Scientists stuck on the grant-seeking treadmill may find comfort in the results of a recent report from the National Science Foundation. Eighty-five percent of Americans agreed in a 2014 survey that advancing the “frontiers of knowledge” through scientific research is necessary and should be federally funded “even if it brings no immediate benefits.” Earlier surveys found similar support for basic research in European and Asian countries.
When it comes to how much non-scientists understand about the scientific process, however, the results are not as reassuring. In 2014, 26 percent understood how a scientific study is done, according to the NSF report. That means just about 1 in 4 respondents could explain that studies require formulating theories, testing hypotheses, designing experiments, and analyzing and interpreting data. Few international comparisons were available, the report noted, but a 2010 Chinese survey found a slightly higher proportion of respondents grasped the scientific process.
Clearly, scientists have a lot of explaining to do. And thanks to the editors of PLOS Biology and PLOS Pathogens, they have the perfect forum to do just that. Last year, the PLOS Pathogens editors introduced a new series called Research Matters to give scientists who study viruses, bacteria, parasites, prions, and fungi the platform to explain how the fundamental research they do in their labs not only provides key insights into basic biology but also lays the groundwork for discoveries to protect public health.
Recognizing the value of providing a platform to speak directly to the public, funders, policymakers and budding scientists, PLOS Biology followed suit by launching its own Research Matters in July. While PLOS Pathogens features researchers describing scientific advances across the world of pathogens, PLOS Biology covers fundamental research across the life sciences.
As the NSF survey suggests, Americans are happy to support basic research. But the next generation of scientists can’t assume they’ll have the same support. It’s up to practicing scientists to clearly articulate to the public – not just policymakers but also the taxpayers who support them – why and how basic research can benefit us all.
We invite you to check out the following recent Research Matters from PLOS Pathogens and PLOS Biology:
- Keeping Signals Straight: How Cells Process Information and Make Decisions (Michael Laub)
- The Importance of Role Models in Research (James Bliska)
- From Cell and Organismal Biology to Drugs (Kasturi Haldar)
- Chasing Ecological Interactions (Pedro Jordano)
- The Tree(s) of Life: The Human Placenta and My Journey to Learn More about It (Carolyn Coyne)
- Breast Cancer Patients Have Greatly Benefited from the Progress in Molecular Oncology (Bernd Groner & Nancy Hynes)
Featured Image credit: University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment, Flickr; Anna Miska.