latest presidential address. You can even meander through Tumlbr and read different people’s opinion about anything under the sun. This realization led me to wonder though, if in this day and age, where information can be found in mere milliseconds, why isn’t science more wide-spread?
While going through my endless number of social media accounts, I found my answer: science isn’t available through popular social media. Most of the time, scientific news, like new findings, are released to the public in very complicated jargon that only an expert in the field can understand. Due to this, the news rarely makes it to social media, therefore rarely reaches millions of potential readers. Even if the news does reach Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc. it is usually misconstrued therefore spreading false information to the public.
Even though this issue of the inaccessibility of science is prevalent, the solution is very simple. The first step is to step away from only using the language of scientists. This jargon is acceptable when talking to fellow researchers, but when releasing studies to the public they must be simplified in order to ensure that the majority of the public understands the findings. The second step is to make science more exciting. Science currently is presented in a very dry manner, which repels a good amount of the public. If science were made exciting, then people would not only be drawn to it but they would also remember it. The third and final step is to connect the science to an average person’s life. The scientific community must state why the public should care about an issue, even it’s as far fetch and weird as quantum physics. If these steps – simplify, excite, and connect – occur then science will begin to inch into the world of social media, and before we know it, it will be as wide spread as an Instragram picture of food. As science spread more, the more scientific literate our society will become as a whole, which would result in a more progressive, innovative, and all over beneficial society.