In the previous post, I noted that scientists are not always directly engaged in the project of communicating about their scientific findings (or about the methods they used to produce those findings) to the public.

Part of this is a matter of incentives: most scientists don't have communicating with the public as an explicit part of their job description, and they are usually better rewarded for paying attention to things that are explicit parts of their job descriptions. Part of it is training: scientists are generally taught a whole lot more about how to conduct research in their field than they are taught about effective strategies for communicating with non-scientists. Part of it is the presence of other professions (like journalists and teachers and museum curators) that are, more or less, playing the communicating-with-the-public-about-science zone. Still another part of it may be temperament: some people say that they went into science because they wanted to do research, not to deal with people. Of course, since doing research requires dealing with other people sooner or later, I'm guessing these folks are terribly bitter that scientific research did not support their preferred lifestyle of total isolation from human contact -- or, that they really meant that they didn't want to deal with people who are non-scientists.

I'd like to suggest, however, that there are very good reasons for scientists to be communicating about science with non-scientists -- even if it's not a job requirement, and there are other people playing that zone, and it doesn't feel like it comes naturally.

The public has an interest in understanding more than it does about what science knows and how science comes to know it, about which claims are backed by evidence and which others are backed by wishful thinking or outright deception. But it's hard to engage an adult as you would a student; members of the public are frequently just not up for didactic engagement. Dropping a lecture of what you perceive as their ignorance (or their "knowledge deficit," as the people who study scientific communication and public understanding of science would call it) probably won't be a welcome form of engagement.

In general, non-scientists neither need nor want to be able to evaluate scientific claims and evidence with the technical rigor that scientists evaluate them. What they need more is a read on whether the scientists whose job it is to make and evaluate these claims are the kind of people they can trust.

This seems to me like a good reason for scientists to come out as scientists to their communities, their families, their friends.

Whenever there are surveys of how many Americans can name a living scientist, a significant proportion of the people surveyed just can't name any. But I suspect a bunch of these people know actual, living scientists who walk in their midst -- they just don't know that these folks they know as people are also scientists.

If everyone who is a scientist were to bring that identity to their other human interactions, to let it be a part of what the neighbors, or the kids whose youth soccer team they coach, or the people at the school board meeting, or the people at the gym know about them, what do you think that might do to the public's picture of who scientists are and what scientists are like? What could letting your scientific identity ride along with the rest of you do to help your non-scientist fellow travelers get an idea of what scientists do, or of what inspires them to do science? Could being open about your ties to science help people who already have independent reasons to trust you find reasons to be less reflexively distrustful of science and scientists?

These seem to me like empirical questions. Let's give it a try and see what we find out.