By Erik Carlson
Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19), scientists and science educators have constantly fought an uphill battle communicating the working theory on COVID-19. Early on, doctors and scientists took emergency action recommending masks, social distancing and the sterilization of surfaces. Since then, our theory on the transmission of COVID-19 has evolved and scientists have removed the recommendation to sterilize surfaces.
This discrepancy was immediately harped on by many Republican lawmakers. “How can scientists make mandates about mask wearing if they suddenly change their recommendations?” they exclaimed. Even just last week, I received a comment from a gentleman on the street on the efficacy of masks.
To answer that comment publicly, I can tell you without a doubt masks shortened this pandemic.
The battle over the accuracy of science has been fought over a variety of topics in the last decade but is becoming ever more political in our current society. Renewable energy, global warming, even something as time-tested as vaccination has become the forefront of a new age of political inquisition.
Just recently the Florida legislature passed a bill banning the requirement for schools to require proof of the COVID-19 vaccine. This is something that just a year ago would have been political suicide to do for any of the other required vaccines such as MMR or chicken pox. Frankly, if the smallpox vaccine was not mandated for much of the world, millions of people would be dead and a highly contagious disease would still roam the Earth.
As a both a scientist and an educator, I can tell you, there is no global conspiracy to microchip you. There is no goal to infringe upon your freedoms. I have worked with scientists across the political spectrum and our scientific integrity must be unblemished if we expect to survive in our field. We are simply reading the data and producing working conclusions. Sometimes the data changes and thus conclusions change.
Science is not inherently political and wishes no more than to generate models of our current understanding of the world. It is then the policymakers who sometimes politicize these results and muddle their meanings.
Although the world of science education is certainly evolving and expanding, there are certain basic things we can do to proliferate truthful material. First, be open to new ideas. Pretending to know everything about everything means you will learn nothing.
Next, be okay with being wrong. No one will or should begrudge you for accepting your previous opinion was invalid. Evolving opinions should be okay, even for elected officials. Data evolves and scientific perspectives morph as more studies are collected. An opinion previously held may no longer be valid.
And finally, check your sources. Although time consuming, understanding where the information is coming from and who is funding that information is important.
To some extent, we are all educators in this time of social media, and it is time to start acting like it. Spreading garbage and lies is an insult to the profession of teaching. As we bring our opinions closer together by propagating truth our civility will follow.
Erik Carlson is a doctoral student in astrophysics.