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#iSTANDfor: SCIENCE LITERACY

 

By Theo Anagnostopoulos

Understanding science is important for everyone. It is important to know why climate change is happening and how we should change our everyday practices. To know why you should not eat fried food and follow a healthy diet in general. It is important to have your own view on how driveless cars will alter our lifestyles. Also, public acceptance is a prerequisite for the implementation of innovations which are vital for human wellbeing and environmental sustainability, such as water reuse and recycling practices in water scarce regions (the use of reclaimed water often causes community conflicts and faces opposition from the local society, due to the fact that it is sourced from wastewater). Repugnance of many people, who oppose water reuse in such cases, is mainly driven by cognitive factors, including lack of awareness of existing water scarcity problems and of knowledge concerning available advanced treatment technologies and potential benefits of reclaimed water. Overall scientific knowledge will empower us to make wiser decisions, adapt to changes and be more sustainable in our lives.  

Public perception of scientific matters and their connection to our everyday lives is low. In addition, there is growing public distrust in scientific and technological achievements. Scientific research is losing credibility when reporters skip the details and share inaccurate stories. In parallel, governmental funding for basic research is being slashed under greater scrutiny and politically motivated misinformation.

Scientific and technological literacy will provide all citizens with the tools to participate thoughtfully and confidently in a technological world where they should be able to understand, critique and sometimes shape future scientific research. In the long term, it is our duty to help future generations form a society based on the beneficial principle of reasoning.

From a personal point of view, throughout the years of my PhD studies I was frequently asked about the topic of my research. And I would answer: “well, I am studying the DNA variation on Xq22. In humans” I soon realized that the topic of my research was understood by no other than my peer scientists. Besides this I could not explain, in simple words, the work that I did and its impact to academia, humanity or even me. These reasons, as well as my inner will to strongly express myself through my work, led me to discover in the first instance, society’s need for science and technological understanding.

It was proven that after my initial engagement in the field of science communication and social work, the sense of duty for science literacy was also shared by other talented young individuals, with whom I founded a social enterprise (SciCo) dedicated to people’s engagement in scientific related activities. The central idea behind our projects is to make science simple and approachable for the public, while our vision is to encourage people think in a scientific way based more on facts and data. Towards this direction, it is fortunate that by forming a multidisciplinary team of scientists, educators, artists, actors and business consultants, we have already managed to make an international impact, creating a “pop” culture of science. The old fashioned and tedious ways of science communication via e.g. specialized TV shows or talks, are replaced by our annual festivals (Athens, Thessaloniki and Mediterranean), “café scientifiques”, debates, shows, STEM educational programs and interactive gaming activities that attract thousands of people who are able to meet with academics and play with them in the context of science and technology. Moreover, our educational platforms such as School Lab, aiming both at educators and students, have reached even distant, “non-privileged” rural areas, enabling thousands of students to develop their science and presentation skills and hundreds of educators to develop creative, more effective ways ofscience teaching.

The main qualitative metric of our actions is already depicted in the lives of several decades of young people who share our values, continuously support our work and create a developing network of scientific literate, active citizens. Over the last few years, over 400 dedicated volunteers have assisted our public outreach activities while through a project based educational program of ambassadors we have created, a developing team of over than 20 persons is constantly working on an almost daily basis on science dissemination activities.

I stand for science literacy because my mission as a researcher is to question and create knowledge, my mission as a science communicator is to question and deliver effectively the exact message of the gained knowledge, and my mission as a community member is to question, learn and ensure the highest standards of quality in our and our children’s lives.

The “answer” is knowledge. Keeping up a creative dialogue between all of us remains one of the most distinctive parameters for a prosperous and civilized world.