Editors: Whit Froehlich, Scott Barolo, and Irene Park
I doubt Dr. Shaena Montanari ever thought that a single Twitter conversation would earn her 3,000 new followers (1,000 within two hours) and help launch a new hashtag. But that’s what happened when she replied to a political tweet that mentioned velociraptors.
Despite countless trips to zoos across the country, there is one elusive species I have never encountered: Scientia normalis. This species is more often referred to by their common name, scientists. Scientists are not normally seen in public, often preferring to remain in their native habitat of the laboratory. Because of this, stereotypes dominate the perception of the entire species and are often reinforced in popular culture and the media. These stereotypes depict a species of mostly older males with unruly hair, glasses, a white lab coat, and a vial of brightly colored liquid. (*cough* Albert Einstein *cough*) Recently, however, there has been an effort to remove some of the mystery surrounding this species and correct the outdated stereotypes.
“The great enemy of communication…is the illusion of it.” –William H. Whyte
What if 9 out of every 10 Americans had trouble understanding and responding to ordinary traffic signs? It would be a national emergency, of course. Imagine the chaos, the crashes, and the loss of life that would occur if people didn’t know how to interpret stop signs, one way signs, do not enter signs, speed limits, and sharp curve ahead warnings. The public’s health and safety would be in grave danger and immediate action would be required.
“So, what do you do for a living?” It’s a simple question you’ve probably heard more times than you can count, but it isn’t necessarily easy to answer. When you’re a scientist, jargon is king in your day-to-day interactions. A seemingly simple question like this can induce an internal battle between the highly technical, scientific part of your brain and the social part that wants to relate to people outside your area of study. Winning that battle is only achieved by effectively communicating your work with people outside your field.Continue reading “Keep it simple: Explaining (science) with only the ten hundred most used words”
Over the past months, I went to several scientific conferences on a covert mission. While I was technically there to learn and discuss my work, I wanted to find out why so many academics avoid engaging with the public about their research.
I ambushed scientists at happy hours, in lounges set up for networking, and other social events. Every chance I had, I asked, “Do you try to engage with a broad, non-scientific audience about your research and ideas?”
While many scientists I talked to thought scientific communication and engagement were important, they didn’t do it themselves. When possible, I asked why they didn’t.
Imagine this. The check engine light comes on in your car.
You drive it to an auto parts store to get the check engine code read free of charge and an employee gives you their best guess for the needed repair. Feeling you have the solution, you drive to your local repair shop (that would have charged $100 to read the code!) and request the repair.
Proud of your resourcefulness, you pay, pick up your car and leave with a swagger to your step.
Until 3,000 miles later when the check engine light comes on. Again.