By Davin Means
The overarching goal of research and the pursuit of science is to develop concepts that explain how the world works. However once these concepts are developed and information is obtained, the next step is usually the application of this knowledge to our world and daily lives. Furthermore, today’s cutting edge research and discoveries almost always can find some sort of cross section or insertion into your current life trajectory. Thus, the overwhelming quantity of novel information that can become directly applicable to everyday lives supports the assertion that communication of science to the general public is of the utmost importance.
Before COVID-19, it seemed as though the world enjoyed the fruits of modern science, and it was fairly interested in the future possibilities and lofty ideals of science. However, specific details of scientific discovery were often overlooked by the general public. The scientific community would do their research, publish it in science community isolated journals, and rest assured that if it was of particular interest to the public, some other party would present it to that audience. However with the advent of COVID-19, direct communication between the science community and the general public is required now more than ever. It is as though we’ve time traveled back to the late 1950’s and 60’s when the space race was in full swing and it seemed like our entire validity as a nation rested on reaching the moon before the Soviets. Now the people WANT to know every little detail. The progress in finding a cure for COVID-19 is of extreme concern. Many people are at home with nothing to do but worry. Information about this virus is too important, and the public isn’t distracted enough (pre murder of George Floyd) to forget about the issue and revisit it once a cure is found. Thus the release of updates on progress about a cure and methods for staying safe and protected from the virus is of the utmost importance and concern. There can no longer be a delay between discovery and public knowledge. Thus direct communication between the science community and the general public have been absolutely essential in keeping people safe and encouraging the general public’s confidence in the science community’s ability to return things to normal. Without effective science communication, the general public would not understand the concept and necessity for social distancing and flattening the curve.
Even if we completely disregard the current pandemic, science communication is essential to making informed decisions within today’s society. For example, the only reason that the general public actively rebukes the current presidential administration’s suggestion to withdraw from the WHO, or even the decision to do away with over 60 environmental protection rules, is because the importance of such restrictions and participation has been thoroughly conveyed to the people via science communication. Effective science communication also allows the everyday citizen to take his own health into his hands. It allows people like you and me to know the best actions we should take or foods/substances we should avoid in order to preserve our health.
What exactly is scientific communication? Science communication is the ability to send a message about a science related discovery or finding through a channel that effectively reaches your target audience. Furthermore, successful scientific communication results in your target audience taking action or responding to your message in your intended manner. Our first step in effective scientific communication is to determine our audience. In this instance, we emphasize the importance of reaching the general public, thus our target audience could be laypersons that are slightly interested in cutting edge science or technologies. We could be targeting individuals at risk for a disease, or like in regards to our current pandemic, we could target the general public as a whole because the information needs to be known by all. Secondly we need to clearly define our message. Scientists who spend years focusing on a specific subject are likely to explain their findings in a way that individuals outside of academia are unable to understand. Thus it is important to simplify your message in a manner that the layperson could relate to and derive meaning from. You should place heavy emphasis on the exact take home message that you wish your audience to receive and remember. Thirdly we need to choose an effective channel for our message. This is determined based on our audience. For example, if your audience is the general public, you wouldn’t depend on a published scientific journal to reach that audience. If you wished to reach young male athletes, you probably wouldn’t promote your message on a platform catered to house renovation. Lastly, it is important that you analyze the results received from your scientific communication, and modify your communication strategies to receive better outcomes and audience engagement.
In a time when our world depends on quick and efficient dissemination of information, science communication skills are of the utmost relevance and importance. Effectively choosing your audience, tailoring your message, and selecting your channel can result in the overwhelming success or failure of your venture. A common adage is that a picture is worth a thousand words. If this is true, a video must be worth at least a million words. Videos and graphics are an extremely effective way to deliver your message in an engaging manner that captures your audience’s attention. Additionally, in today’s society of smartphones and smart technology, social media often provides the best channel and platform to reach a large audience. Broadcasting your scientific communication via social media also allows for the tracking of your audience’s response and engagement to your message. This enables the effective analysis and modification of your science communication strategies in order to achieve your intended goals in an efficient manner.