On a weekly basis, I overhear some variation of "I'm not a science person" as a way to justify why someone cannot understand something. This isn't something that just happens with students. I've seen it happen with many adults that I have interacted with and many of them use science to some extent. I have also heard politicians use this excuse to avoid answering questions.
And that's really a problem. Let's break it down.
At the end of the day, we all have to make decisions ranging from what we'll eat for lunch to how we'll cast our votes. We also need to have a rationale behind the decisions we make. The best decisions are educated ones, decisions that are backed by solid evidence and reasoning. They are going to be more concrete than decisions that we simply felt were right.
The problem comes with not having enough evidence to make our decisions. When that happens, we often cannot come to the correct conclusion. As a result, we make the wrong decision.
And when that comes to essential issues such as getting vaccinated, combating climate change, or redesigning infrastructure, that can be dangerous. Why? If you don't know everything that you need to know, you're going to make the wrong decision.
A lot of these wrong decisions happen because of how science is portrayed to the public.
First, science has this tendency to be portrayed by the media as highly esoteric, something that a normal person couldn't possibly perceive. This creates this mindset that in order to understand different concepts, you have to somehow be different from everyone else and that only some people are capable of doing so.
Second, scientists themselves often have a hard time portraying science to the general public. How is this possible? This is often because scientists communicate their findings and explanations through papers, which have their own set of jargon. The terminology in these papers is often unique to certain fields. Other researchers outside these fields would have a hard time getting a complete understanding, so it's not a stretch to assume that the layperson would find it even more difficult.
Additionally, when it comes to explaining findings or concepts to politicians or the general public, scientists sometimes forget that they're speaking to a different audience. They might use the same approach that they would when explaining their findings to their colleagues, focusing on statistics and jargon that may go over other people's heads. It's not a surprise that people are often left confused at the end of all of it.
But we know that science is used everywhere and in just about everything. Everyone is impacted! So, what do we do?
The first step is to remove the notion that science is the realm of eccentric geniuses. Instead, we should replace it with an attitude showing that science is for everyone and that anyone can and will learn as long as they keep an open mind.
The second step is for scientists to make sure that people understand science. I understand that this may not be the easiest thing in the world to do. However, it is essential that scientists make sure that other people care about their work. Because if they don't, then people won't have what they need to know in order to make proper decisions about themselves.
This part really comes with practice explaining science to people outside of a particular field. Done properly, people will care a lot and want to learn more. We've seen it happen in astrophysics thanks to Neil de Grasse Tyson and Carl Sagan. We can see this in other fields, too.
Science can be and should be for everyone.