Millennial, a distinction I proudly claim for myself, generally refers to a person born between 1980 and 2000. This polarizing generation has received their fair share of hate from multiple sources. However, we are young and starting to take over the bulk of the U.S workforce. Thus, whether or not you like us, the immediate future of the country is in our hands.
Luckily, this may be exactly what science needs: new ideas and a fresh perspective. Decades of poor communication between the scientific community and the public has led to distrust and frustration for both parties (for more on these topics check out Unscientific America). The figure to the left, adapted from data from a Pew Research Center studyshows an alarming difference in opinion between the public and scientists on important domestic issues. For example, 35% of U.S. adults remain unconvinced of evolution despite a near 100% consensus among scientists. Furthermore, only half of U.S adults agree withscientists on the cause of climate change, one of the world’s greatest threats.
But, how can millennials change this information gap? Well, despite the adversity, scientists in all fields have stayed busy churning out meaningful and useful data that have led to staggering advancements in medicine, technology, and our understanding of everything around us. Thus, millennials have grown up in a time of rapidly expanding scientific discovery, which might explain our heavy use of technology. A 2010 Pew Research Center study concluded that, not only do millennials use newer technologies more than other generations, but millennials consider “technology use” a defining characteristic more than any other generation.
Importantly, millennial’s positive attitudes towards science are not entirely defined by iPhone usage. In fact, millennials #@!%ing love science. Promoted as “the lighter side of science”, I Fucking Love Science (IFLScience) is an internet sensation that shares amusing science facts, news, and discoveries, and social media users flock to it! The IFLScience Facebook page and Twitter account has 21 million likes and 165 thousand followers, respectively, and the franchise has since spawned its own website. Elise Andrew, the founder of IFLScience and a millennial herself, described the simple recipe for her success in an interview with Mashable. “I’m just a curator. I’m just telling people things I think are cool,” Andrew explains. This is not the only example of millennials thinking science things are cool. After all, we are the generation that grew up watching Bill Nye the Science Guy and have since moved on toThe Big Bang Theory.
While it’s clear millennials are more partial to science, it’s not certain whether they will actually save it. Why does science need saving? One of biggest issues scientists face today is the quickly diminishing pool of research funding. This is especially true for young scientists starting their careers. It’s no secret that the country is facing economic struggles with a rising debt-to-GDP ratio, but few realize the direct effect this has on research science. Currently, greater than 80% of project grants do not receive funding from the federal government. Lack of funding limits job opportunities and stunts the advancement of science. Thus, federal support is vital for the scientific discoveries that Americans depend on to improve our lives.
Unfortunately, political involvement is a severe deficiency among millennials. Voter turnout is significantly lower compared to other generations and millennials are generally uninterested in politics. This is a problem! Millennial’s beliefs and priorities are clearly different from older generations, but by remaining silent at the polls, millennials allow others to decide who runs the country, and become complicit partners in the downfall of American science.
Can millennials save science in the U.S.? Absolutely! We have the enthusiasm and sheer numbers to make a difference. Will millennials save science? That remains to be seen. The interest level is there, but the country needs active political participation to make significant changes to ensure the preservation and advancement of science. I’ll end with a quote from the always poignant Dr. Seuss. “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
Anthony Barrasso Anthony is a 3rd year graduate student studying retinal development. His career interests include cancer research, education and politics. Outside of lab, he likes playing with dog and eating delicious food. Follow him on twitter @barrasso67.