Oceanography The Official Magazine of
The Oceanography Society
Volume 31 Issue 02

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Volume 31, No. 2
Pages 5 - 5


QUARTERDECK • A Really Tough Problem for Scientists to Solve

By Ellen S. Kappel  
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Good scientists have many positive attributes that should be attractive to scientists and non-scientists alike—curiosity, patience, long-term views, and optimism about solving problems. From our perspective, it seems perplexing that we sometimes have difficulty connecting with the public. But today, perhaps the scientist’s personality type is precisely what leaves us disconnected from people who simply do not share our worldview or who listen to leaders who find it expedient to ignore what science can contribute to our society. How do we connect with a population that simply lacks curiosity about the natural world or the role humans have played in modifying it? How do we articulate that working backward from conclusions to facts doesn’t solve problems? How do we frame a response if they want answers now, or next week, not in two or even ten years when we scientists may determine that we have enough data to address a question satisfactorily (and will know, even then, that with more data, the answer may change)? What do we tell this segment of the public who doesn’t perceive there is even a problem to solve? What if they can agree that there is a problem but figure it is too big to solve or simply think it is impossible to solve, certainly not in their lifetimes, so why bother doing anything?

Our community needs to be clear-eyed about the fact that while our public outreach programs have some impact in educating the public, we are most likely only reaching the self-selected population who want to participate in such events and are already at least somewhat excited by science. And we need to do more than hope, pray, protest, and/or vote to be governed by executive branch officials and legislators who respect scientists and scientific findings and whose words and actions demonstrate that attitude. In short, we need to take matters into our own hands and craft compelling words and images to connect with people who currently don’t see science as an instrument that can measurably improve their lives and help solve some seemingly
intractable global problems.

Fortunately, we’re scientists. We’re patient and optimistic. If we can solve difficult scientific and technical challenges, we can solve this communications problem, too. But we need smart, creative ideas from all corners of our community. Please send them to me at [email protected].

– Ellen S. Kappel, Editor


Kappel, E.S. 2018. A really tough problem for scientists to solve. Oceanography 31(2):5, https://doi.org/​​10.5670/oceanog.2018.222.

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