If there’s one thing the Covid-19 pandemic has reinforced for scientists, it’s that we desperately need the general public to understand, or at least accept and respect, what science has to tell us about the way the world works. There are a number of ways that can happen. It can happen through skilled and passionate teachers in K-12 education. It can happen through the work of science journalists (Ed Yong, Elizabeth Kolbert, and Carl Zimmer being three superb examples). Or, it can happen through scientists taking on the job themselves, speaking or writing directly to the general public. This last one is science outreach, or as it’s more often called these days, science communication or SciComm. What’s interesting about SciComm is that we (scientists) all seem to think it’s important, and many of us do it – but almost none of us have any training for the job. Continue reading
Have you ever read a scientific paper that simultaneously left you in deep admiration, but also crushed? I have – just now. It’s Rubega et al. 2021, “Assessment by audiences shows little effect of science communication training”. In a nutshell, several of the authors teach what sounds like an absolutely terrific graduate course in science communication; they used elegantly designed methods to test whether taking the course helps students do better at science communication; and much to their (and my) disappointment, they found that the answer was a pretty convincing “no”. To which I can really only say “argh”. Continue reading
Stephen Jay Gould quote from izquotes.com
Over the years, I’ve frequently needed to refer to that set of people who are not trained as scientists. It comes up in “broader impacts” sections of grants, in proposals to support science communication activities, in discussions of how to motivate societal and political support for science, and lots of other places besides. It’s come up for me most recently as I work on a new book proposal. My first book, The Scientist’s Guide to Writing, was written for scientists, but this one* will be written for – well, describing that audience of people who are something other than scientists is what this post is about.
My go-to term has been “lay audience”, but I’ve always felt a slight but nagging discomfort with it. Continue reading