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Websites, Blogs and Social Media: Tools that Help Scientists Enlighten the Rest of Us

The National Science Foundation reported in 2014 that 25 percent of Americans don’t know that the earth orbits the sun. Still more of us deny the efficacy of vaccines, and even more of us rely on TV personalities like Dr. Oz for our health advice. These three facts bring an unfortunate truth to light: there is a dearth of scientific understanding in this country.

This science illiteracy isn’t intentional, of course. With jobs to do, kids to raise and lawns to mow, most people simply don’t have time to peruse Google Scholar on the weekend to see what’s new in the world of evolutionary biology. And that’s fine because the same technology that enables us to share cat videos and build websites for our small businesses is enabling scientists to fill major gaps in our understanding of science.

Using simple website builders, social media platforms, and video-sharing sites, scholars from every field are starting to promote their academic work and educate the public about science topics that influence our lives in a variety of meaningful ways.

No longer, for example, are scientists restricted to publishing in peer-reviewed journals and attending stuffy academic conferences. They can build inexpensive, high-quality websites and use SEO to gain visibility on Google and other search engines, which means the public will almost certainly be exposed to their writing. Popular blogs such as Science 2.0 and websites like The Seattle, Washington-based RealClearScience are excellent examples of experts communicating directly with the public about science.

Both media outlets provide science news, expert commentary and interviews with researchers in every field of science from climatology to genetics and psychology. In short, places like Science 2.0 have made subjects that were once daunting very accessible and easy to digest. Furthermore, these websites and blogs usually provide comment threads and forums where the public can talk back to the experts. In effect, then, developments like blogs and personal websites have facilitated an open dialogue between scientists and the general public.

But that’s just the beginning. Technology is revolutionizing science education in a couple of other important ways, too. Watching Youtube videos of honey badgers that can talk is a great way to waste an evening, but the video-sharing site also features videos of science journalists teaching the public how to read and interpret academic research. Thanks to the advent of e-books and the digital distribution they enable, scholars can write books and release them to a mass audience without being chained to the bureaucracy of legacy publishers and big bookstores.

The examples go on, but we can clearly see from here just how helpful technology can be in promoting science literacy. And in a world where science is our best hope of conquering our biggest challenges—disease, hunger, and pollution, to name three examples—all of us would do well to learn a little more about it.

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