Hands-on participation in research projects may be one of the keys to increasing citizens’ confidence in the science they see reported every day, according to researchers at the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences in Gainesville, Florida.
“Participating in science does more than teach people about science,” said study co-author Andrea Lucky, an assistant research scientist in the Institute’s entomology department. “It builds trust in science and helps people understand what scientific research is all about.”
The study focused on students in an introductory entomology course who’d had limited past experience with scientific research, measuring “their perception of the value of science, how much they trust it, and their level of interest in conducting research,” UF/IFAS reports. “Researchers found that not only were students significantly more interested in and trusting of science, they were significantly more interested in conducting research in the future. This pattern was especially strong when students evaluated their own changes in attitude.”
In their responses to a series of open-ended questions, “the majority of students were excited to ‘get inside’ the process of doing science, even if they didn’t want to be scientists themselves,” the researchers found.
“These projects are often thought of as primarily benefiting professional scientists or ‘science’ by helping professionals collect data over space and time, which they couldn’t do alone,” said co-author Katie Stofer, a UF/IFAS research assistant professor of agricultural education and communication. “However, it’s really a win-win for everyone involved. As we found in the paper, non-professionals can get a better idea of how professional science is done, even when they participate in what might be considered a small project.”