How better science communication can benefit everyone PlatoBlockchain Data Intelligence. Vertical Search. Ai.

How better science communication can benefit everyone

Claire Malone says that both physicists and the public benefit if researchers make science communication central to their day-to-day activities

Better connections Science communication can help build direct links between scientists and the public who fund them. (Courtesy: iStock/miaklevy)

Sharing scientific information is as old as science itself. Early scientific pioneers agreed that it was important to discuss ideas, show experiments to others and read what other scientists were doing. Today’s scientists continue this tradition when they discover something new and interesting about the world, publishing their work in journals and discussing it at conferences. Doing so allows findings to be disseminated and helps others with their own research. But for this vital step to take place, knowledge must be transferred – in other words, science must be communicated.

Centuries ago, those interested in such pursuits were few and far between. Today, however, the results of scientific research are spread far and wide – and sometimes even beyond the confines of science. Some scientists, for example, want to communicate their research in the hope that policy makers make more informed decisions. This interaction between scientists, the public and policy makers can even raise the profile of “citizen science” initiatives by attracting attention to their aims.

In the past few decades, however, a disconnect has emerged between scientists who generate knowledge and the journalists, bloggers and science communicators who disseminate it to the public. This has reinforced the view held by some scientists that these popularizers distort the findings of their research to generate a better headline and more readers. But it is not just the popularizers’ fault; researchers often lack the skills to effectively communicate their research to journalists and the public.

Indeed, I have witnessed this culture at first hand. During my postgraduate studies, I came across few PhD supervisors who supported, or harder still, encouraged their students to get involved in science communication. The opportunity to participate in outreach events was often viewed as a “tick-box exercise” to demonstrate transferable skills. Such activities, it was felt, got in the way of the “real work” of pure scientific research.

As a consequence, scientists who engage with the public are often less well regarded by their peers – there seems to be a false dichotomy that you can be a good scientist or a popularizer, but not both. This picture is slowly changing, in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced scientists to explain their findings and offer their opinions to the public. The last few years have shown that talking, explaining, listening and learning are important skills in the collective effort to control the pandemic. So how can we carry on this trend?

Communication as a skill

Science communication used to be viewed as a simple process, with a clear progression of information from scientist to journalist to the wider public. This broadly describes the outdated, and slightly patronizing, “deficit model” of science communication, where the public was only required to pay attention. But science is becoming increasingly interdisciplinary, with more scientists from different fields collaborating with each other, while the Internet is radically changing how the public access and share information. These developments have blurred the boundaries with the traditional flow of scientific information.

Perhaps we should rather consider science communication as a continuum. The communication skills scientists need to explain their findings to collaborators from different scientific backgrounds are not all that different from the skills needed to communicate with journalists or to non-scientists. Moreover, scientists who have an active social media profile can enter direct discussions with the public on their research. With this in mind, I think we should place more emphasis on teaching the next generation of scientists that effective communication is an indispensable research skill.

Doing so would not only raise the profile of science communication but also build direct links between scientists and the public who fund them. Adopting this approach would also create accessible scientific role models. Young people are much more likely to go into science if they can see someone they identify with who inspires them. Making research accessible and engaging to a wide audience can inspire future generations to continue with research.

Yet we must not fall into the trap of thinking that role models alone determine what career we pursue. As a young person who is passionate about physics myself, the lack of professional physicists with non-degenerative physical disabilities did not stop me from going into science. So, as well as presenting young people with positive role models, it is also important to give them the confidence to blaze their own trail through life.

In this information-hungry age, it will always be essential to have people dedicated to disseminating scientific information to the public across all forms of media. Yet if we are to achieve the highest quality scientific communication, current researchers must up their game and not just view the activity as something reserved for those outside academia.

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  • Source: https://physicsworld.com/a/how-better-science-communication-can-benefit-everyone/

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