Science communication advice and opinions from Scientia
SciComm Corner – Striking the balance between severity and optimism when communicating climate change
As the main characters go about their everyday lives, a science reporter appears on a news feed in the background, their voice barely perceptible above the casual chatter that we are focused on. In a grave and slightly exasperated tone, they give the observant viewer the raw facts about whichever asteroid, outbreak, or tectonic reshuffling is about to finish off civilisation as we know it. Infuriatingly, the characters in the film don’t seem to be paying them even the slightest attention. It makes us want to shout at the screen, desperately willing them to notice the real problem at hand.
Science communication has taken significant strides outside the official efforts of space missions themselves. Through access to press releases and online journals, and the ability to easily interact with researchers, journalists from a wide range of publications are now able to engage a large sector of the public through a diverse range of different ways, including the in-depth articles you can read in Scientia.
Breaking down the barriers between scientists and the public is becoming increasingly important. With the recent COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the globe, it is more apparent than ever how important accessible and accurate scientific information is to society. Because these global problems often require scientific solutions, such as the development of new vaccines, the public should have the opportunity to engage if they choose to.
As you probably already know, academics are becoming increasingly aware of their responsibility to communicate more broadly, especially to the public.
Moreover, given the significant change in the way information is disseminated and accessed, people want more from researchers, academic institutions, and industry than ever before. As a result, the topic of science communication is a growing area of interest.
It is now widely accepted that broader science communication is a fundamental aspect of a scientist’s career. While many do recognise this, it can be a challenge to do it effectively.
Most universities and companies have a media department to take care of related matters, and they can do a good job. The problem with the latter is, the skill set required for public sci-comm is a little different and it is often better carried out by someone with experience in the area. Furthermore, if a representative does all of your public sci-comm, no one will get to know you, or your science, on an intimate level.
Sometimes, science can feel like a joke. Experiments don’t work, simulations produce physically impossible outcomes, and a question that you thought would take two weeks to answer instead can take two years. All too often we hide the messiness of science, presenting progress as linear rather than admitting the missteps and follies along the way. But surprises and setbacks shape the story of science as a human endeavour, and if we are unwilling to share this side of science, to laugh at ourselves, we risk alienating society from science altogether.
ABOUT SCICOMM CORNER
As well as bringing you the latest science through our publication, we also like to share our opinions and insights about the world of science communication. Here we provide practical guidance for scientists and science communicators who desire to communicate science to a broader audience in an effective and engaging manner.
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