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Be a Free, but Faithful Scientist
[384호] 2017년 04월 07일 (금) Kim Jae-hyuk nasabolt@naver.com
“I am afraid I am busy.” This is a typical answer from most scientists about participating in the promotion of public understanding of science. As one of them, I deeply agree with such response. Researchers are busy with endless study and work. However, such complicated research is hardly understood by the public and seldom enters the spotlight. Unpopular research struggles to secure funding from policy makers and the government, and researchers get busy with having to start another project, hoping for improvements this time. Though there may be several stages being skipped, what we see here is a cycle of the popularization of science, trials of communication between researchers and the public.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) occasionally makes public announcements. Most of them actually mean something to the public, but at the same time, the announcements are dexterously made at the right time, in terms of the financial circumstance. Making research public does not instantly induce funding from governments and individuals, but as the public gets interested, the bond of empathy is created in the society. Such bond gives NASA opportunities to bolster insufficient budgets in various ways, thanks to its good understanding of the importance of communicating with the public. Then, what about us?
As the R&D budget is generally decreasing compared to GDP every year, long-term projects that need consistent financial support quickly become mundane, with no observable results. The same research is often made public annually in different names, to create the impression of short-term innovation, and it is inevitably criticized by many people from various perspectives. Of course, the government must consistently support unpopular research and invest in basic sciences. However, the public gives guidelines for policy makers to determine which research areas need long-term investments, and what makes the public scientifically enlightened is in fact communication of science and research.
Some authoritative research leads the initiative for the promotion of science. Lead researchers meet the public through lectures, and are doing their best to get close to the public through various media. Thanks to their efforts, there are still young children pursuing science, and these so-called ‘science nerds’ who enjoy science as part of their culture are making tight bonds within the society. Now, it is time to expand the realm, where we do not aim for sorting out people who are interested in science, but present our scientific topics that all people can get interested in.
The generation in which the popularization of science was a matter of delivering information is over. The speaker who is asking for attention from the public, expecting them to be marveled at various scientific fun-facts attracts little attention, possibly less than subway peddlers. Modern people are already exposed to scientific facts, more often than the speakers are aware of. However, even though they seem to know everything, they know nothing. They are familiar with various scientific terms such as gravity wave, Higgs Particle, quantum mechanics, etc., but they do not know them by heart. To them, ‘knowing’ means having heard of and this confines them from seeking for deeper understanding. If the people are not introduced to science through totally different methods, they will delude themselves into thinking they already know and miss out on the joy of understanding science. Popularization of science has to be done through different methods, and this is how FameLab came into the world.
FameLab is a science themed communication competition. It started in the United Kingdom, in 2005, and was convened first in Asia in Korea in 2014. While planning the first ‘FameLab Korea,’ the most prominent feature was limiting factors that other lectures do not have. Only three minutes are offered to all participants to present their research. Moreover, participants cannot use any visual materials-which might be their biggest merit-during the short time. They can only use language, gesture, and a few other permitted things during the speech. The audience makes eye contact with the speaking scientist instead of watching graphs and terminologies. The scientist has to use metaphors and stories related with the research instead of reciting advanced result values as usual. This fosters very efficient communication between the scientist and the public in a short time.
The notable point in this competition is the participants. The main agents of existing lectures were experts equivalent to professors or senior researchers. However, FameLab stands young researchers (in their 20s or 30s) as core participants. Three minutes are not enough time for even senior scientists to develop themes. Young, energetic researchers would rather go with the quick flow and produce desired results.
A scientist is not an omnipotent being who decides the answer, but one who figures out the best questions hidden in the world. Additionally, anyone should be able to make questions in the process and there should be many people who make the questions. Science, the sacred area is not for minority specialists, but should include young researchers and passionate citizens who constantly make mistakes together.
We are continuously discovering young revolutionists through ‘FameLab Korea,’ and ‘Science Night Live,’ the science show for adults. The era of Science Communicators developed by the education has come. Hopefully, we develop the future of science communication by young scientists who have steadily trained since their time as a graduate or undergraduate. We hope some who would have walked the path of “busy researcher” will become “scientists of leisure” who always have time for science communication.

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