Don’t Be Such a Scientist!

The Science of Science Communication

The art of science communication is to pitch something as complicated as CRISPR-Cas9 that is not only engaging to the general public and faithful to the evidence but also communicated in a way that your grandmother would understand. According to Fran Castle, the Global Brand and Media Relations Senior Communications Manager at BASF Bioscience Research, 81% of public relation professionals feel as though they cannot successfully do their job without social media. Additionally, 78% of journalists say they use social media, while 50% admit they do not fact-check before publishing.

Left to Right: Marlowe Ivey Vaughn,
Kurt Boudonck, Hope Hart, and Fran Castle

You are living in a day and age where people see social media as a more reliable source for credible information than the words of scientists like Neil deGrasse Tyson. So how do you go about simplifying the conversation to a level that is engaging to someone without any scientific training? More importantly, why should you even bother in the first place?

During CAST’s 2017 Annual Meeting in Raleigh, North Carolina, attendees participated in a panel discussion that addressed applying the science of communication to the communication of science. Four industry professionals provided their insight and recommendations on how to turn scientists into communicators. “Tailor your story to your target audience. Speaking only in jargon is useless at a time when scientists are no longer the keepers of information. Keep it simple and easy to understand,” stated Castle.

The challenge of science communication is that it has to be sold to the public. There is a vast amount of information readily available online, and if you do not learn to share your message in a relatable way, someone else will. Marlowe Ivey Vaughn, Executive Director at Feed the Dialogue NC, stressed the importance of recognizing the growing disconnect between the average person and modern agriculture. Hope Hart, Product Safety Team Leader at Syngenta Biotechnology, encouraged attendees to (1) limit your science speak, (2) illuminate the benefits, and (3) explain the safety when talking to your family and friends about GMOs. It is important to remember that the level of science vocabulary, data, and studies you use during your conversations depends entirely on the audience’s level of understanding, not yours.

“Nothing in science has any value to society if it is not communicated.” This quote by Anne Rose still holds true today. Consumers are surrounded by misinformation every day where it is much easier to believe fears than facts. It is more important now than ever before that scientists and agriculturalists communicate about science. Kurt Boudonck, Greenhouse Group Leader RTP at Bayer CropScience, says it perfectly, “Don’t dumb down the science, but focus on how you tell the story of science and research.” Though your methods may change based on how you are having the conversation, focus on sharing your passion and being relatable. Continue to be a safe and reliable place for information within the digital age of science communication.

By: Kylie Peterson

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