The intersection of science and social issues was the focus of a two-day workshop sponsored by the Princeton Citizen Scientists, a group of science and engineering graduate students and postdocs.
“There are a lot of scientists right now who are bemoaning the fact that people don’t trust science anymore,” said Mike Hepler, the group’s president and a grad student in the Science and Global Security Program at the Woodrow Wilson. “One of our goals is to bridge that gap — to find the skills that we need to be effective communicators and be effective advocates.”
More than 70 people attended the Feb. 16-17 event, which featured 13 talks by scientists from Princeton and other institutions. The talks covered topics ranging from the social responsibility of scientists, to fostering an inclusive science community, to intersectionality — the ways in which identities such as race, gender, and sexuality come together.
One of the speakers was Paula Croxson, an assistant professor of neuroscience at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. She studies cognition, but her talk focused on science communication.
As a producer in The Story Collider, a live stage show and podcast featuring personal stories about scientists, she spends much of her time thinking about how to talk about science to non-scientists. “Stories can make our work as scientists more memorable and understandable. Narratives can be more interesting, more believable,” Croxson said. “There are people out there in the world who say, ‘Science just has nothing to do with me,’ ” she added. “These could be our future politicians, our future policymakers, our future teachers.”
Hepler emphasized the role that scientists can play in society. “Sometimes we get so caught up in this idea of simplifying that we forget that there is complexity,” he said. “When we do science, it’s not in a vacuum. It’s done in the context of a society. It’s done in the context of bias and barriers to entry.”
Princeton Citizen Scientists was responsible for the campus Day of Action in March 2017 that offered more than 60 teach-ins and talks, drawing more than 1,000 participants. “A lot of our focus since the Day of Action has been to produce sustainable programming and sustained efforts,” Hepler said. Activities have included advocacy trips to Washington, D.C., and communication workshops. “We wanted to show people that you can take your scientific expertise and do something with it,” he said.