What reading about The Pill made me think about SciComm

I recently finished reading "The Birth of the Pill" by Jonathan Eig (if you are interested in the review, you can see it here) a nonfiction about what it took for this, now, common contraceptive to be discovered and approved, at least in the U.S. It was an interesting read, both for me as a woman, a scientist and former user of the pill. But it got me thinking about the way Gregory Pincus, the main scientist of this endeavor, was portrayed, how he shared his research and how so many things haven't changed at all in science communication, even after 50 years.

Every time I read a science nonfiction it strikes me how more often than not, the scientist involved are portrayed as this cold, nonchalant men (let's face it, most of the time it's men) that looks to others with a hint of disdain. While I have to admit that a lot of current scientist still fit this profile, it was fun to read about Pincus eccentricities, albeit there are a lot of things in his behavior I do not approve, such us traveling or even paying his wife's shopping spree with the foundations money. But still, it was nice to see a scientist portrayed as having a social life, liking fast cars, etc.

The thing that struck me the most was probably how he approached sharing his data. In case you don't know this, he once worked in Harvard but after some controversy about his in vitro research, he was denied tenure and decided to go solo, founding the Worcester Foundation for Experimental Biology. It was here that most of his pill-related work took place. But here is the thing, Pincus was very open to non academic media about his advancements, even when technically, he hadn't succeeded yet. He criticized a lot of his fellows researchers who (to his eyes) where obsessed with only publishing in specialized journals and only in the most scientific terms.

This last part hasn't changed that much in academic science. There's still a prejudice against those who vulgarize their research and Impact Factors are still considered as badges of honor by a lot of scientist. You would think that in more than 50 years since Pincus (and others) criticized this tendency of researchers to keep research for themselves, more people would be open to sharing their findings and to making them more accessible to a bigger public. Alas, it's not the case.

Once again, I do not fully agree with the Pincus methods Telling a conference that his research is almost done when months and even years of data was still needed is basically lying, and trying to inflate your number by presenting them as number of cycles instead of number of women in a study is plainly wrong. But I think we can all agree that once your data is sound and tested, there is nothing wrong with approaching the "general" medias and serving as a bridge between your research and the general public.

Because of the constant fear of being scooped, I understand why so many of us are hesitant to share our research and even the process of your research. Someone even recently asked me if I wasn't afraid of getting scooped because I posted a picture of my "Experiments To Do" list on Instagram. Well, first of all the image is blurred out, but even if someone decides to invert the filter and then tries to make sense of my writing, this person would still need to find the same thread of thought I've been exploring for 5 years now. So, no, I'm not particularly worried about being scooped via IG. I am worried though that this paranoia has been present since forever in academia, and rather than making our results more accessible to everyone we are digging deeper holes to hide everything until it's "publication perfect" and then we only share it with a very small circle.

To read about how this SciComm issue hasn't advance that much in half a century is daunting. I am exaggerating off course. It is true that we have more people dedicated to communicate science in a much more open manner. Blogging and social media in general have helped. But the whole stigma in the scientific community against SciComm persists. Just as The Pill helped revolutionize the way people considered sex, maybe we are far due to changing the way people look at scientist and science in general.

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