Photo by Robin Hecker

Ira Flatow discusses science in popular culture during Kennedy Lecture

The host of "Science Fridays" visits Ohio University to talk about sharing scientific information though unconventional paths.

Madison Koenig
February 11, 2015

Sometimes information about science can come from unlikely places.  Ira Flatow, host of Science Friday on PRI, Public Radio International, came to Ohio University on Tuesday, February 3, to talk about some of those places. As a part of the Kennedy Lecture Series, Flatow gave a lecture entitled “Communicating Science to a Science-Challenged World” to a packed audience in Memorial Auditorium.

Flatow began by describing what he meant by “a science-challenged world.” He pointed to the lack of scientific knowledge across the country, citing a study that found that 40% of respondents believe that dinosaurs and people lived at the same time and another that found that more than 20% of Americans believe that the sun revolves around the Earth.

“Ignorance about the basics facts about science is endemic in every place,” Flatow said.

Cable news bears some of the blame for this situation, Flatow said. Cable news anchors do not understand the basics of statistics and the scientific process, which it makes it hard for them to share science news with their audiences, he said. Politicians who don’t understand science, and claim that they don’t need to, are also a part of the problem.

However, Flatow argued that there is hope for improving general science knowledge, but it comes from an unexpected place: social media and the entertainment industry.

Flatow said that social media allows people to “get past the gatekeepers on media news” in order to share information about science. He pointed to Facebook pages such as “I F***ing Love Science,” which has almost 20 million followers.  and YouTube shows that share science news and highlight exciting experiments.

Additionally, Flatow pointed to the increase of stories about science and scientists in the entertainment industry as a sign that people are interested in learning more about STEM fields. Informational shows such as “Cosmos” and “Mythbusters” showcase scientists discussing a variety of topics, and fictional shows such as “The Big Bang Theory” on CBS and HBO’s “Silicon Valley” feature scientists as the main characters. Even “The Simpsons” includes jokes about science.

The tide is turning for increasing general scientific knowledge, Flatow hopes. To encourage this trend, scientists should step out and speak up for their field.

“Scientists have to get out in the public and say how important science is,” Flatow said.

Science Friday airs from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Fridays on WOUB-FM. Individual segments can be streamed on www.sciencefriday.com; the show also has audio and video podcasts available on iTunes.