People will fight passionately for medical advances, and indeed science has done a huge amout to save lives and reduce suffering caused by health problems. But the point was made at UK PlantSci 2013 that, ultimately, this is only valuable if we can feed people.
I don’t think there is a single delegate at PlantSci who doesn’t have concerns about lack of funding for agricultural research, but there was an uplifiting session about tackling some of the problems facing plant science. I don’t mean climate change and population growth, but lack of skills, funding and understanding.
If people don’t understand what plant scientists do or what they achieve, how can they be expected to value plant science? The UK Plant Sciences Federation was founded so we can work together on this kind of issue, and education is very high up the agenda.
School children learn lots of facts, but much of the discussion was far broader and considered how we communicate risk and teach children that it is OK to challenge ‘facts’. The more we can equip teachers to feel confident in their own knowledge, the more they will be able to engage students in debates. This point was well made by Phil Smith who runs the Teacher Scientist Network. I can thoroughly reccomend that teachers and scientists find out more.
It is also important to get over the message that science and scientists are fun. Anne Osterrieder showed this perfectly in her talk. Not only did she describe organelles having a Twitter argument to persuade people to vote for them, but she also shared her YouTube channel. Here’s a sample of the organelle songs she produces. You can even get the lyrics and guitar chords if you visit the channel.
The final speaker in the session, Mary Williams, challenged everyone in the audience to spend 1% of their time on outreach. This could be spending 5 minutes a day tweeting about science or writing two blog posts a month (if so I’d like to hear from you!). So, whatever your role in science, have some fun sharing it.