Catalyst Summer2015


Working to Build Trust in Science

Sahar Houshdaran supports UCS because she believes in access to science for everyone.

Photo of Sahar Houshdaran

As a molecular biologist, Sahar Houshdaran says she is often sought out at dinner parties to answer questions about science for curious friends. Some people might tire of discussing their work in social settings, but not Houshdaran. “It’s my responsibility to explain,” she says. “Science belongs to everybody.”

Houshdaran is a postdoctoral fellow in the School of Medicine at the University of California–San Francisco, a career she says is the fulfillment of a long-held dream. By age 13, Houshdaran knew she wanted not only to be a scientist, but also to earn a PhD in molecular biology. Today, she says, she seizes every opportunity to inspire a similar passion for science in young people—but a lot has changed about the public perception of science. “It seems that some people have lost interest and trust in science and scientists,” she says. “And people losing trust in science results in distortion, misrepresentations, and denial, with dire consequences.”

That thought is troubling to Houshdaran, whose research focuses on reproductive health and disorders—in particular endometriosis, which can cause debilitating pain and infertility in women. “I don’t know anybody who does science exclusively for fun. We really believe in its potential to help and improve human (and other species’) lives,” she says.

That’s why Houshdaran patiently fields endless science questions and staffs her department’s booth each year at the Bay Area Science Festival, where she teaches children to stain slides and view cells through microscopes. It’s also why she says she supports the Union of Concerned Scientists’ efforts to create a healthier planet and safer world by making science more accessible to the public.

“In science, details matter. So if we don’t explain what we do, the science can get misinterpreted. It can get oversimplified,” she says. “I am an advocate for open access—and I joined UCS to help restore the role and status of science in society.”