Animal research scientist notes the need to bridge the gap between scientists and the public
By Kennedy Lamb
In an age when science literacy is at an all time low, reliable science writing is badly needed said Joanne Zurlo, Director of Science Strategy for the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing in a talk at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County on March.
“My brother put it best,” she says. “We are no longer in an age of reason. We are in an age of belief. You face the challenge of communicating science in a way that people will believe it.”
A study conducted by the University of Michigan shows that as a whole, America is scientifically illiterate. The study determined that only 37 percent of people thought that humans evolved from an earlier species, and even fewer believed that the universe was created by a major explosion.
These examples demonstrate religious ideological conflicts, further showing the public’s bias toward believing rather than reasoning.
Zurlo believes that the reason for the vast amount of the public’s misunderstanding of science stems from poor (or lack of) communication by scientists about their work. She experienced this firsthand in the 1990s when protests against scientists and animal rights activists were high – one scientist received a razor blade in the mail from an angry protester. Such tension made a decent dialogue impossible.
In an effort to inform the public of the need for animal research and testing, in 2004, Zurlo and other scientists at the Institute for Laboratory Animal Resources published a booklet called Science, Medicine, and Animals. Aimed at middle and high school students, the booklet served as a guide to the experimental use of animals, stressing the need to ensure the well-being of animal subjects. Zurlo believes we need more well-written articles so that lay audiences can learn about scientific issues in readable formats.
“We [scientists] like to keep ourselves in a bubble,” she says. “We think that others won’t know what we are talking about. It is important for scientists and writers to get together so that science gets more exposure to the public.”
Zurlo plans on attending the April 22 March for Science, to be held in cities all across the nation, to rally for the safeguard of the scientific community. She hopes that the march will increase the public’s awareness of the mischaracterization of science as a political issue, an idea that has given policymakers the ability to highlight scientific evidence that supports their agenda.
“We need more people who are apolitical to write about the important issues in science,” she stressed. “They will certainly have their work cut out for them.”