Scientists are terrible at talking about science.
You know this, I know this, the whole world knows this. This is really sad. What’s sadder is that our reputation as a profession is so terrible that a lot of people (by which I mean the general public, not other scientists) aren’t even willing to give us a chance. I can’t honestly blame them!
I’ve sat through more than my share of boring, confusing presentations, arcane journal articles, and textbricks – uh, textbooks. And many scientists think the formal ways we communicate within our profession – which are frankly not off to a good start – are what the rest of the world needs from us as well.
Equally frustrating to me is the fact that in my observation most laments on the sorry state of science communication focus on journalism, and occasionally early grades formal education. Yes, reporting by a journalist is probably the most common way for adults to get science news, but critics usually doesn’t even acknowledge all the other ways we learn about science. What about informal education (like at museums, zoos, and other community educators)? What about grades after middle school? What about self education, through books, youtube, and scouting out these (sometimes questionable) news articles? What about blogs, which include both accessible, forward–thinking communication and (please note, I don’t recommend these sites! I link them to demonstrate the crap) the worst dregs of pseudoscience.
When we ignore all the ways we communicate science, we ignore opportunities to improve. And when 1 in 4 Americans don’t know that astronomy and astrology aren’t the same thing… we have a lot of room to grow.
So what’s to be done? For me, here, I can talk through all the ways that scientists and journalists and educators stumble when it comes to communicating science through all its various channels, and the ways to avoid those pitfalls. I say this not as an expert in communication, and not as a person who is perfect at it. I have a lot of experience in this, and a lot more variety in my experience than most people my age, and I spend a probably inordinate amount of time thinking and reading about what makes education work. So stay tuned, and suggestions for topics and corrections/improvements to my thoughts are welcome!
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