Science for public consumption

John Hawks’ post is worth quoting in its entirety:

Christie Wilcox makes a case that every lab should be doing science outreach on social media: “Social media for scientists Part 1: It’s our job, and Part 2: You do have time. Her rationale is worth spreading:

Yes, part of the solution to this problem is to invest in better education. But even assuming we do that, we are ignoring the millions of Americans who are no longer in school. We can make the next generation more scientifically literate, but we have to consider the current generations, too. Adults over age of 35 never learned about stem cells, nanotechnology or climate change in school, so they depend on the media to learn what they need to know. These are the people who vote. They are the ones whose taxes pay for scientific funding. We need to reach out to them, and to do that we need their trust.

I’m not sure social media are necessarily the best way for most labs to make an impact on the public. You may do better working with other institutions, or by going into a collective with other labs. I know that one great way to increase your lab’s profile is to get your department or program to set up a group blog, where the lab’s home page is one contributor along with other labs. Two new posts a month, as Wilcox suggests, is a good start for a single lab but won’t drive much interest; weekly or biweekly posts by a group of five labs would build much more attention.

I also came across to a book review for Randy Olson’s Don’s be such a scientist which talks about writing science for public:

I’ve just finished Randy Olson’s “Don’t be Such a Scientist: Talking Substance in an age of style” (after loving his article in New Scientist, “Top five tips for communicating science “). Olson is a marine biologist turned filmmaker, so knows the world of science from the inside, and from the outside perspective.This book is 75% solid gold – absolutely essential perspective for scientists who want to communicate outside of their specialism. But it is also 25% misleading and elitistic simplification. At heart, Randy Olson’s message as a populariser ends up pandering to a mistaken belief in scientific exceptionalism – that what scientists do and who scientists are is so beyond the ken of the rest of the population that it cannot be conveyed to them, that we have to use a pound of silly songs and fart jokes to make the public to swallow an ounce of important information. Sorry, Randy, but when you underestimate the public taste you end up demeaning it.

Take a look!

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