The Importance of Science.

Today we are going to switch gears a little bit. I’ve been so excited and inspired by your enthusiastic response to my more thoughtful posts about issues and what is going on in the world. (I hesitate to say politics, as I really do think that partisans aside, the stuff I choose to share here affects us all, liberal or conservative.) Recently I was chatting with my youngest sister, Meredith. She is a scientist (and a brilliant one at that… last May, our whole family went out to New Haven to watch her give her dissertation on conservation biology)! Science came up (including recent budget cuts), and we decided to work on a blog post about the importance of science and why all of us should care about it. Every time Meredith and I speak, I learn something new… so I thought it would be a fun little change to have her share her voice over here today.

I really hope you will keep reading – and that you enjoy her thoughts. I’ll be back this afternoon with an amazing beauty product you need to try… but in the meantime, let’s talk science!!! (Mer, I’m so proud to call you my sister!!) I’m going to let her take it away from here.

I’m an environmental scientist.

And we need each other.

You already know Grace. And you probably know Becca. But you might be surprised to find out there’s a third Atwood sister! I don’t have a blog full of pretty things, nor do I design beautiful textiles. I generally fly under the radar when it comes to social media…, though I did more recently join twitter! You see, I’m an environmental scientist. And we scientists aren’t always the best at sharing our message with the public. I think that’s partly because as scientists, we’ve become experts on some very specific part of the world (or universe). We make statements based on data and facts. As such, it can be uncomfortable to speak publicly outside of our narrow range of expertise.

But now science and the environment are being questioned. And scientists can’t be quiet any longer. We need you… and you need us… more than ever.

Science is fundamental to our society. The medicine we take, the cars we drive, the food we eat, the iPhones we love, and even the clothes and make-up that we wear… all of these things result from science. And the clean air, water, and soil that we breathe, drink, and eat? The environmental regulations and monitoring… that comes from science, too.

So if science and a healthy planet are integral to our every day life, why is it under siege? This is a complex question, wrapped up in political, social, and cultural norms, but here are three reasons I think science and the environment have become politicized and attacked:

First, we aren’t learning science well enough in school. American students rank in the middle of the pack worldwide on math and science scores. If we want a scientifically literate public, we need passionate, innovative, and well-paid teachers in public schools.

Secondly, scientists aren’t great at engaging with the public. Most Americans can’t name a living scientist. Part of that can be blamed on us scientists. We need to do a better job speaking up and sharing our work. But our culture and media are also to blame: unless science is curing cancer or finding the health and sex benefits of chocolate and wine, it doesn’t always get the news time, or we don’t necessarily pay attention . We need to scientists who communicate and we need a public who listens and values science.

Thirdly, and perhaps scariest of all, the public doesn’t trust its scientific experts. While 97% of climate studies show that humans are causing climate change, only 65% of the public believes it. A major concern here is politics. Scientists generally don’t want to get political; we just want policy makers to use our science to make informed decisions. But that’s not the way it currently works. So we need scientists and the public to demand that decisions and policies be based on scientific facts (and not alternative facts ;)). We need to de-politicize science so that we can move to the stage where we find solutions.

That’s what’s happening. Now, the important part: What can we, the general public, do to help?

  1. We need to tell our representatives that we value science, including our federal scientific agencies. Many of these agencies are now dealing with a “fox guarding the hen house” scenario (cough, Scott Pruitt running the EPA—an agency he has sued 14 times). This means we need to be extra vigilant and use our voices. Scientists need to alert the public to the issues, and the public needs to be ready to respond. So get to know scientists (check out #actuallivingscientist). Follow scientific blogs: IFL Science is my favorite (it’s catchy and easy to understand), and I also like ScienceBlogs and Scientific American. And come March for Science this Earth Day, April 22nd.
  2. We need to fund more science. Federal funding of science is down, and funding in the immediate future is bleak, despite the fact that there is a high return on investment in science and the public generally thinks federal science funding pays off. If we want to remain globally competitive and at the top of innovation, we need to fund scientific research and agencies (ahem, the EPA).
  3. We need to actually value and understand science. We can’t just be all talk. We need a more scientifically literate public. Scientists are increasingly attending science communication trainings, and are more visible online and in local communities. Find a science café near you, where scientists present their research to the public over beer or coffee. Go to public lectures. Take an online course. Read a science book. And then talk to your friends. And family. And representatives in Congress.

