WHAT DOES SCIENCE MATTER TO ME, AN ORDINARY PERSON IN 2015?

 Science is everywhere! Everybody needs science! (http://dr-monsrs.net)

Science is everywhere!  Everyone uses science!  Everybody needs science!  (http://dr-monsrs.net) 

The general public is estranged from science and is afraid of scientific research (see: “On the Public Disregard for Science and Research” ).  This sad state is due to several interrelated causes: (1) very defective education of people about what science is and what research does, (2) a general decrease in the educational status, such that most adults feel they cannot possibly understand anything having to do with science or research, (3) the issuance of science news on TV and the internet as gee-whiz stories that are strictly for amusement, (4) scientists are viewed as some weird creatures wearing white coats in labs with lots of strange machines and computers, and, (5) almost nobody has ever met and talked to a real living research scientist.

Basic research, applied science, and engineering: what does each do?

The research work resulting in some new commercial product or an amazing new medical development typically arose through the work of quite a few different scientists and engineers.  Basic research starts this process by investigating the whys and wherefores of something; this seeks new knowledge for its own sake, irrespective of practical uses.   Applied research takes some basic findings and seeks to develop their practical usage by improving their qualities and capabilities; this seeks to expand knowledge so that some potential practical use (i.e., a product or process) can be derived.  Engineering development then pushes the progression of development further by making it economically feasible to produce, and commercially effective to sell, something that is new or better; this seeks to enable a new or improved commercial product to be manufactured and marketed.  The 3 phases of this process can take place within the laboratory setting of a university or an industrial research and development (R&D) center.  The entire process often takes years or decades to be completed. 

Why does scientific research matter to everyone? 

Ordinary people should feel emotionally attached to the progress of science and research, for several reasons.  First, the public pays taxes for the research enterprise, and therefore everyone has some interest in the success of these studies.  The basic research by scientists requires time, money, and good luck to be successful; the money from commercial profits or tax collections pays for all the salaries, supplies, and other essential research expenses.  Second, the applied research and engineering R&D efforts are entirely devoted to satisfying the expectation of some future usage by the public.  This anticipation is based upon the self-interest of numerous  people in the public concerning practical matters in their daily life (e.g., better communication, better treatments for medical ailments, cheaper transportation, cleaner environment, less work and time needed to do something, more widespread good nutrition, etc.). 

All people visit commercial stores, food markets, gasoline stations, sites for laundry and cleaning, etc.  During all these transactions, they are using the results of research and development by scientists and engineers, whether they realize this fact or not.  Naturally, devices and tools for daily life need to be modified, thus giving rise to development of improved commercial offerings; the wishes of the public, as well as the financial hopes of marketers, serve to encourage progress in technology.  When people realize that scientific research impacts literally everything in their daily life, then they will begin to understand what scientists do and to be more enthusiastic about science and research.  Modern science not only builds spaceships and manipulates atoms, but it also helps people to live and work in a more satisfying and healthy manner. 

Can better education solve the estrangement of people from science? 

Education must be remodelled so that all adults can comprehend the organization of the branches of science, what researchers and engineers actually do in their daily work, and, how  science is a vital part of life that has importance for everyone.  The divisions and subdivisions of science should be taught early, and should be explained with everyday examples.  If the public saw scientists as being fellow people, instead of as some bizarre creatures from another planet, they would be much better able to learn about real science rather than pseudoscience.   The stories about how some key discoveries actually were made by “famous scientists” should be taught in middle school.  Selected laboratory exercises in science classes should be given in middle schools and colleges, but with much more background so that students will see these as concrete examples of how science and research lead to some important practical event(s); this cannot be accomplished by meaningless exercises to memorize as quickly as possible before all is forgotten forever.  To see, touch, and hear scientific research in the real world, all students should have the opportunity in high (middle) school to visit a university or commercial research lab, along with the chance to ask questions and meet some actual doctoral scientists, graduate students, and research technicians working there.  

Instituting these changes could remove many of the problems the general public now has in  understanding and appreciating scientific research.  However, I do recognize that this approach is made difficult or even impossible because most teachers of science working today in high schools have themselves been maleducated.  If these teachers first will learn to be more fully knowledgeable and will develop the needed good understanding of their subject, then they will be able to show their students how science is involved with daily life and how interesting it is.  Some recent programs on the internet are aiming to improve the regard of the public for science, but because they are using an entertainment medium to present a serious subject they will continue to achieve only very limited success. 

Concluding remarks

Scientific research is everywhere in our daily life!  All that we consider to be facts originated through the activities of scientists and other research scholars.  It is not only prersent when a doctor prescribes a new medicine to alleviate some disease, but also is there when we eat a piece of dried pineapple or ride in a modern bus.  People must be better educated so they can recognize the giant role science and research have in our daily lives, and see the activities of scientists and engineers as contributing much to progress in all aspects of our activities as individuals.  

The main message is that science is for everyone, everybody uses science, and everyone needs science!  Science is both fascinating and mysterious, but it should not be feared.  It is time that ordinary people more easily recognize the very large roles scientific research and engineering developments play in their daily life! 

 

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