Just got back from Colgate University in beautiful upstate New York, where I met with students and gave a talk on science communication. It was a valuable trip for me in two ways: First, it showed me what a first-class small liberal arts university can do for science education (innovative curriculum, small class size, talented faculty, and smart students). And second, it offered me the chance to bounce ideas off of, and learn from, undergrads. The invitation to visit came from Prof. Jason Keith, who uses The Alchemy of Air in his class “Molecules That Rock Your World” (love that title). Before my formal talk I had lunch and conversation with his class of very bright young students. Great fun. Thanks to everyone at Colgate!
And about that talk . . . It focused on accurately communicating science to the public, a difficult job at best, made more difficult by recent technological and political changes. The short version is that the rise of social media and the advent of the Age of Trump has hastened the breakdown of traditional media, raised the credibility of the most outlandish ideas about science, and generally devalued the work of the majority of mainstream scientists in areas of inquiry — especially those that disagree with the political/economic aims of the current administration. In other words, the only science that matters is science that the Administration agrees with. This political/economic/technological distortion is dangerous and a crucial issue not just to me, as a science writer, but to everyone in scientific research.