Despite endless knowledge available on the internet, knowledge is being lost in great quantities. Why?
Well, as a whole, we have stopped reading and talking about research works. It’s not hard to fathom why. The cost is often prohibitive, the papers are often too long for even the most dedicated to get through in their busy life, and making that worse the jargon is nearly impossible to wade through.
Making matters worse, many people, including those in charge of shaping policies, aren’t interested in reading even summaries of recent works in their interest. Double that problem by the fact that most researchers don’t write in popular media shared by a general audience.
It was reported in Straits Times that in the 1930s and 1940s, 20 per cent of articles in the prestigious The American Political Science Review focused on policy recommendations. At the last count, the share was down to a meagre 0.3 per cent.
But this isn’t the full story.
Despite all this, researchers still disagree that their work is really not read by people. They argue that the data, collected by different parameters, will show much different results.
I get it. I spent 5 years and $50k USD on a Master’s degree. The research was relatively new and ground-breaking in the field of cosmogenic beryllium. I don’t think even my fellow students at Purdue read it ─ even the ones that came to my thesis defence. Imagine spending an entire life on a topic and still being in the fringe of human knowledge ─ and no one cared.
This is unfortunate. Ideally the people who are in academia have some of the greatest minds of society. They should be put to work building up a society and addressing its problems with the skills and technology they work on. Instead, their intellectual capitalism isn’t even heard while they argue if it is.
What about science journalism and communication?
You’d think that the plethora of science communicators and journalists out there would be able to alleviate the problem a bit. After all, they are supposed to read the science, translate it into laymen’s terms, and disseminate it to the general public.
The sad fact of the matter is that science communication and science journalists aren’t helping the situation much. Science communicators tend to congregate and talk to each other and their favourite researchers ─ not a general audience.
And the public? Well, if this article from Ars Technica is any indication of the rest of the world, most people won’t seek out science news. They report Pew data that only 17% of Americans seek out science news. Considering that most Americans profess to like science, that’s pretty disheartening.