Sunday, August 21, 2016

Communicating science when facts aren’t enough

When I was a child, my family watched the popular TV series Dragnet. It popularized an oft-repeated, pop culture phrase Just the facts, ma’am.” Like many who gravitate to scientific fields, I value knowing the facts. So it’s counterintuitive to me, a data-loving person, that many in the public are not moved by factual information and explanation. 

At the recent North American Congress for Conservation Biology (NACCB) in Madison, Wisconsin, which had as its theme Science Communication for Conservation Action, many presentations reinforced that communicating scientific fact alone doesn’t have much impact on peoples’ attitudes or behaviors. To connect with audiences, messages and information need specific framing and must tap into the audience’s values. I had some appreciation of this before going to NACCB, but the meeting drove it home for me in a powerful way; it has stimulated much contemplation on my part. In particular, what does it mean for me—and for the clients with whom I work on science-based communications—when facts aren’t enough?

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Social Media-users or Not, Scientists Must Be Communicators

Yesterday, The Guardian published an essay entitled “I’m a serious academic, not a professional Instagrammer.”  The writer, a PhD student, laments the pressure placed on academics to be active users of social media. I feel for this student, but fear for them as well. Today, all scientists need to be—and are—communicators. 

Throughout their careers, academics must convey the “So what?” of their work to a range of audiences, including administrators, funders, journalists, and policy-makers.