It is ok for Scientists to be expressive

Dr Sam Illingworth, senior lecturer in science communication and poet

As an undergraduate scientist, I remember thinking that in presenting the cold hard facts of science it was also necessary to do so with a cold hard face, stripped of all emotion and personal opinion. I now realise how wrong I was. Whilst the process of obtaining and analysing scientific results should always be conducted in a rigorous manner, there is absolute nothing wrong with injecting some emotion into how they are presented.

This does not mean that I think all scientists should present their research findings via Pindaric odes or rhyming couplets, but if the results of the research elicit a specific feeling then why not talk about this as well? Let’s take a very obvious example – climate change. If a scientist is reporting on the record loss of Arctic sea ice, or the potential mass extinction of a species because of climate-induced displacement then they should also be able to say how upset, enraged or helpless this makes them feel. In doing so it not only lends greater impetus to the importance of the research, but it also helps to humanise the scientists in the eyes of the public.

Scientists are often asked for their expert opinion about a particular subject, but that are rarely asked how this makes them feel. By avoiding this line of questioning, scientists run the risk of not being seen as ‘members of the community,’ to which they also belong. Scientists who conduct research into cancer, antimicrobial resistance, obesity and flood defence systems are often just as likely to be affected by these issues as any other members of the public; something which is often forgotten when their expertise is being sought. I believe that encouraging scientists to talk about how their research makes them feel, and the potential effect that it will have on their lives is an important step in making scientists and non-scientists realise that they are all in this together.

Dr Sam Illingworth is a Senior Lecturer in Science Communication at Manchester Metropolitan University. Sam trained as an atmospheric physicist, and then spent time lecturing in Japan and China, where he also investigated the relationship between science and theatre. His current research is concerned with empowering members of society with science using a variety of different media, including poetry and theatre. You can find out more about Sam on his website:  

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