Tuesday, 9 October 2012

And Now For Today's Science News...

Namaste! I thought I'd share something that I've been thinking about for a while. Warning: it may only apply to Australian broadcast TV stations, but I'm fairly sure it doesn't. Let me know in the comments if this doesn't happen in your country, and if you'd like to see it!

TV stations all across the world broadcast news as an integral part of their daily programs (indeed, there are many channels now dedicated to news, which highlights its special importance to an increasingly global and connected world). The origins of news is difficult to find -- in my short time researching I found references saying it was mandated as a public service in America, and then soon spread. Others say that the earliest radio programs didn't have sponsors, so newspapers paid them to promote their papers and thereby spread the news that the newspaper was carrying. Whatever started it, it now is a very important source of information and a critical part of keeping a country's population up to date with current local and global events.

So what do we see on the news? Without fail (you count), you will see probably at least 5 people get injured. Sure the general news section has some good news, but for the most part it's people getting charged, people getting stabbed, another paedophile or drug bust, all things that are important to hear about but not exactly things you let your children see. Following the main news is the sports section. Here in Australia 80% of the sports section is Australian Rules Football (AFL). After all those car crashes we just watched, AFL is much more pleasant but it doesn't really have much importance in the grand scheme of things. I don't mean to say that sports is not important. I'm trying to say that the news is missing something.

The news, aside from the weather, is mostly based on what has happened. Whether it be murders or war crimes or who won the game last night. I propose a new paradigm in nightly network news. Besides covering current affairs and sports, the news must cover, I believe, the breakthroughs that our scientists make. What got me thinking was seeing a news item the other day where a team at Melbourne University had found a molecule that potentially could be applied as a cream that killed melanoma cells and left healthy cells alive. It struck me that we never hear about important scientific discoveries unless they're either done by an Australian university, are causing ethical concern, or are just so big that it couldn't not be covered (eg the work at the LHC). If the prestigious journal Nature can find enough to publish over 100 pages of broad interest breakthrough science every week then there is enough happening in our labs to fill a 10 minute period in a general news broadcast.

To increase the general public's grasp of current events in the local and global community is a general goal of our benevolent Government, then I strongly believe that higher scientific literacy should be at least at the same priority as them. After all, science is the future of our species, technology, machinery, medicine -- every single aspect of our future is influenced by the work being done right now. A lot of research done now is complex and based on the results of similarly complex past research. But if the news can adequately explain melanoma cancer treatment research then there should be no reason why other fields couldn't be made accessible. If you skip out the terminology and detailed techniques, most experiments can be explained relatively simply -- after all, it's much easier to get a simple, easy to understand method published than a convoluted one. Facebook pages such as this one are doing a great job of bringing science to a broader audience in an original and exciting format, so it is possible.

So why not, I say. Why don't we have people talking in the streets saying 'ooh, did you see the work that Smith and colleagues are doing to find out how smell recovers after we've had a blocked nose?? How interesting!'. Or 'did you see the story last night about the lab in America turning skin cells into working heart cells?'. I get excited by science, as do many, and I firmly believe that if we push science to the front of the public spotlight the general public will see that the money they put into charity events such as the Multiple Sclerosis Mega Home Lottery doesn't just put you in the chance of winning a house -- it enables truly ground-breaking research that is fascinating and highly worth spending the money on in its own right.

Am I crazy? Maybe. But I envision a world where scientists can join the general ranks of the heroes we celebrate on our news stations. Where they don't need to spend half of their time going after grants, because the general public actually knows the importance of the experiment that they want to do and will bay for blood if they don't get funding. I want kids to say that they want to be scientists because they've seen all they can do, all the problems they can solve and see that the world has actually been improved because of their work. Because I fear that nowadays the only thing that people see moving forward with any pace is technology.

Science literacy should be something that our Governments strive for! I dream of a world where I can switch to the news at 6pm and see what has happened in science.

So what do you think? Is the general public interested enough to watch this every night, or would they prefer that scientists just work in the background? Would you watch a science section in the news? Leave a comment!


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