I am sometimes daunted by my choice of career path - that is, the field of science writing/journalism. The pace of scientific discovery increases exponentially, especially in progressive, relatively new fields like genetics and molecular biology, and it seems that science classrooms cannot keep up with new discoveries, even in college. I feel that I have earned a strong foundation in biology with my undergraduate degree, but in order to keep up, I have to do a hell of a lot of independent research. Those without any such foundation must feel lost in the scientific shuffle. This might explain why eyes tend to glaze over and lose focus when I try to explain anything, well, "science-y."
In short, I wonder if science can ever be effectively communicated to the general public.
I think the problem lies in four main areas:
High schools have a hard enough time teaching students the proper usage of their own language, much less instructing the intricate (and fear-inducing) principles of science and mathematics. In Maryland, teachers must take on another job just to support a family, even though they are performing one of the most necessary jobs there can be in a progressive society. A large majority of Baltimore city public school children do not even graduate from high school; many cannot even read.
It also does not help that creationists-in-disguise (the proponents of Intelligent Design) continue to harass school boards to introduce theistic principles into science classes, as if the two could be equated somehow.
I'm not going to slap a general "Killing the Kids" sticker on the media (especially since, technically, I am a part of the host); I'll get specific.
I feel the media needs to address issues like global warming and evolution as they are viewed by the scientific community. A creationist has no effective input on evolutionary ideas, since she/he completely discounts the theory using old data and a lack of evidence as evidence of creationism. Also, a politician or economist who has not thoroughly reviewed the scientific consensus on global warming should equally have little to say in regard to the issue.
In the same breath, however, it is essential for every journalist to present both sides, but the sides must be equitable.
It lies within the public's responsibility to remain informed about issues independently. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, surely, but not all opinions are not equal. It is important to base your opinion on the available facts, and with the near-limitless accessibility of reputable sources on the internet, there is little excuse for not being informed.
The Scientific Community:
Finally, I believe much of the blame lies within the scientific community itself. The community is generally inclusive (with good reason) and often important information has a difficult time finding its way out into the mainstream media.
I remember attending a lecture at the UMCES Appalachian Lab on new ecological classifications a couple years ago. At the end of the slide show, the professor displayed a list of attributes of the environment (resources, hunting, spirituality) that could stimulate the general public to conserve natural places. His presentation was clear and effective - especially since my knowledge of ecology was limited - but he left a room of 30 or so students with no effective method to communicate these ideals: plenty of why but no how.
I feel like the scientific community needs to open up a bit more to the world and show people how important research is to our society.
Don't get me wrong: plenty of scientists, journalists and filmmakers across the globe are already doing just this. The need, however, is increasing.
It all comes down to the want - the need - to be educated, to want to know. Science can be a brokerage of truth, it just needs to be reinforced by educators, politicians, scientists, the media and the people themselves.