The future of science in America is uncertain. But two things are certain: we need scientific research to solve global problems, and scientists need your support.

PS – Meredith turned me onto these crazy images. What America was like before the EPA existed.

images via here and here.

Leave a Comment

Comments

  1. We definitely need to fund more science. Where profit isn’t concerned, the government doesn’t put it as a priority. I have a friend who’s a science major and I totally feel her pain trying to get funding.

    Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog
    http://charmainenyw.com

  2. Lynn Clarke says 4.5.17

    great post – those photos are terrifying, we cannot go back.

  3. Elizabeth says 4.5.17

    Longtime lurker but never commented! This is a great post!! I love that you both are using your platform to educate the public. I hope there are more posts like this in the future!

    Meredith – Do you have any suggestions on good books for a person who is relatively science-illiterate but would love to learn more??

    • Leah says 4.5.17

      I second this! Thanks Meredith – I’d also love a book recommendation (something accessible for someone science illiterate)!

    • Meredith says 4.5.17

      Hi Elizabeth and Leah, thanks for reading! For science books, there are so many! I do environmental + conservation science, and I like some of the classics:
      – Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold (1949! and still so relevant!)
      – Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (1962)
      But depending on your interests, check out https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/692.Best_Science_Books_Non_Fiction_Only and http://www.sciencefriday.com/segments/the-best-science-books-of-2016/
      The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is on my list to read next!
      I should have also mentioned listening to “Science Friday” on NPR– they always have interesting science topics.

      • Lori says 4.6.17

        The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is an excellent read! She became apart science without ever knowing. Highly recommend.

  4. Jean says 4.5.17

    Well said!

  5. Maggie says 4.5.17

    Great post, it’s nice to “meet” the third sister! I think the most important thing that was not addressed is, do you have any cats? 😉

    I’ve got my March for Science shirt ready and will be marching in San Diego!

    • Meredith says 4.5.17

      Thanks for marching!! I just ordered my shirt as well. And your cat question made all three Atwood sisters laugh! Sadly, I have no cats. I do have a wonderful dog, but I’m still trying to convince my husband on a cat 😉

  6. Sarah says 4.5.17

    I love this. Does Meredith have any environmental charities she recommends? Or any charities that focus on helping women in STEM fields? I donate to the NRDC but I was curious if she had any expert recommendations!

    • Meredith says 4.5.17

      Hi Sarah– thanks for reading! Great question. In addition to NRDC, I support Union for Concerned Scientists. There are also lots of great conservation organizations (Sierra Club, World Wildlife Fund). For women in science, I just did a quick Google search and it looks like “Scientista” is a non-profit devoted to getting more women in science and works with college students to run outreach activities. Most of the outreach I’ve done with women in STEM has been at a local level– local school groups, science fairs, and college programs. And many of these local efforts have very small budgets, so a donation could go a long way if you can make the connection happen!

  7. Mary says 4.5.17

    I love this! I am a high school teacher (English, not science, though), and I completely agree with everything you’ve said! I love that all the Atwood sisters are so successful in several ways. I love Grace’s blog, and I am so happy you could share your thoughts, too, on something entirely different! You’re making such a difference! PS: how terrifying those photos are! Ugh. :/
    xxoo
    Mary
    http://www.BelleOnTrend.com

  8. Amy says 4.5.17

    thanks for the diversity in content. looking forward to seeing more posts like this.

  9. BSDH says 4.5.17

    Thank you for the post, Meredith! So proud of you and your accomplishments. Keep fighting the good fight my friend.

  10. Emily says 4.5.17

    Such an important topic, thank you for sharing!
    xo,
    Em http://www.organicallyemily.com

  11. Dana says 4.5.17

    This was a great post, Atwood sisters 😉 I, myself, need to start caring more about what’s going on in the environment, so this was pretty eye-opening and a great reminder!

    Pink Champagne Problems

  12. Masha says 4.5.17

    Such a wonderful post! Thank you for reminding us that science affects every single item in our lives and the way we live our lives!

  13. Denise says 4.5.17

    What a great post, Meredith you always amaze me because you make things that are complicated seem easier to understand. I am going to suggest a science minded book for Book Club. We did read “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and it was a great read. I still pinch myself at three amazing talented different daughters but Meredith should have a cat! Ha ha!

