As scientists, we are in a very privileged position compared to the rest of population. Not only do we really enjoy what we do but we also get to choose what to work on ourselves. Sure, there is the dark world of academic bureaucracy and the perpetual fight for grant money but I still think that we are an extremely lucky bunch. I am not aware of any other profession where the situation is similar.
Now and then, we forget how truly exceptional our situation is and take this privilege too much for granted. Then, we try to forget about the outside world and, hidden in our ivory towers, fight against every change in the academic environment. Some times, we feel offended by accusations of sexism. Other times, we find it outrageous that we should move science to social media and to the public.
I am sure there are bad scientists who vent their frustrations by criticising the works of others on the internet. But there is also a large group of researchers who do not forget about the world outside the academic milieu and want to share the amazing science they do with others — it can be fellow researchers who do not work in exactly the same field of study, family and friends who never stop asking about one’s work, or anyone willing to listen. We then start our blogs where we talk about our own research, the work done by our fellow scientists, our approaches to tackling problems we face at work, and the joy our daily lives bring.
Maybe we will not publish as many papers as those who do not see beyond their ivory towers because we are not so focused on our research output. But there are many ways in which scientists can contribute to the community; publishing own results, reviewing works done by others, mentoring and teaching younger generations, or sharing our passion for science with the rest of the world are just a few. It is, of course, impossible to judge who is the best scientist but, as long as we all contribute in a positive way, that does not (or should not) play a role. At the end of the day, science is not a solitary endeavour but a benefit to the society.
We also must not forget that it is the public who lets us work on problems we find fascinating. The least we can do in return is tell them what we did and how it will benefit them; otherwise, we might wake up one day and find them not willing to finance our work any more. Sure, it is not always immediately clear why our results are so important or how they can be applied to benefit mankind but hiding our work from the lay public is not a solution. Even such abstract fields as theoretical mathematics can be made accessible to those willing to learn something new.
Long-term commitment to disseminate research to the public is not an easy one. But without it, it is difficult to get society to trust science and we cannot expect the public to listen to us when presenting important findings. For instance, if we want to convince public that climate change is a real threat to our civilisation, we have to explain how we found that out and what the findings mean for our near future. If we ask the public to trust us blindly, all we can expect is skepticism and denial.
I am not implying that every scientist has to blog. As I said above, there are many ways in which researchers can contribute to the community, and blogging is just one of them. If someone finds it difficult or thinks they can contribute better in other ways, that is perfectly fine. But damning every science blogger and claiming they are all failures is a very short-sighted approach.