The Scientific Gap
Yurts at Poncha Pass - Colorado Yurt Rentals and Sustainable Building Workshops - Photo of Chris in ground of Earthship

Written by Chris

June 8, 2009

 A scientist busily writes a scientific paper, the deadline looms a week away. It was only these last few summers that grant money came in to conduct this research. With just enough money to scrape by, endless hours, far beyond that of a regular job are spent crunching data, statistics, finding sources, and putting it together. The effort has turned into obsession, from an original scientific question with large real time implications; the effort has boiled down to finishing the study…publishing a scientific piece of literature. After which, more funding will be needed to stay afloat; find a new study someone else may pay the scientist to do. The phrase “publish or perish” rings in the back of the mind. This is the reality of often strapped for cash scientists and it presents a major problem to the development of science, the interpretation, and the implementation of new scientific knowledge. Currently the effort for the scientist lies in publishing the work. When that is done, there is little financial or career development incentive to get the information from publication into the hands that matter for implementation; politicians and the public. On the reverse side, companies paying for scientific work use the results of scientific studies for a narrow purpose or company goal such as the effect of a development on wildlife in a specific area. The study goes into a report, a building license is issued and life goes on. This is where the Scientific Gap emerges. From publication to implementation there is no paid position to review scientific literature to see it is used to enhance the decisions and facts we weigh in making the right choices for the future. This results in countless of studies being published each year, currently some 60,000 and that number continues to grow. The literature itself is often obscured in scientific jargon, allowing for its interpretation to generally come from within the scientific community in the form of scientific reviews or new publications building on previous work, yet the gap between science and the public remains. The information stays within the scientific community, unable to finance means to see information get into the right hands while those with the decision making power, the public as voters and politicians as constituents remain in the dark. Inevitably this results in a large amount of wasted scientific effort and bad decision-making. The results of this gap have manifested themselves in such issues as the climate change debate and fisheries assessments, all the way to public health and awareness. Journals and articles with solid solutions and predictions are continually published in the dark. So how do we close the scientific gap? How do we take proven recycling practices or animal behavior studies and get the information into the public’s hands allowing them to recycle within their homes and know how to minimize their disturbance on wildlife when in the woods or diving a reef? Programs running on the discovery channel come to mind. It is in these programs and others like them that science is interpreted and broken down into digestible material for the public. More such programs are sure to help. Due to the mass of publications we see today, inevitably the bulk of the responsibility of discovery and crossing the scientific gap lands on the scientist shoulders, for only they know the true implications or results of what it is they discovered. Additional government funding or tax breaks for funding beyond a publication would greatly aid scientists in the discussion of their results in newspapers, Internet and other media outlets. Think of a book writer going on tour to give book signings, in essence promoting their work. The scientist equivalent is scientific conferences that are indeed a good existing method, but their scientific jargon and poor public advertisements for public invitation keep them largely scientific. Funding for public communication would come in the way of interviews, appearances on shows, radios and yes, the blog. It is only when we work to close this Scientific Gap that information can quickly pass from discovery to implementation and correct decision making.

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