I recently entered the following article to a contest. I didn’t win, but it was a great exercise and it really forced me to think about why I want to be a science writer.Within my group of friends, I am the only scientist.
 That seems to be unusual. Individuals in the same career field tend to gravitate towards each other. You can complain about the mundane trivialities of your job, and someone in your field can sympathize. Or you can geek out about a new topic or breakthrough. But in my group of friends, I have no co-conspirators. I can’t complain about spending hours on surgeries and behavioral testing, only to find out that my viral injection targeting was off. Nor can I grumble about that annoying primary antibody that just doesn’t work.

However, there is a scenario that occurs regularly when I do talk about science with my non-scientist friends. It transpires whenever they hear about a recently published finding that spreads virally among innumerable media and social networking sites.

Excitedly, they describe what was touted by a popular science website to be the big breakthrough of the year. Perhaps it’s a golden bullet cancer cure or definitive evidence that, once and for all, coffee is actually good for you (or not?. Also see here.)This scenario is why I became interested in science writing. As I saw the reports on research with headlines reminiscent of a tabloid paper, I began to look more closely. I would read the feature, then go to the primary research article

and see if the results matched it. More often than not, there were discrepancies. So, the next time I saw the person who triumphantly posted on Facebook about cancer being cured, I would try to explain to them the true meaning behind the research. On the other hand, not everyone gets so excited about science. Some individuals have a deep-seated mistrust in it, especially commercialized science; i.e., pharmaceutical companies. My university often hosts speakers who give talks about the difficulties of treating cancer, and I have lost count of the number of times I have been in the elevator and seen the graffiti on seminar posters yelling in all caps about the lies of big pharma. 

I believe the media is partially responsible for this attitude.Often, media sensationalizes the findings of a single publication as being, more or less, a truth. Scientists know that one paper’s results cannot be taken independently. Results must be replicated, tested, criticized, and scrutinized. We also distinguish that they should not always be applied to a broad spectrum of conditions, but rather may only be relevant in a very specific, controlled scenario. We understand that a “cure” for one type of cancer doesn’t mean a cure for all cancers. And that the one “cure” probably doesn’t take into account practicality or effectiveness in human patients, but rather shows a decrease in tumor size in mice. We recognize that while mice and other animal models are invaluable for our research and provide the means to which we can try to better comprehend the workings of the human body, not all findings using animals can be directly applied to humans. 

Sadly, mainstream media rarely mentions these caveats, so the general public has an incomplete understanding of research science.The discrepancy between the science reported to the public by the media and a more accurate interpretation of publications breeds a distrust of science and scientists. The relationship between society and science is further muddied when, a few years later, it is reported on the evening news that maybe coffee doesn’t have the health benefits previously broadcasted. It is made worse by the rare instance where a scientist commits the most grievous sin of data fabrication. Given these factors, it’s hard to blame the general public for their confusion and wariness. This disconnect is why I recently started this science blog, where my goal is to examine recently published findings that have been highlighted by the media and explain the true meaning behind the data.While I have decided to contribute to this endeavor through writing, I believe that it is the responsibility of all scientists to ensure that the public understands the methodology behind what we do. Only then can we gain the support and trust that is vital to the survival of science.