by Kendra H. Oliver, Ph.D.
Science communication is part of everyday life. Especially as scientists, you will be asked to give talks, write proposals, and papers. You will also be asked to communicate with a variety of audiences and engage them. To be a successful scientist means that you must learn how to communicate. Most specifically, it means that you must learn how to communicate. To be a successful scientist, you must be a successful communicator.
But communication is not limited to the sciences. As humans, we communicate with one another daily. We have all experienced ineffective communication. For example, when someone gives wrong directions or when people pass gossip like a bad game of telephone. What happens when you communicate poorly in the real world? What does it mean to communicate effectively?
In simple terms, effective communication is about getting the other person to understand what you are trying to tell them. To do this, you need to capture your audience’s attention, make sure they know the message, and, most likely, have your audience do something based on your message. The thing that you might want your audience to do could be as simple as remembering your message, applying it, or providing feedback. A message is not just information but also its correct interpretation within a context. A message has meaning. A message is to information what conclusions are to results.
So what is so special about science communication?
Science explores our world and gives us all a sense of wonder from what we find. The practice of science goes beyond individual experiments. It is a life of camaraderie for the pursuit of new knowledge. The process can be painstaking, but it is the pursuit of uncertainty that distinguishes science. Science is trying to understanding underpinnings while also knowing that it will be impossible ever to have a complete answer. Yet, science is helping to address many of the world’s leading problems, such as COVID19, climate change, and new energy sources.
These public health issues are essential for the public to understand to make informed policy decisions. However, without some understanding of the scientific process, it is hard to communicate, since science rarely, if ever, offers a definite answer. Science is needed to make an informed decision regarding these global concerns, but the pursuit of scientific knowledge is never satisfied. How do we communicate our understanding while also explaining that the quest for knowledge is never-ending?
This is the challenge facing science communication. Our goal of science communicators is to communicate scientific findings effectively while also demonstrating the insatiability of scientific pursuits. Perhaps the greatest quest is to build a science of curiosity and wonder in viewers while bringing them up-to-speed on scientific concepts.