The basics of science communication

Recently I’ve been buried even more deeply in sci. comms. stuff than usual. Aside from the various media appearances I’ve made of late (and in addition to the visible ones, I’ve had a fair hand in a few others you’ve probably seen) I’ve also been writing up a proper piece of work on the actual process of science communication and it’s place. Obviously this is something dear to me – while I do like blogging, the reason I do things like the Musings, AAB, Pterosaur.net and others is that I want to communicate about science because I think it is important and valuable, and I moan about the media so often because they seem to hinder more than they help despite the latter apparently being their aim. Bearing that in mind, here are a few very brief points I would recommend to bear in mind when doing media work of any kind (aside from the obvious like being nice):

Always flag up and correct errors. People might well ignore your corrections (perhaps even justifiably in some cases) but people cannot learn if they don’t know they are wrong. Explain the problem and as best you can how to fix it, or ways around it.

Keep things simple and clear. Given that you never know who might read your quotes, or what was based on your ideas, you pretty much can’t underestimate your audience.

That said, don’t be afraid to aim high. If you build up carefully, explain the terms and use good analogies, you can cover some quite complex things effectively. People will learn and understand more than they expected and that’s great.

Prepare in advance as far as possible. If you’re just helping a journalist out with some background reading or answering some questions then take your time. If you are doing radio or TV then try to get the likely questions in advance. Plan your answers, make notes, find out what they do and don’t want. Practice if you can.

Try to avoid clichés so you don’t sound dull. But be aware that they can be powerful tools. Sure it’s boring to only talk about T.rex, but if you want to get the idea of a theropod across to a very broad audience in a few seconds then this will do it.

Try to give more than is required or asked for. Especially when advising people for articles rather than in interviews give more. You might well provide things they didn’t know they didn’t know and prompt new and better questions and lead things into interesting new areas.


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