Daily Egyptian

Scientist to talk about the gap between academics and the public on campus Wednesday

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Daily Egyptian file photo

Daily Egyptian file photo

Daily Egyptian file photo

By Amelia Blakely

Cartoonist and roboticist Jorge Cham will discuss the divide between researchers and the public in his lecture titled “The Science Gap” from 3 to 4 p.m. Wednesday at Guyon Auditorium in Morris Library.

Cham writes and draws the comic strip “Piled Higher and Deeper,” which he began in 1997 while he was a graduate student at Stanford University. The comic recounts his experiences as a graduate student and academic, he said.

His lecture will address the gap of communication and perception between researchers, other academics and the public.

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“There aren’t a lot of established direct ways for academics to talk to the public,” Cham said. “Researchers communicate with the public in this roundabout way.”

The roundabout way he is referring to is the process by which researchers write an academic paper, have it highlighted by a university press release and then picked up through media, Cham said.

He said the acknowledgment of an academic’s work is dependent on how many people see it and if it goes viral or not.  

“It’s an indirect way of communicating,” Cham said.

Cham said there are many misconceptions surrounding researchers and academics, including who they are and what motivates them to do their work.

“I think researchers are seen as impersonal and not human,” Cham said. “They’re really just regular people.”

Television shows like “The Big Bang Theory” portray researchers and academics as “the weird awkward type,” Cham said.  

Cham said scientists are on the forefront of figuring out many societal, environmental, economical and energy problems, and he said the public should be informed of their work.

“You want to have a connection there because scientists and researchers need the support of the public, and also the public needs to be informed about the decisions they’re making, who they’re voting for and why they are voting,” Cham said.

Miscommunication between the scientific community and the public also leads the public to distrust scientists, Cham said.

“People trust their doctor, but they don’t trust their academic doctor,” Cham said.

He said this could even prevent young people from wanting to become scientists or academics.

“We need to inspire the next generation of teenagers and young adults to really pursue academics, science and research to solve all these big problems,” he said.

This lecture was organized by microbiology department, the Graduate School, Sigma Xi, Morris Library and the Zoology Graduate Association, according to Scott Hamilton-Brehm, an associate professor in the Department of Microbiology. It is free and open to the public.

Staff writer Amelia Blakely can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @AmeilaBlakely.

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