charity / running / science education

Running in Undies: How Science Education Will Save Humanity

Today I participated in an undies run.

‘Undies run?!’ you say. ‘Surely that is far less scandalous than it sounds!’.

And you’d be wrong!

People’s Choice Credit Union joined up with The Australian Cancer Council to promote awareness for bowel cancer and to encourage screening in those over the age of 50 or with a familial history. I additionally read into it as being an opportunity to cast off the shackles of negative body image and to promote a healthy attitude towards the body, its appearance and its function. There is a well-documented increased in negative self-image in the past few decades which is slowly being assessed. But less so is the idea that most of what your body does is natural and nothing to be embarrassed about. There are certain illogical taboos about speaking to others about one’s own body and, when the body starts to do something a little unnatural, we feel too embarrassed to speak to someone – even a doctor who is trained in the glory and grossness of the human body. Many put up with pain/discharge/sickness just because we’ve been taught to be embarrassed by these situations.

My uncle has bowel cancer. As a medical scientist I understand what the condition is, what the process are, what treatment options are available and how to speak to a patient who might receive such news. But to know someone close who is diagnosed, to see them go through treatment, to understand more intimately on a personal level what it can do and how people cope when the reality of it hits delivers a very different understanding. That’s not to say that science is cold and unfeeling; scientists wouldn’t bother discovering anything if they didn’t feel. But understanding the biological processes doesn’t convey how it will affect people.

So to support my uncle, to raise money for his condition and to promote good body image (even if it was just to myself), I stripped down to my banking logo emblazoned undies and took a jog around Rymill Park with my lovely cousin. Off we went, zipping past people in morph suits and angel wings and dashing past spectators for the Tour Down Under who were blinded by the extreme pallor of my skin. It was all part of my daring rouse to raise $450 for The Cancer Council and take over the world. Well, maybe just to raise money… or maybe not.

In the end, 1225 runners raised $119,400.55 to go towards bowel cancer research. Science is generally tightly funded with those holding the money wanting to see consistent and speedy results, but it doesn’t work like that. Science is time consuming, difficult and expensive. Due to a lack of understanding of what goes into medical research (and scientific research in general) the public tend to see research as a money-sink. However, that money goes towards research into diseases and how they work which leads to investigation into points of susceptibility and discoveries in how to exploit disease. It takes time and dedication and talent to create better chemo drugs, better vaccinations, better medications, better technologies. Additionally, it takes better support which can only be gained from a better public understanding of what science is, how it’s used in the real world and how it applies to the public. Science communication, I feel, is one of the most important topics at present because it will lead to the non-scientist being able to understand the overlying ideas of technology. Carl Sagan, astronomer, astrophysicist, author, science communicator and one of my greatest heroes, once said:

“We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces”

This observation is likely to happen sooner rather than later. It’s important to educate non-scientists in such a way that sparks their curiosity rather than send them to sleep. Technology is all around us. Our bodies are machines unto themselves. Science is fascinating. Understanding how we work and how the life and inventions around us works will lead to confidence of choice and trust of scientific professionals. The teaching of science helps us to make informed decisions and encourages us to question what we are presented with and gather our own information to develop our opinions.

Knowing what’s happening around us and why it happens may in some cases, such as cancer, be a bitter pill to swallow, but the old saying ‘knowledge is power’ is as true now as it was when it was first said. The unknown is a devious wasteland – knowledge puts you on fertile grounds.

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