Quite recently, I got into a conversation with someone outside my field about the amount of information we are exposed to on a daily basis whether through morning news notifications on our phone, articles on our newsfeed or videos forwarded through messaging applications. He told me that he would often read the headlines and summary of science articles and share it with others if he found it interesting but didn’t have the time or background knowledge to reason out the author’s interpretations.
Can he be blamed? We all know that humans enjoy a good story. Couple a narration that plays with their emotions with some statistics and a good majority will walk away sold on the proposed conclusion. This formulaic method has served media companies and journalists quite well; so how can we as scientists or scientists-in-training adopt this approach to combat misleading articles/videos with good science?
The key is effective science communication. Our responsibility doesn’t just end with completing our experiments and defending our hypothesis in front of a committee. Continual progress in all areas of science requires the public to be up-to-date not only with new discoveries but also with the shifting terminologies used within disciplines. This will enable them to better interpret the concepts they read or hear about. It will also help the country as a whole if policymakers can make informed decisions on environmental sustainability, healthcare or even research funding for the next generation of scientists.
As more and more researchers become aware of the importance of improving how they communicate their science, various techniques and strategies have been proposed. A recent experiment conducted by Britt Wray led to the development of AURATOR (https://aurator.org/#!/) , an interactive web-based platform in which experts with different skill sets working in the field of synthetic biology contributed audio diaries every week for a period of three months. During this time, there were debates regarding issues in the field and open-ended discussions about new project ideas that took place not only among the experts but also with interested members of the public. This novel approach allowed the public to be more actively involved in the scientific process as they were able to listen in and discuss their views over the course of weeks.
More investigators have taken to Twitter to share research tidbits and to break down complex principles into easily comprehensible pieces thus reaching a wider, more diverse audience. Irrespective of the medium of communication, the first step is to know your audience. Are we ready with an elevator pitch that can be tailored to kids, friends and family, or people in our own field when asked about our research? It’s always good to start off with why they should care before plunging into the details. Watching the listener’s eyes light up with understanding is something I personally find rewarding.
Science blogging is yet another format of science communication that we at NGSF embrace and encourage. Those of you who read through this entire post will know that the title is completely unrelated. Hence Proved!