Americans don't know much about science, says Chris Mooney in the Washington Post. But whose fault is that? Is it the "nonscientists" who seem "impervious to scientific data," or is it the researchers who don't communicate well with the public? Mooney says it's probably both. "As much as the public misunderstands science, scientists misunderstand the public," he writes. Whether it's climate change, vaccines, or evolution, the facts and the data are just a starting-off point when trying to convince the public to see the right side of the issue, especially when the issue is controversial. "Initiatives that engage the public about science policy in a two-way conversation — before controversies explode — show great promise," Mooney says. "Rather than simply crusading against ignorance, the defenders of science should also work closely with social scientists and specialists in public opinion to determine how to defuse controversies by addressing their fundamental causes."
But it may not be so simple. Mike the Mad Biologist says the problem isn't a lack of communication, but a lack of power. Scientists already have too much to do, Mike says. Between teaching, researching, and the public outreach they already do, researchers just don't have enough time to do more. "Just as you don't have the training and the professional network to conduct science, most scientists have no experience organizing public policy meetings or political campaigns," Mike says. But the real problem, Mike adds, is the "lack of political clout and power." Politicians need to get behind real scientists and force through changes that will benefit the public, even if the public itself isn't fully convinced of it yet, he says. For example, the Civil Rights movement was successful because "power was used to support a valid idea," Mike says, not because "we just held each others hands 'round the campfire and began singing Cumbaya." Science needs more power, not to be blamed for poor communication, he adds.