New Series: Science Communicators – Why We Love Communicating ScienceBy Collin Maessen on comment
Technology and the science it’s based on are everywhere in our society. Understanding science is crucial for navigating yourself through our society and taking part in the political process. Without this we can’t make sound decisions on what we as a society want to do.
It doesn’t mean that someone has to be completely versed in a scientific subject to make informed decisions. With the amount of information we have on all kinds of science subjects and what this means for the issues we face that is just not possible. Though at least a basic understanding is needed.
For scientists informing the public is not an easy job with the different levels of education and different target groups. It takes expertise and time to translate the language science uses to a more accessible form. Wording that would be perfectly acceptable among scientists could easily misinform or convey the risks incorrectly to the public.
Combine this with vested interests who actively try to misinform the public and you can have a recipe for disaster. This is why the tobacco industry successfully delayed legislation for about half a century. They very effectively used tactics to confuse the public.
It’s in this environment that a certain type of person steps forward. Someone who understands the language scientists use, who understands the evidence and research scientists use to base their conclusions on, and knows how to communicate this to the public: the science communicator.
These science advocates who inform the public and combat misinformation are a very varied group. They can be scientists or have no scientific training whatsoever. But all, for whatever reason, understand the language of science and work with scientists to inform the public. Sometimes they might be famous nationally, or even internationally, like Neil DeGrasse Tyson or Bill Nye the Science Guy. But there are far more like Katharine Hayhoe, Phil Plait, Peter Sinclair, or John Cook who do their work more in the background.
They are the ones that create the tools and information that gets used by policy makers, in schools or to explain the science to friends. They are also often the same people who give presentations, lectures or courses that help you understand a scientific subject and what this means for us.
This can be very rewarding, but become famous or effective enough and you’ll become a target. The denial of scientific findings is very real and can lead to you being attacked. Quite viciously in some cases. It certainly can make communicating science ‘interesting’ while combatting mental processes that makes someone want to reject the science.
So why do it? Why face public scrutiny and attacks? What motivates someone to read the scientific literature and pick the brains of scientists so that they can inform the public? Why spend so much time doing that? There is a story behind every single science communicator that answers these questions.
This motivated me to write interview questions, invite science communicators for an interview, and then grabbed my camera to capture their responses. Of course I expected the answer that they love science, even if they might not be a scientists. And that they love communicating this to the public.
But they also shared stories on how and why they became a science communicator. It’s these stories that had interesting, and sometimes funny, anecdotes. Some stories surprised me with what lead to someone becoming a science communicator. In the end I walked away from these interviews with some great footage.
The first person I interviewed was John Cook. He is the Climate Communication Fellow for the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland. He also founded skepticalscience.com in 2007, a website that examines the arguments of the global warming ‘sceptics’:
This was just the first video of the video series Science Communicators – Why We Love Communicating Science of which I’m going to release more videos the coming months. I already had the honor to interview several science communicators. But this is just the start, I hope to interview many more.
So who would you like to see next in this series?
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