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Attack on researcher highlights growing need for public education of basic science

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Recently, Brennan's research on duck genitalia came under harsh attack. (Photo: Patricia Brennan)

Researcher Patricia Brennan poses a challenge question: Name one thing that doesn't use fundamental science? You'll be hard pressed to find one thing that we do or use in our modern world that hasn't come from using fundamental science. From the clothes we wear, to the food that's undergone millennia of artificial selection to smartphones we're permanently attached to, there is not a single thing that hasn't stemmed from our curiosity and desire to make our world better.

With this said, we can plainly see how important fundamental science research is. However, as Brennan encountered, the general public may not understand the value of basic science and it's up to the science community to make sure they do.

Recently, Brennan's research on duck genitalia came under harsh attack from some media outlets. Several websites defended her research, and Brennan wrote a personal response to the attacks (published on Slate) that quickly went viral. During this ordeal, it became apparent to her that researchers are often ill equipped to handle such an attack. I had the pleasure of a conversation with Brennan to discuss the importance of teaching the public the difference between fundamental and applied sciences, while preparing scientists that may come under attack for their research.

Brennan's recent ordeal is one that many other researchers and scientists face due to ignorance in the general public and policy makers, as well as a complacency within our scientific community. Brenan is now using her experience to create a movement where scientists ban together to meet the following goals:

  • Help scientists be prepared by supporting one another so that they can better defend their research and their field.

  • Encourage each other to take a proactive approach by teaching the public distinction so funding in these important areas of sciences don't diminish.

So, what can you do? Brennan mentions that some of the quickest, easiest ways for everyone to get involved are simple:

  • Call your elected officials and let them know that even fundamental science is useful. Remind them, and everyone else, that basic science inquiry pays for itself down the line.

  • Join a society like AAAS that can provide a support group and has more lobbying powers within lawmakers.

  • Spread the word and discuss fundamental science on social media platforms with pride.

  • Create petitions to preserve, spread, and continue increasing fundamental as well as applied science.

Do you have other ideas on how to protect basic science? Or some examples of why it is important? Please share them in the comments section below.

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Recently, Brennan's research on duck genitalia came under harsh attack. (Photo: Patricia Brennan)
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