Measles has made a deadly comeback several years after its eradication. The growing anti-vaccination movement consequently became the quick culprit as it continues to elicit widespread hesitation on the overall efficiency of vaccines. In a way, it deserves the blame. The movement stands on a clearly pseudoscientific basis and simply refuses to vanish despite factual evidence debunking it. On the other hand, though, governments and relevant agencies are equally accountable for this crisis. Apart from ensuring that vaccines reach even the inaccessible regions of their countries, they are also responsible for properly educating the public on the importance of having regular vaccine shots.
But tracking down the roots of this ignorance reveals a more resounding problem in the dissonance between the academic community and the general populace. We have progressed immensely in the fields of science and technology, so much so that we have lost track of our true purpose in this profession. The academic community has become an enclosed battleground of publications, credentials, and internal networking within respective academic circles. Most of the studies done within these circles arguably only have the intent of strengthening the author’s professional reputation, along with a mere façade of desire to contribute to the betterment of the society. Current issues are used as tools to further self-interests rather than as opportunities to genuinely help the affected.
This demotivates those who pursue academic careers with the enthusiasm for actively contributing to society. The harsh realities imposed by the institutionalized pressures of academia can strongly convince these talents to walk a different path. A research study has shown that out of 80% of graduate students in science-related postdoctoral degrees who report a beaming passion to continue in the field, only 55% stick with the course until graduation. Another study implied that among postdoctoral degree holders, only 3.5% successfully get permanent academic positions, and only 0.5% become professors.
There could be some exceptions, though: undeniably, certain works are passionate attempts to improve lives. Even so, their outcomes normally stay within academic circles and do not reach those with the power to realize them, such as businesses and policymakers. The heavy disregard for scientific claims concerning climate change, for example, would otherwise be nonexistent. This problem is further reinforced by the tendency of excellent professionals in the field to be less devoted to efficiently communicating their work to the public. Simplifying a jargon-filled concept to a layperson can sometimes be more mentally exhausting than researching — and some may feel that it is not relevant to their job.
Academic institutions have seemingly become sky-high castles for intellectual elites. The scientific works produced are incomprehensible to normal wavelengths of understanding, rendering them effectively useless to the communities they’re meant to serve. The subsequent resort of the general populace has instead been the prevalent pseudoscientific ideas that are peddled freely through more convenient mainstream media outlets. It is, of course, easier to fall prey to rhetorical embellishments than sticking to cold, hard facts to argue for a statement. For those who do not understand clearly how vaccines work, the insufficient explanation that it contains a dead virus could sound dangerous, and the longer these baseless fears are left to linger, the harder it may get to convince people otherwise.
Combating fear-mongering necessitates increased engagement by academia with the general public. Rather than focusing on citation frequency and references, publications should restructure their criteria for judging quality research such that a study’s direct impact on society is given more weight. The Australian Research Council launched the Engagement and Impact Assessment in 2018 to value more the engagement of research on the benefactors of its outcomes.
There should also be an emphasis on the improvements even in university scales to cultivate the sheer enthusiasm of students. Just this April, the Times Higher Education launched its Global University Impact Rating, which will evaluate universities more on their engagement and impact on society rather than the standard categories typically used in commonly used rating systems. Small steps like these bring forth bigger promises of a future where the general public can be involved in, or at least aware of, the academic research that would eventually benefit them.