As you might know, here at ScIU, we like to publish weekly blog posts about science happening on campus — especially science that might not be reaching other news outlets — because a lot of the work happening here at IU is amazing, and we believe that broader audiences should have access to it. Another thing that’s really important about the blog “behind the scenes” is that it provides professional development experience to our graduate student and postdoc writers and editors. Over the last three years, ScIU bloggers have accumulated tips, tricks, and experiences that we want to share with people, which is why we host an annual Science Communication Symposium, coming up this Friday, November 8th. With science communication specifically on my mind this week, I’m sharing a few of my favorite articles that touch on its value and importance.
Our first featured piece tackles the question: Why is science communication suddenly a topic that people are talking about in the first place? And a big part of this is the rise of science skepticism, and the general feeling that scientists are not very good advocates for themselves or their work. Writing for the Earlham Institute, Peter Bickerton covers classic science misconceptions, from flat-Earth beliefs to fears about GMO’s and anti-vaccination stances — and ponders the question — is tackling the skeptics a waste of time?
Our next featured piece is an article from 2016, written by Savo Heleta for The Conversation. In it, Heleta argues that academic publishing in peer-reviewed journals — which is the main metric by which many scientists are hired and promoted — has a lot of problems, once of the most significant being that nobody outside our specific niches really reads what we publish. Academic publishing is increasingly being criticized for its inaccessibility, and science communication with diverse publics specifically in mind is a plausible solution. But as Bickerton (above) and Heleta argue, without incentives from within the scientific community itself, it’s not clear how we can move away from the former model towards the latter.
Many are already convinced that science communication isn’t a waste of time, which leads to our next topic: how does one do it, and what’s the Sci-Comm landscape like? We like to think of the ScIU blog as a stress-free environment for wetting one’s feet in science communication, but a few of our bloggers have gone on to pursue careers in science communication. Our next piece is about transitioning to such a career: in a 2019 Nature piece, Brittney G. Borowiec keeps it real on the topic of diving into science writing: “It’s a slow, unpredictable climb to becoming a science writer. But scientists who are ready to practise a lot, actively engage with a new field, take rejection in their stride and pay attention to feedback have the best chance of getting their voice out there.”
Finally, I’d like to end on a local note, with a curated post from the IUPU-run SciComm PLOS blog. In this post, Butler University Senior Lecturer, Erin Gerecke, Ph.D., argues that science communication education can — and should! — start early. Peppered with plenty of tips and strategies on bringing science communication into the classroom, Gerecke hopes that her students “will become lifelong consumers of scientific information and can become powerful allies and advocates for science” regardless of which career path they choose. (There also a list of SciComm opportunities for undergraduate students!)
Whether this is your first time reading and thinking about science communication or your millionth, I encourage you to continue, and I hope you see you all at this year’s symposium.