The case of a dukun multiplier that surfaced some time ago, as well as the virality of a shaman from Kalimantan named Ida Dayak due to his recent influx of patients, exposes an alarming symptom that the Indonesian people are suffering from. This phenomenon shows that the Indonesian people have a tendency to believe more in occult matters rather than something rational and evidence-based such as science and expertise.
A survey conducted by the Wellcome Global Monitor in 2020 showed that more Indonesians still trust traditional healers (with a confidence level of 13%), rather than scientists (with a confidence level of 12%). The survey results validate the belief that Indonesian people believe more in the occult than in science.
Science Communication Crisis
The cause of this problem could be due to the low literacy level of the Indonesian people. However, pointing the finger at society as the only guilty party is of course unfair. This kind of perspective causes scientists in the scientific community to fail to realize that they may also have a hand in perpetuating this problem. There is a possibility that people don’t believe in science and then choose to believe in occultism, because the scientific community, consciously or unconsciously, positions itself as exclusive and distant from society.
While the occult with all its practices, is very close and lives side by side with the community. What’s more, most of the latest scientific findings are only celebrated in closed spaces such as conferences or symposiums, and can only be accessed by fellow members of the science community itself. Most of these scientific findings end up as publications in reputable scientific journals without ever actually reaching the public. Dissemination of scientific findings through various mainstream platforms in a style that is friendly to the public is still urgently needed.
Efforts to communicate inclusive science in Indonesia have actually begun to be widely tried. For example, the efforts made by Dr. Indriawan Nugroho, Prof. Rhenald Kasali and Gita Wiryawan via Youtube, or as the team did by Kok Bisa and Satu Persen Indonesia through their Instagram accounts. These parties seem quite successful in producing scientific educational content to meet the public’s need for simple scientific explanations, considering their number of viewers has reached millions.
Even so, in general the science community in Indonesia has so far been clumsy in packaging scientific findings to be more down-to-earth so that they feel close and attractive to the common people. Indonesia may not have a shortage of scientists, but it clearly lacks scientists who are able to communicate their knowledge to the public in an articulate and simple manner.
Jitendra Khanna, researcher from the World Health Organization (WHO) in an article published by Science Communication Journal explained that the problem of science communication in developing countries is still a big challenge considering that most scientists in developing countries lack qualified training to apply good science communication, while science journalism which can fill this role has not been established for a while.
This does not happen in developed countries because science institutions, including universities there, have succeeded in developing and implementing programs aimed at equipping students with science communication skills. One interesting case example is the Science Café Course initiated by Anna Goldina and Ophelia Weeks, two biological scientists based in Ontario, USA.
The Science Café Course they initiated is an innovative two-semester training aimed at training biology students to develop their communication skills in order to be able to better explain the latest concepts and discoveries of biology to ordinary people.
Being able to produce quality science is one important thing, but being able to communicate science effectively to the public is another thing that is no less important. Indonesia still really needs strategic policies from scientific institutions, such as the Ministry of Education and Culture, BRIN, and universities to equip prospective scientists or academics with all the skills needed to be able to implement effective science communication.
As of 2023, there are 263,544 thousand Indonesian lecturers and researchers listed on the Science and Technology Index (SINTA) website, but none of them has as much popularity as Carl Sagan or Neil deGrasse Tyson. They are both science communicators who have managed to turn complicated astro-physics into something simple and fun through a television program called Cosmos.
Indonesia actually has a Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie, but unfortunately people are more familiar with his love story with his wife, Hasri Ainun, than his most meritorious theory in aviation science, namely the Crack Progression Theory, which made him known in the eyes of the world as one of the Indonesians with a the most brilliant in history. These symptoms show that Indonesia is still in a science communication crisis.
ChatGPT as a Bridge
While science institutions in Indonesia are building a strategy for providing science communication to scientists, ChatGPT has great potential to be a temporary solution to the problem of the science communication crisis in Indonesia. ChatGPT can not only be used as a personal assistant like Siri and Alexa, but also a personal science communicator for people.
Imagine if each person in society had a personal assistant with expert qualifications ready at any time to answer questions or explain anything to them. For example, when they are confused about choosing medicine or what is the right first treatment when they are sick, or when they are worried about finding answers why the crops they manage always fail to harvest or there are many other concerns that require scientific considerations. The public no longer needs to risk their money and safety with healers whose scientific credibility is unclear.
ChatGPT in particular even has two strengths that no great science communicator and professor in the world has, namely simplicity and scalability. With its powerful natural language processing capabilities, ChatGPT can convert complex scientific language into simpler ones quickly and accurately, so that whenever people have a question or need to understand something complex, they can just ask it.
In addition, ChatGPT can also be integrated into every household throughout Indonesia as a personal assistant to assist ordinary people in making rational and evidence-based decisions. Scalability that would be impossible to fulfill if experts were humans playing it.
ChatGPT has so far always been viewed with cynical sentiments, considering its ability to shift human roles in several jobs and all the uncertainties that follow. However, the existence of ChatGPT as a revolutionary technological advancement product cannot be avoided anymore. It is fitting that the existence of ChatGPT is utilized as much as possible for human benefit, including in the field of mainstreaming scientific findings. Utilizing ChatGPT as a bridge to bring science closer to the common people can be a wise first step.
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