I have spent my career as a scientist. In elementary school, we are taught the scientific process of Question, Research, Hypothesis, Experiment, Data Analysis, Conclusion, and Communication. There is some variation on this and of course a long version that we all likely had to regurgitate for an exam, but in general, this sums up the process of discovery. It is deliberate and very methodical to get to the final outcomes. What might be less understood is the P value. Any grad student who takes their first stat class learns that P>0.05 isn’t “significant” and P<.05 is “significant”. Again, I am generalizing and there is more interpretation to form conclusions, but this is where we begin. What this means is that if the project was repeated 100 times, in at least 95 of those experiments, the same outcome would occur.
Why is this relevant? In the day of social media and thin journalistic standards and even in lawsuits, the adage of, “If you don’t agree with the results, but can’t dispute them, attack the character of the person delivering the results” has become rampant. There are several issues with this approach, both short-term and long-term. First of all, it prevents the development of new technologies and innovations. Science is the foundation for moving the needle forward and making advances in society. A strong research study can be discredited, even though scientific methods are followed and it is sound if the media (social or mainstream) takes it and “spins” it. This also happens when a statement is cherry-picked from a larger body of research and taken out of context. The impact of this is devastating. Of greater concern, though, is the fact that it discourages the next generation of scientists from entering the field. Why would they want to spend countless hours getting a research grant, collecting data, publishing data through the rigorous peer review process just to have their work misrepresented and their character questioned? It is very discouraging.
Long term, we need to evaluate the consequences of the data being miscommunicated. Circling back to the “scientific process,” the last step is communication. I will step up and say that first and foremost, scientists must take a stance and communicate their results to the public. Over the years, scientists have lost credibility, and part of this is because they are elusive to the public. A journal article is published and that is the end of the story in the mind of most scientists. It isn’t the end. For the study to be impactful, the results must be communicated to the public or stakeholders.
There is also a responsibility of the media to check sources, not to take things out of context and to follow their own “rules” of good journalism. This concept gets tossed aside on social media where a “click” or a “share” results in “likes” and there is no real consequence to sharing misinformation. Misinformation leads to destruction of the scientific community.
We all have a responsibility to ensure that sources are correct and to fight any misinformation that is circulated. There is a perception that because we are associated with a particular industry, then we are biased. The scientific process is methodical and is designed to minimize bias and the data generated can save lives. Just because we are meat scientists, does not make us wrong in our findings about meat science. We must stand strong and communicate strongly to the public for the greater good of society. Our world depends on it.