For those of you who don't know, Jeopardy! is my favorite show. This week I'm supporting LeVar Burton's run as guest host. On Twitter, every night this week, I’m hosting a live commentary on each game in support of Burton and also in enjoyment of the show. Last night, there was a category on turtles. Each question included some fact about turtles, some about specific species, some about particular anatomical features of turtles, names of turtles, and more. Although I am a biologist, I didn’t get a single question correct! In fact, my husband, who is a computer scientist, answered multiple turtle category clues correctly during the game.
Because I was live-tweeting, others were able to witness my amusement and curiosity toward some of the turtle facts. Here's one below.
Now, there was a particular response to my inquiry about turtles that was quite surprising. Someone assumed that because I am a biologist, I should have expertise in turtle world. They thought that I was being sarcastic or playful when I was asking the questions about turtles. I mean, I’m a scientist, I study biology, I should know about turtles, right? Well, I don’t.
Side note: By the way, did you know that some turtles are FAST? I was inspired to do some independent research about turtles—nothing serious, just some quick internet searches. I found several credible videos of turtles moving QUICKLY! It seemed to be at least a couple miles per hour. Check out this thread of other people discovering that turtles are fast.
Back to the point: I’ll say it plain and clear; scientists don’t know everything. The assumption that scientists know everything is dangerous. Especially right now as science is on the forefront of the media and many people’s thoughts, in this pandemic. We don’t always have all of the answers, and it’s our job to ask questions, and find answers through research and experimentation. We build upon our knowledge and have formed a robust and historical body of knowledge that continues to be explored and expanded today. At the very core of science, is inquiry and exploration. If you think it is weird for a scientist to be curious, explore, have and ask questions about the world around them, then you might want to reflect on what your interpretation of science is. We should all unapologetically continue to be curious about our world. Even if you have a PhD, like me. There is always something to learn.
Scientists have specialties, meaning, not every scientist has a deep knowledge in all subject areas within science. It’s sort of like saying, “Hey, you make popcorn at the circus, you must know how to walk tightrope, too!” Just because you work at the circus doesn’t mean that you can perform all of the circus acts. I’m a molecular biologist, but that doesn’t mean that I am an expert about tigers, flowers, rocks, or clouds. If you ask me about turtles, I’m going to look at you sideways. There are, of course, some very talented people in science that are multifaceted in a way that they can speak deeply on several areas of expertise that are so broad, but that is not super only cool, but also a bit uncommon.
This also speaks to something that everyone should be doing in this information era: check your sources. Whenever I am writing about something that I am not an expert in, I make it clear so that you are aware that I am not giving an expert opinion, but rather just commenting and sharing. For example, my last article was about the space industry, but I can also point you to some expert in the space industry who you can lean on for more information. And I hate to say it, but it's true: even people who are speaking within their area of expertise can be wrong. It happens. And that's real. The most important thing in this case is when people can admit their mistake and correct themself without hesitation. The worst thing to do is double down on being wrong.
Lastly, when it comes to critically important information about the pandemic, personal health, safety, and hygiene, it’s so important that you listen to reliable sources. In addition to myself, here are some people that you can follow for important information about the pandemic: Dr. Uché Blackstock, Dr. Samantha Yammine, Dr. Shenell Tolson, and many more.
As always, I welcome discussion on my Facebook page!