The curiosity of children is endless and so are their questions. Amid all the attempts to assess and analyze the world around them, none is as confounding as the incessant interrogation of a single question…
No matter how convincing the answer, one can be sure there will be a subsequent query. The respondent is thus required to come up with yet another answer to satisfy the request and hopefully – but not likely – end the discussion. But as many a person has learned – and my parents would certainly agree -there is really only one option guaranteed to quell the inquiry: “I don’t know.”
Although this may seem to be an inconvenient episode of dealing with the younger generation, the insistence to know as much as possible reveals the ambition of the child and the hope to be a success later in life. Not surprisingly, “Why?” is also the core of scientific thought and acts as a fundamental base for sciPOP.
In the process of scientific story re-telling, the outward goal is to share relevant information in an interesting and meaningful way. Yet looking inwards, the objective should be to learn as much as possible about the back story. This not only invigorates the interest in the subject, but also adds a critical component to sciPOP: depth.
Take any idea that you find interesting. Now, ask the following questions…
- What about it makes you interested?
- When did it first interest you?
- Who was influential in making it interesting?
- How does it interest you?
I would say the answer to most of these questions is short, taking up little to no time.
Now ask yourself this question: Why does it interest you?
Perhaps this answer will be a little longer; a sentence or two. Now take a moment and re-examine the reasons. If the subject fulfills a need, why do you have that need? If the topic satisfies a want, why do you have that want? If there is a passion fostered by the concept, why do you have that passion?
When you’ve answered those questions, continue the cycle, asking why and offering a response. Eventually, you will hit a point where the answer will be, I don’t know. When you’ve reached that point, work back to the topic of interest and see just how much you have learned about yourself in the context of the subject.
You have just conducted sciPOP research. Inasmuch as the topic is the forefront of the discussion, the back story is what gives it POP. You can use as much or as little of that information as you feel necessary in your initial offering. But don’t feel the information you’ve gained will be lost. Questions will undoubtedly come and most will deal with aspects relating to the back story. You’ll be well prepared to respond and engage.
There is another reason asking, “Why?” works: it filters out the noise. Far too often, especially in science, a flood of information can confound a message and hurt any attempt to share. “Why?” allows you to focus on the scope of the topic and stick to what matters. Although this may seem unnecessary, when your sciPOP work is challenged, this exercise is a perfect way to be prepared.
The most relevant example is the change of subject in which questions or concerns appear to be moving the topic away from your point or message. This is a strategy used in many a political pundit argument and can effectively kill any chance at ensuring the public are education, enriched, engaged and entertained.
However, with the “Why?” exercise completed, you have the ability to point out the lack of appropriate scope and the attempt to move the conversation away from the topic. This probably only happens when controversial subjects are discussed but one never knows when someone will make this attempt.
Personally, I go through this process for every sciPOP action. As soon as I see a subject I feel would be of interest to the public, I head straight to the scientific literature (education) to learn as much as I can about why the subject has been published and its relevance to the public (enrichment). Then I head into the world of the internet to read personal accounts, blogs and news to get a handle on why this topic might bring action (engagement) int he community. I finally attempt to find a good link in the cultural world (entertainment) to find out why this subject is not merely academic but already a part of our world.
I admit this is rather time-consuming at the start. I would take a day or two just to get to the point where I felt comfortable writing. Other sciPOP-ers seem to be having the same timelines as they establish their journeys. Yet, as you find your groove, the time will lessen and you will soon find yourself enjoying the process.
My hope is eventually, as you become comfortable, you will find asking “Why?” second nature. Whenever you are faced with something – anything – new, you’ll ask and answer and ask again incessantly. Although “I don’t know,” is inevitable, the journey of learning will provide a combination of information for the present as well as contentment for the future…until the next interesting thing comes around.
Much like those amazing, endearing and curious children.
(This is the fourth installment of the sciPOP series of articles which I hope you are enjoying. If you wish, leave me a comment to tell me what childhood curiosity still brings you joy…)