Thursday, September 15, 2016

Do facts hurt science communication?

Like Dr. Suess’s Grinch, I’ve puzzled ‘til my puzzler is sore. The source of my puzzlement?  Contrary to what I’ve thought for much of my career, facts—no matter how well presented—don’t necessarily help meet communication goals. In fact, facts may hurt.

On the same day I was reviewing the keynote address from the recent North American Congress on Conservation Biology (NACCB), I ran across a New York Times article highlighting an issue prominent in the keynote—the same facts mean different things to different people.

The New York Times piece, Why facts don’t unify us, describes the findings of a study titled How People Update Beliefs about Climate Change: Good News and Bad News. In this study, people with different beliefs on climate change became more polarized in their views after being given the same scientific facts. While this finding helps explain the wide rift on the subject of climate change, it vexes the communicator in me.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Communicating science when facts aren’t enough

When I was a child, my family watched the popular TV series Dragnet. It popularized an oft-repeated, pop culture phrase Just the facts, ma’am.” Like many who gravitate to scientific fields, I value knowing the facts. So it’s counterintuitive to me, a data-loving person, that many in the public are not moved by factual information and explanation. 

At the recent North American Congress for Conservation Biology (NACCB) in Madison, Wisconsin, which had as its theme Science Communication for Conservation Action, many presentations reinforced that communicating scientific fact alone doesn’t have much impact on peoples’ attitudes or behaviors. To connect with audiences, messages and information need specific framing and must tap into the audience’s values. I had some appreciation of this before going to NACCB, but the meeting drove it home for me in a powerful way; it has stimulated much contemplation on my part. In particular, what does it mean for me—and for the clients with whom I work on science-based communications—when facts aren’t enough?

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Social Media-users or Not, Scientists Must Be Communicators

Yesterday, The Guardian published an essay entitled “I’m a serious academic, not a professional Instagrammer.”  The writer, a PhD student, laments the pressure placed on academics to be active users of social media. I feel for this student, but fear for them as well. Today, all scientists need to be—and are—communicators. 

Throughout their careers, academics must convey the “So what?” of their work to a range of audiences, including administrators, funders, journalists, and policy-makers.  

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

To share your message, tweet it!

  Twitter as a channel to communicate your science

Many of the talks at the North American Congress for Conservation Biology, held in Madison, Wisconsin from July 17-20, have emphasized the need for scientists to better connect with public audiences. We need science communication that is accessible and accurate, making it valuable for scientists to be communicators whenever they can. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Why I love Twitter for science & communication

Do you think of Twitter as a place of trivia, where people broadcast their pizza order as if it were front-page news?  If you answered yes, I encourage you to reconsider. It’s true that some use Twitter to share every inconsequential thing that enters their minds. More than once, an acquaintance of mine really did tweet which pizza he ordered to watch a football game; I stopped following him. I value Twitter because I find it to be a font of information on science, conservation, and science communication, as well as a springboard for interaction among those interested in these topics.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Science communication headlines upcoming Conservation Biology Congress

As misunderstanding of, misinformation about, and disregard for science increases, the need for more effective science communication grows daily. I’m delighted that the North American section of the Society for Conservation Biology has chosen the timely topic of science communication as the focus of its upcoming Congress.

Communicating Science for Conservation Action is the theme of the North American Congress for Conservation Biology (NACCB 2016), which takes place July 17-20, 2016 in Madison, Wisconsin. This Congress, which includes numerous symposia, concurrent sessions, workshops, and short courses, will highlight the importance of integrating successful communication strategies into conservation work. As a science communicator, I’m eagerly anticipating the opportunity to connect with and learn from others working at the intersection of conservation science and communication.