As a former scientist, I'm in a unique position to talk about science from the perspective of a researcher and citizen. From using science to look at policy to decoding papers, science in society is one of my favorite topics.
As a former scientist, I spend a lot of time thinking about science literacy—what it actually means, and how to address and teach it—and I think what we do and don’t know, individually and collectively, is ultimately irrelevant to scientific literary. Science literacy isn’t based on the arbitrary amount of scientific information you may or may not know—I learned more about the human body and body decomposition from the TV show Bones than any of my classes—but rather, on how likely you are to question what you’re reading and do further investigation. When we say media literacy, we’re talking about not just accessing media, but also analyzing it. It stands to reason that science literacy should work the same way. And the way I see it, science literacy isn’t about your knowledge. To be science literate is to know how to analyze the “science” you’re presented—to understand the real questions researchers asking, the biases of both the researchers and the source presenting the research to you, and whether the data matches up with what the authors say. Scientific literacy is really a more specific form of media literacy.
Content notes: Discussion of the use of animals in research
In doing any animal work, the researcher accepts the inherent assumption that human life and need is greater than that of the animal’s. It is a selfish assumption, a baseless assumption, but one nearly everybody makes. It’s not just in choosing to eat animals, but to domesticate them. To tear down their habitats and build our own. To go to the shelter and pick out the puppy sitting in its crate. That’s not to say we don’t treat animals fairly or lovingly — although, of course, we could talk about that, too. But that’s not my point. My point is that when you step into an animal facility, you are saying to yourself, My work is more important than this animal’s life.
The important thing to take away, is that you have to know yourself—really know yourself. For example, in the time I’ve been self-employed, I’ve learned that I’m not as self-directed as I thought, and that marketing myself is difficult because of my debilitating phone anxiety. But if you have no problem pitching your services, picking up the phone and cold-calling, or are willing to learn to do those, then self-employment could be a good fit. If you are organized and able to keep on-task, are unafraid to take risks, and are willing to put in extra time, then it could be really worth it.
Contrary to what some might believe, the money used to fund science doesn't go directly into the scientists' pockets, but to covering the cost of their research. While this can include their salaries and those of the individuals in their labs, the bulk of it covers the everyday costs of research materials. These can range from hundreds of dollars for a few grams of an antidote to tens of thousands of dollars for new equipment.
© 2022, Naseem Jamnia
Photos of Naseem by Jennie Kaplan, 2018, and Jeramie Lu, 2022