Communicating our science

Above all else in participating in and contributing to the global effort of scientific investigation, I believe it is critical that we as scientists communicate our discoveries.  If we can’t explain why and how we’re exploring our niche topic, and we can’t convey what its broader importance and impact is in the context of the world in which we live, the exploration itself becomes irrelevant.  It is imperative that we can meaningfully communicate our work, not only to our peers, but to equally qualified and intelligent colleagues in disciplines different from our own.  That much is typically accepted as true, but I’d like to push further here and insist that it is just as imperative that we can meaningfully communicate our work to our surrounding community—the public citizens among whom we live and operate on a daily basis outside of the lab.

Whether the goal is to communicate with experts in our fields, or with our grandmothers who don’t know the first thing about what we’re studying, communicating our work involves a deliberate attention to detail and a translation of sorts to adjust for our audience.  Experts investigating similar topics still require the background that is relevant and specific to your work, because that background is not necessarily universal.  While it may be possible to discuss methods in more depth and more freely, those methods do sometimes require further explanation, even to those in your field.  More practically and universally, it is always necessary to articulate the gap in knowledge, how your research aims to address that gap, and what the broader, human impact is.

Communicating with anyone outside of your field, whether that’s your grandmother or another colleague, also requires that we abandon the jargon and abbreviations we hold so dear.  Any credibility scientists may have will be completely lost when the information conveyed is too lofty, difficult to understand, and inaccessible by their listeners.  In any case, it’s also always a challenge to truly engage your listeners when communicating about your seemingly narrow and irrelevant passion.  We are obligated as researchers, whose mission it is to better society through our research, to share our findings, in my opinion.  But if it becomes too dense or boring to listen to, the message will not be received, regardless of how groundbreaking we think it might be.