For some scientists, communicating effectively with the public seems to come naturally. Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson currently has more than five million Twitter followers. Astronomer Carl Sagan enraptured audiences for decades as a ubiquitous cosmic sage on American televisions. And Stephen Jay Gould’s public visibility was such that he voiced an animated version of himself on “The Simpsons.” But, for most scientists, outward-facing communication is not something they’ve typically thought about much… let alone sought to cultivate.
But times change. Leaders in the scientific community are increasingly calling on their scientist colleagues to meaningfully engage with their fellow citizens. The hope is that such interactions can improve the science-society relationship at a time when we are confronting a growing list of high-stakes, high-controversy issues including climate change, synthetic biology and epigenetics.
The gauntlet has been issued, but can scientists meet it? (more…)
When I was a newspaper science editor, I approached Nobel Prize season with mixed glee and anxiety. Glee, because I knew that, without even an argument, I would get space in the paper for stories about research too arcane to make it into print the other 51 weeks of the year. Like the Academy Awards, the Nobels always get covered, and obscure topics like neutrino metamorphosis and DNA excision repair get their moment to shine, like the folks who win Oscars for sound mixing.
But I felt anxious, too, because my job – as a journalist with no science background – was to make sure those stories would be clear and comprehensible to any reader, and fascinating to more than a few. I wanted them to be stories that would make someone pick up the phone – this was back in the day when people did that – and say, “You’ve got to hear about this.” But journalists are just one leg of the sometimes shaky triangle of science communication, with scientists and the public carrying the other two sides. (more…)