Thursday, March 1, 2007

How well do you understand what you do?

I'm preparing to give a presentation to a group of 8th graders in a week. Its a part of 'museam school' where they are learning about medical research. It's not new for me to be involved in science outreach, so I'm fairly comfortable explaining my research (oncolytic virotherapy) into more friendly terms (cancer killing viruses). It reminds me though, how many scientists speak only in "Science". Those who can't seem to move away from the jargon. Of course, when you speak to other scientists, its a short hand - a way to discuss what you're interested in, in a quick and easy manner. But so many scientists can't bring it to the level of the lay person. That doesn't mean you have to 'dumb it down', it just means you have to talk in english. I tell people all the time that if they can't explain their research to a 10 year old, then they simply do not understand it at a fundamental level. Its not that hard - ok. I study how viruses, ones that don't cause disease in people thus won't make them sick, can be used to treat cancer. We choose viruses that for reasons we don't always understand get to and kill tumours really well. Thus, if we put the virus into people with cancer, the virus seeks out the cancer, grows and kills it, but doesn't make you sick like other cancer treatments do. Thats it. Not so hard, and doesn't trivialize what I do. In the end, fellow scientists, our research is funded by the public. If they don't understand why research is important, how will they know to support it? Thus, get off your but and get out there!!

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