Get Up, Stand Up: NYU Panel Examines Policy

Guest post by Carl Sherman

Scientists should advocate for what they believe in—and bring their values to work. “Get up, get into it, be involved,” said Clancy Blair, professor of cognitive psychology at New York University. “Be the change you want to see.”

Blair was on an NYU faculty panel at a Brain Awareness Week event, “Neuroscience, Inequality & Social Policy,” organized by the Scientist Action and Advocacy Network (ScAAN) a group of students and researchers who aim “to bridge the gap between science and society, and make science a force for social change,” according to moderator and doctoral student and ScAAN member Stephen Braren.

To the panelists, this clearly and passionately meant fostering social and economic justice.

nyubawevent2018

Photo courtesy of Stephen Braren

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The Science Cheerleaders

When I read a dense, technical science article or listen to a researcher's jargon, I am often convinced that scientists speak a different language and maybe even come from a different planet. This language "problem" between scientists and the general public can make it hard for scientists and advocates to convey important scientific messages and discoveries. Without public understanding and support, scientific research and discoveries remain underfunded and misunderstood.

So I was intrigued to hear some creative new ideas for outreach during an event hosted by Science Online NYC titled “Matching medium and messengers to meet the masses.” The discussion was carried on by four panelists: Darlene Cavalier, the woman behind “Science Cheerleaders;” Jamie Vernon, a science policy analyst; Molly Webster, one of the producers for live programming at the World Science Festival; and Kevin Zelnio, the assistant editor and webmaster for Deep Sea News

Each panelist described successes and failures in engaging a broader audience in science. As well as popular strategies including live events such as the World Science Festival; the use of social media like Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr; and blogging; they have tried more creative and interesting approaches. One idea, Science in the Pub, involves scientists talking about their work informally and tapping into their passion for science while also tapping into the keg and their affinity for alcohol. Another panelist started a program where University of Texas researchers explained their dissertation to a twelve-year-old. That program turned out to be an especially rewarding challenge for the scientists.

The strategy that stood out to me was Darlene Cavalier’s “Science Cheerleaders” program. Cavalier organizes events, videos, and other venues where cheerleaders with science backgrounds essentially cheer for science. Cavalier is a former cheerleader who has a passion for science. Like me, she wants to promote and discuss science with the public but lacks a technical background. Without a Ph.D., Cavalier found the world of science could be a bit intimidating at times. To combat that sense of intimidation, she brought her passion for science and cheerleading together.

What started as one video is now a national movement. After the initial Science Cheerleading video, Cavalier was bombarded with interested cheerleaders from across the United States. She found that more than 100 professional sports cheerleaders have degrees and backgrounds in science and engineering. The genius of Cavalier’s mission is that it engages segments of society (sports and cheerleading) that are unfortunately, more often than not, removed from the world of science. The program has been a major success. In fact, the Science Cheerleaders recently broke the record for largest cheer:

Science is certainly something to cheer about and it needs more cheerleaders. As I learned from the discussion, scientific discoveries carry no social good if few people know or care about them. It was inspiring to hear some fresh ideas for engaging the public.

SONYC is a monthly discussion organized by Nature.com and Ars Technica, hosted at Rockfeller University.

–Simon Fischweicher

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