Science on offer

Part of the distrust of science stems from misconceptions about what science actually is. It is therefore important to explain science to a wide audience, including all its snags. Maarten! asked scientists Vincent Crone, Erik van Sebille and Marion Koopmans how best to do that. ‘I understand that a compact story forces you to get to the heart of the matter, but simplifying can also go too far’

How do you explain to a large audience what science is and exactly how it works? The media, especially talk shows, usually tolerate this task poorly. ‘Science often does not allow itself to be packaged in nice, round stories, whereas that is what is often asked for in the media,’ summarizes media scientist Vincent Crone in an article from Maarten! Moreover, those round stories are served up to the public via television purely in one-way traffic.

But what methods are appropriate? Methods in which there is room for real dialogue hold the best cards, argues virologist Marion Koopmans. She herself regularly seeks out venues where she sits across from a group of people. ‘Public lectures and events are great for talking about science in a more relaxed manner, especially if there is plenty of room for questions. That’s how you find out what’s going on and how much people actually understand what is being thrown at them.’


What is true?

Neither Koopmans nor Van Sebille expects miracles from all efforts to better explain scientific processes to the public. Even if you could engage with everyone, there will still be people who question science. The penchant for post-truth and supernatural explanations is too great. ‘And when scientists say contradictory things, you can’t blame the average television viewer or newspaper reader for saying, see, science doesn’t know either,’ Koopmans says.

To avoid that impression, she says scientists should first put their heads together outside the eye of the cameras. ‘At the Pandemic & Disaster Preparedness Center, of which I am a member, we reenacted several days from the pandemic with scientists from different disciplines. What advice did we give in what situation, and what information did we have available to us at that time? That kind of evaluation session is very useful. It also gives you insight into how little you actually know about each other’s disciplines.’

Read the interview

Source: Maarten

Date: 14 March 2023

Want to know more about the research of prof. dr. Marion Koopmans within the PDPC:
Frontrunner project: Predicting, measuring and quantifying airborne virus transmission
Frontrunner project: Integrated early-warning surveillance methods and tools
Frontrunner project: Climate change and vectorborne virus outbreaks