Scientists Must Practice Communicating Science

Why should it be hard for scientists to get science across? Some scientists, including some very good ones, tell me they'd love to popularize, but feel they lack talent in this area. Knowing and explaining, they say, are not the same thing. What's the secret?

There's only one, I think: don't talk to the general audience as you would to your scientific colleagues. There are terms that convey your meaning instantly and accurately to fellow experts. You may parse these phrases every day in your professional work. But they do no more than mystify an audience of non-specialists. Use the simplest possible language. Above all, remember how it was before you yourself grasped whatever it is you're explaining. Remember the misunderstandings that you almost fell into, and note them explicitly. Keep firmly in mind that there was a time when you didn't understand any of this either. Recapitulate the first steps that led you from ignorance to knowledge. Never forget that native intelligence is widely distributed in our species. Indeed, it is the secret of our success.

The effort involved is slight, the benefits great. Among the potential pitfalls are oversimplification, the need to be sparing with qualifications (and quantifications), inadequate credit given to the many scientists involved, and insufficient distinctions drawn between helpful analogy and reality. Doubtless, compromises must be made.

The more you make such presentations, the clearer it is which approaches work and which do not. There is a natural selection of metaphors, images, analogies, anecdotes. After a while you find that you can get almost anywhere you want to go, walking on consumer-tested stepping-stones. You can then fine-tune your presentations for the needs of a given audience.


And apply the scientific method to their efforts to determine what works.

Folksonomies: science communication science popularization popularization

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Science (0.987729): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Scientific method (0.964931): dbpedia | freebase
Theory (0.766051): dbpedia | freebase
Abductive reasoning (0.708435): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Pseudoscience (0.664976): dbpedia | freebase
Analogy (0.576859): dbpedia | freebase
Book of Optics (0.571495): dbpedia | freebase | yago
Deductive reasoning (0.562052): dbpedia | freebase

 The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark
Books, Brochures, and Chapters>Book:  Sagan , Carl and Druyan , Ann (1997-02-25), The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, Ballantine Books, Retrieved on 2011-05-04
Folksonomies: science empiricism rationalism


05 JUN 2011

 Illuminate the Opposition

Memes on communicating science and rationality to the masses in a way that is honest and genuine.