Scientists don’t know everything

I know this may come as a shock to some people but it’s true: Scientists are not omniscient. While I was at the British Science Association’s Science Communication Conference this week, some of us were discussing the importance of reminding the public that scientists are just humans like everyone else. I think that this message should be an essential part of the public engagement work that scientists do, and could be an especially important message to send out to children who may enjoy science but feel that they could never be a scientist (because they will never be clever enough, etc. A perfect example of this kind of public engagement comes from a project called I’m a Scientist, Get Me Out of Here!)

I personally think that one of the most wonderful and charming things about science is not knowing. In science, not knowing the answer is a good thing because it means you can then design an experiment in order to investigate the question, and get a step closer to finding out the answer. If we knew everything, why would be bother asking more questions?

Another exciting aspect of science is being wrong. It may go something like this:

1. You have an idea about something.
2. You conduct an experiment.
3. Your results suggest that you were wrong.
4. OMG you have found something new and surprising, and you can go and tell the world about it.

This is such an important yet often forgotten aspect of being a scientist, and I think knowing this would encourage many more people to consider science as a career.

The discussions I had at the Science Communication Conference reminded me of this excellent video I saw a while ago so I thought I would share it here: Scientists admitting that sometimes, they just don’t know.

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