The past year has been immensely challenging. As research is becoming more influential in public policy and behavior, there can be a compounding sense that we do not know what or who to believe. Across the past year, I have become increasingly convinced that the public, not just policy makers and scientists, needs to be scientifically literate. As it stands, there are several barriers to the public learning the necessary skills to evaluate and understand a standard research study on a topic of their interest. One such barrier is research being difficult to access due to the high cost to purchase research articles. Another barrier is the lack of technical knowledge needed to interpret statistical and scientific jargon. As scientific knowledge becomes increasingly more important to public life, the importance of developing and utilizing creative methods in disseminating knowledge is rising at a commensurate rate.
Although traditional news outlets have a long history of discussing research, they often leave out important nuance in explaining scientific findings. This is especially the case when journalists are not trained in research terminology and general scientific practice. Therefore, knowledge shared directly between scientists and the public is vital to ensuring that research is accurately described by professionals trained in this discipline. However, that can still create problems if studies are not translated in approachable language.
These goals are at the heart of projects like Military R EACH. R EACH seeks to evaluate, translate, and disseminate research so that families, helping professionals, and policy and military decision makers can be more informed. This is one of the reasons I am so proud to be a part of the work we do at Military REACH. Because of projects like REACH, non-academic audiences can get scientific knowledge that is accurate and easy to understand. However, this is not the only way to help create a more scientifically literate community.
Increasingly, scientists are utilizing the Internet and social media to share knowledge. Researchers regularly post short excepts from recently published works on social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Clinicians utilize these sites to explain scientific findings with their followers. Additionally, avenues like YouTube are used to share entertaining and informative scientific presentations and trainings. These mediums create a direct channel between the producers and consumers of research. However, they are still limited in that the f low of information is restricted and unidirectional. Comments can be made on videos and social media posts but may not occur in real-time, which makes it difficult for researchers to respond to. As a result, communication methods that allow for live presentation and explanation of research while interacting with audiences may assist in the learning process more so than unidirectional methods.
Live streaming is one such communication method. Sites like YouTube and Twitch allow for people to stream content of their choosing to their audiences and communities. Although generally used strictly for entertainment, there are numerous channels that generate and share scientific knowledge. Channels cover a wide range of topics from experiments to learning how to write computer code to discussing and explaining research articles. These channels allow communities and audiences can participate in live conversations with the broadcaster, asking questions or making comments for the streamer to respond to. It is an excellent method to stimulate conversation and scientific learning.
These are some of the more innovative methods that scientists and practitioners are utilizing to share research and knowledge. It is my hope that even more innovative practices will be developed to increase the dissemination of research and cultivate scientific literacy in our communities.