Thursday, 11 August 2016

Why Sport; Not Science?

Given the huge and predictable excitement surrounding the sporting congregation in a certain South American country, it was an interesting time to listen to a panel of scientists, business leaders, and one comedian speak about the unfortunately low status of science in Australian society last night at the ACMD Research Week public debate.

Sport in Australia is, well, the national religion. And we're not just tunnel-visioned towards one code, such as Soccer, as many countries are. Oh no, here in the Land Down Under, sport of any kind is celebrated, and sporting success is the stuff of myth and legend. In some parts of the country we even race cane toads and place bets on the outcome. So it's hardly surprising that sport garners more attention on the pages of the news and in public life generally.

Science on the other hand, an area in which Australia excels and has been a world leader over the years, suffers from 3rd or 4th rate status. Strike that--it really doesn't have status. A lot of money and effort is put into scientific research here, but it is losing its market share. Why is that? Why aren't people interested in science? Why don't they follow scientific progress like they follow sport?

That last question is ridiculous, is the short answer. The two aren't the same thing. Not even remotely. Sport is a community event and a competition. It has a clearly defined goal, set rules, and a definite outcome. Science pretty much has none of these attributes. Goals, as close as they come to goals, that is, are simply tests of hypotheses. Rules? Not really! Science is remarkably fluid, changeable, and prone to revision. As for outcomes, well, as they say, you can only disprove a hypothesis, never prove one. In other words, even the victories are negative, in a sense.

But science does have fabulous stories and fantastic people, just like sport does. It has heroes and heroines, and it has long, trying and amazing journeys. Finding those people and telling those stories will be the key to raising science's status.

Ultimately, what really hooks people into something is the narrative. We just love a good story. So does the media. Science has all that, but it needs more storytellers. Raising science's status is genuinely important, because in this day and age, high profile equals dollars. Science needs more. Scientists and administrators everywhere need to realise that having a continuing conversation with the public is how other fields got so big in the public eye. So, science, remember--it's no good having a great story if you don't tell it.

If you are a scientist, or a manager of scientists, and you would like help with telling these stories, don't hesitate to drop us a line at  -- an actual degree qualified and experienced scientist wrote this piece and he's ready to help you!

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