Communication of Science

The communication of science to the general public has become the responsibility of scientists over the last century. It has become increasingly important because the public must be able to understand the basics of science to make informed decisions. This includes communicating with the people whose taxes fund scientific research, the legislators who will use science to inform policymaking, and families who are trying to make informed decisions based on what they read on the internet.

Currently, science journalism is the main mode of distributing scientific information to the public. The worst case scenarios of this process gone wrong are when pieces of science journalism oversimplify, generalize, or exaggerate basic information. It has become increasingly clear how the relationship between scientists and the media shapes the transmission of such information. However, the blame for ineffective communication is often placed on the journalists when scientists also play a key role in transmitting information to the public.

Moving forward, it is necessary to identify how the upstream interaction between scientists and the media can be changed. The first step is to identify that communication to a general audience audience is inherently difficult. Communication of scientific ideas can easily become incomprehensible for the average person due to the use of jargon and unsimplified explanations of complicated processes that are often necessary to make conclusions in scientific research. Developing skills to communicate science at an appropriate level requires deliberate practice and careful attention to language, for which most scientists have not received training.

This lack of formal training in communication is stems from a gap in undergraduate and graduate training. Although curriculum reform is necessary to incorporate widespread training, many programs and guidelines for science communication have already been proposed. For now, it is the responsibility of individuals and small academic communities to enact local changes to improve science communication. Scientists should strive to develop these skills along with their scientific knowledge and encourage other aspiring scientists to do the same.

References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3852879/
  2. http://physicstoday.scitation.org/doi/10.1063/PT.3.1296
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