Blog 7 – Communicating Science

Although I was out of town during the special class on communicating science, I’d like to use this blog to talk about why communicating science is so important and how we, as scientists, can improve this communication.

Why Is Communicating Science so Important? In class, we had a lengthy discussion about why communicating science is so important. As an environmental engineer, my work is likely to influence both government policy and public opinion, making this communication even more vital. On the other hand, as engineers we are often stereotyped as introverted and unable to communicate with “normal” people. I believe inability to communicate has contributed to some of the major political/environmental controversies of today, including the continued debate concerning climate change. Even when scientists agree, the message can be lost in translation; when they disagree, the result can be even more confusing. Sometimes, scientists seem to believe that the general public just isn’t interested in learning the science, but I don’t think this is true. When I tell people that I am studying environmental engineering, they want to hear my opinion about the environmental issues they have been hearing about on the news, whether those issues relate to my research area or not. I think, as scientists, we have a certain responsibility to not only understand these issues, but to be able to answer questions about them effectively.

Scientists on Stage – What Can We Learn from Improv? If communicating science is so important, as I outlined above, why isn’t this skill emphasized in our training? This is something I don’t have an answer to, but that I think is beginning to change. I found the information posted on Scholar about the “improv” approach to training scientists to be better communicators very interesting. I think this is something that would help me a great deal, personally – although learning to communicate clearly is important to me, I struggle with my lack of confidence in speaking. My most dreaded part of any conference presentation is the “Q&A” portion, when the audience can ask me anything (anything?!) about what I have presented. In effect, I am having difficulty improvising around my knowledge of the subject. It is comforting to know that other engineers and scientists struggle with this, too, and that we are working on methods to address this problem.

Bonus link:
Humorous article about media coverage of science at the same level as in sports

What do you think? How important is it to you that the public understands your research? Did the exercises in the special “Communicating Science” class help you?

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