  14. Cy says 4.5.17

    Super talented bunch of sisters. Meredith reminds me of my older sister Diana, she had a brilliant mind and would have been a great scientist or chemist. Anyway, you ladies are impressive! Loved this post! I reposted on FB. Such an important topic. Thank you both!

  15. Becca says 4.5.17

    Love this–and both of you. xoxo

  16. Hayley C says 4.5.17

    I cant believe this is my first ever comment on here after reading your blog daily for years (I am embarrassed by this oversight) Maybe its because I, too, am a scientist haha. I’m currently finishing up my PhD in Microbiology and come to this blog to read about all my other passions other than science. Lo and behold, now I can get some of that here too. Hurray!!! Just wanted to say kudos to both of you, Grace and Meredith, for shedding some light on a really important issue. I’m excited about the discussions that will come from this and looking forward to what you’ll cover next (and your new apartment tour, duhhh)

  17. Meghan says 4.5.17

    As a woman in science, I love love love this post! These are such great, actionable tips. Thanks for posting!

  18. lauren says 4.5.17

    great post! my best friend from law school started her dream job with the EPA last summer so we are praying that the organization stays functioning and doesn’t have to deal with job cuts.

  19. Catherine says 4.5.17

    This was awesome! I had never heard about science cafes – turns out there’s one a few blocks from me!

    One of my favorite round-ups of science news is Ed Yong’s “the ed’s up.” Great election of pure science and also policy journalism. Plus, he wrote my favorite science book of the past year – I Contain Multitudes, all about bacteria. Brilliant book.

    • Meredith says 4.5.17

      Hi Catherine– thanks for reading! I love science cafes, so I hope you go and have a great experience! And thank you for the heads up on “the ed’s up” — I just subscribed. I’m also adding “I Contain Multitudes” to my reading list.

  20. Rachel says 4.5.17

    I LOVE THIS!!! As a NASA engineer I am firmly in the pro-science and pro-STEM education camp as well and am SO happy to see one of my favorite bloggers working to improve visibility of these issues!

  21. Tracy says 4.5.17

    First, it’s totally cool to e-meet the third sister, we never knew about! Thank you for being a scientist and sharing today! It’s so important we hear from them. I will check out a local scientist cafe!

    Grace this is such an important and great post! Thank you for sharing it with us!

  22. Mariel says 4.5.17

    Great post! I definitely appreciated seeing this on your blog today. In addition, I think understanding the concept of, I suppose I’ll call it “informed consumption” of articles / research is so important. Understanding that not all sources are equal and learning how to determine reliability / validity of articles would help the public as well 🙂

  23. Fiona says 4.5.17

    I love this! I am starting graduate school this fall to earn a PhD in immunology and I tell everyone I can about how important scientific research and how poorly funded it can be. It’s so great to see this on your blog Grace! I’m checking for the closest science cafe near me right now!!

    • Thank you so much for commenting, Fiona!!! And congrats on starting grad school – that’s incredible. xx

  24. Lori says 4.6.17

    Much needed information! Just added IFL Science to my list of favorites to read.

  25. Anne Fahlgren says 4.7.17

    Long time reader, but like many other, first time commenter. Thank you so much for this post Grace and Meredith! Science is so, so important, and I find it so frightening the way many politicians speak about science with such derision. I think it is a part of a larger trend of anti intellectualism, which is dangerous based on what we have seem from history. As my favorite sign at the Women’s March said let’s help “make America think again”!

  26. diana pearl says 4.7.17

    This is such a great post! I hate how science/believing in science has become politicized. Believing in scientific fact + taking action when needed should be a given. Those photos are so chilling.

  27. Caitlin says 4.7.17

    This was a great post Meredith! Those pictures of America pre-EPA are pretty depressing. I can’t understand how people try to make science political. It’s maddening. Keep doing great work!

    Caitlin | http://sunnystyleblog.com/

  28. SB says 4.7.17

    Very long-time lurker of Grace’s blog, but first time posting! As a PhD in microbiology (who also loves fashion), thank you so much for featuring this post–exciting to meet the third sister and exciting to have you engaging your blog audience with issues that matter so much right now. I’m loving the direction the blog is taking lately. I’d definitely urge anyone with an interest in science to participate in the March for Science on April 22! I have a new baby so I can’t make it to DC, but I’ll be marching in my local city.

  29. Katie H says 4.8.17

    Thank you, Meredith! We definitely need more scientists like you to share your voice. I’m so concerned about the future of our environment…