Disconnect of Science Communication

By: Bianca Walker

What exactly is science communication and why is there such a disconnect between scientist and the general public? Communication can be defined as the exchange of information which can be relayed by talking, demonstrations, PowerPoints, posters, etc. People are generally good communicators, but when it comes to science, things get a little more complicated. As a society, we are constantly inventing new ways for how we communicate information amongst ourselves. While our parents and grandparents are watching the news and listening to the radio, our generation is getting our information from media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram. Many of us are also tuning into podcast’s for entertainment and keeping up with current events. Unfortunately, not many scientists view social media and other outlets as a way of effectively informing the public. But for an effective response, communication efforts have to be just as important as the research that goes into the science itself. This means that the platforms that are constantly used to convey the news and current events must also inform its audience with correctly researched and reported information. 

We are currently going through a crisis in which the people who need to be receiving the information are either not receiving the right information, simply none at all, or cannot understand the information presented to them. Science communication is so important because it informs people on important topics that need to be reported.  Scientists can write the most eloquently detailed paper about the research that he/she has accomplished, but people who aren’t scientist still can’t understand it. Science doesn’t do any good if the public doesn’t know what it means, how it affects them, and what preventative steps they need to take. They think that it is unrelatable and irrelevant to their lives simply because they cannot wrap their head around the information that was presented to them. This is exactly why it’s imperative that the platforms and the medias conveying scientific reporting’s, not only understand what they are reporting on, but know how to report it to the masses in a way that they can understand the full context of the reporting’s. In much of the African American communities and communities of lower socioeconomic class, effective communication is lacking and has been for years. When receiving information, African Americans do not see people who reflect them, their background, or their struggles, therefore they cannot relate, nor do they realize that this affects them too. There is such a concerning disconnect amongst this group, especially when it comes to the education of common health issues that can and will most likely affect them. A study showed that black people would be more willing to go to the doctor and listen to scientific information when it was by someone who they could relate to.  

Albert Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply, then you don’t understand it well enough”. And not to say that scientist do not understand what they are doing, but they should be able to explain it to the public without having to necessarily “dumb down” the information. If the public cannot understand it, then science serves no purpose because the message that is being conveyed is constantly being misinterpreted or not understood. A major issue with communication is that scientist presume that their audience has the same background that they have and that they are able to understand the terminology, charts, and data that they use. While the presenter is continuing with their presentation, their audience is still trying to figure out what their previous point is. A huge barrier can be overstepped if they simply slow down and define terms when they are using them, or use scenarios that people can relate to so that they can understand, retain, and act on the information that is being given. By knowing your audience, many of the scientific communication gaps can be sealed by knowing how to effectively present so the audience can understand.  

https://www.pnas.org/content/116/16/7650

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/effective-communication-better-science/

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