By Aashika Jagadeesh, Danielle Park, and Xinyi Christine Zhang, 2023 Governor's STEM Scholars
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, many indigenous Spanish speakers living in California were not even aware that masks and vaccines could protect them from COVID-19.
Language barriers within the science community exacerbated the dangers of the pandemic, which risked the health of thousands of Hispanic-Americans.
The COVID-19 pandemic made it clear that efforts to communicate scientific information to policymakers, professionals, and the general public have been insufficient. Scientists should strive for effective, inclusive communication with the public to prevent the spread of misinformation and improve representation of marginalized communities in STEM.
The root of the science communication problem lies in the fact that the diversity of the American population is not adequately reflected in current STEM discourse. As Asian-American women in STEM, we’ve seen firsthand the consequences of the lack of minority representation in scientific communication.
Women and people of color are underrepresented in science media, which can lead to a lack of diversity in the stories that are covered and read by the public. The Global Media Monitoring Project found that only 14 percent of science stories focus on women. Furthermore, only 19 percent of quoted experts are women, with a much lower percentage being Black, Indigenous and people of color. This lack of diversity in science communication may perpetuate stereotypes and dampen the urgency to combatting science-related issues that affect minority populations.
Taking this single, culturally-narrow approach to science communication excludes already-marginalized populations in the country, as seen with the indigenous Spanish speakers during the pandemic. Nearly 36 percent of adults in the U.S. have low health literacy, which disproportionately affects non-native English speakers and those of low socioeconomic status. Thus, non-inclusive science communication may be detrimental to the health of minorities in the U.S.
With March being designated as STEM Month in New Jersey, it is critical to recognize the value of diversity in STEM discourse and begin taking action to improve it. More resources need to be invested into promoting inclusive science communication, and amplifying the voices of diverse STEM professionals is a crucial first step.
A study by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania found that patients reported a more positive patient experience when they shared the same racial or ethnic background as their physician. “In a healthcare setting, racial and ethnic biases can affect health care delivery and ultimately, lead to health disparities,” explains the study’s author Junko Takeshita, MD, PhD, MSCE. In this sense, increasing diversity among science communicators in various STEM fields may help them more effectively relate to their audience.
Ultimately, scientists should tailor their communication in ways that better resonate with individuals from marginalized communities—whether it’s through funding the translation of scientific resources, inspiring more underrepresented minorities in science to spearhead communication efforts, or using social media to reach a broader audience.
By becoming more aware of and working to remedy the gender and race disparities present in science communication, we—as members of the STEM community—can create a brand new ending for all citizens. A new ending where people can see themselves reflected in their education, workplaces, and society at large.
Aashika Jagadeesh is a senior at Fair Lawn High School. She has been named a Regeneron Science Talent Search Scholar and a NJ Governor’s School in Engineering and Technology Scholar. Danielle Park is a senior at Paramus High School and the national winner of the Award for Aspirations in Computing (NCWIT) and New Jersey Jefferson’s Award Winner for Service Through STEM. Xinyi Christine Zhang is a senior at South Brunswick High School. She has been named an MIT THINK Scholar and a NJ Governor's School in the Science Scholar.. All of 2023 Governor’s STEM Scholars.