Why does science communication matter?

Talking – a mastery of humanity. Communication, however, is an art, one that must be tailored to engage the audience. The words themselves need to be understood, and not only by colleagues but by outsiders and the general public.

Communication is an essential part of everyday life as a scientist. They must connect with a variety of audiences, by writing papers and proposals, presenting talks, and educating others both within and outside of the science community. Science has been around for thousands of years, and one would have thought that with such experience in communication, scientists would have the art down pat. No such luck. Whilst there has been an improvement in the past decades, a gap remains between the science community and the general public.

Science is exciting and thrilling, providing the opportunity to experiment and research. We are seeing ever more ambitious and pioneering studies being conducted globally, and into space. However, this rapid growth has led to increasing outflow of information and a change in the way scientific information is valued.  The media frequently controls this, giving priority to the speed of information dissemination to the public, rather than focusing on the reliability and quality of the source. “Frightful risk” and “new miracle cure” have become common headlines in our local and national papers despite the uncertain reliability of information sourced from a single study.

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Uncertainty is inevitable in science, and scientists understand that their research often provides a mere snapshot of reality, and that cognitive bias may play a role in their interpretation of results. However, those who are uninformed about the uncertain nature of science may react to findings with unwarranted alarm or misguided hope. Others see findings and dismiss them, no longer trusting a scientific community which seems to regularly publish unhelpful and conflicting claims. The media regularly inflates these issues.

Effective science communication can remedy this problem by providing stronger evidence for claims and a link to the relevance of the research within society. Effective communication focuses on conveying a message clearly, simply and succinctly. The audience relies on engagement by the writer or presenter, prompting them to question the relevance of the information being offered.

Outstanding communication can capture the mind and imagination. It stimulates meaningful conversation and debate, granting science greater importance within society. Science festivals and television shows have already allowed this to occur, bringing popular science and research into the public domain. The uncomfortable awareness that I cannot set foot in the wild without David Attenborough’s soothing voice playing in my ear convinces me of this!

Scientists have a deep understanding of certain subjects. They are experts, but in order to communicate effectively they must be driven by the words of Albert Einstein:

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough.”

Scientists must know their audience and adapt their words accordingly to present the essential messages – why does it matter? Why is this research important?

Science must be made accessible to the public. In turn this will create a stronger union between scientific and public values. Effective communication has the potential to escalate the impact of science in multiple spheres.

Amelia Pearson - Let's Torque Content Manager