February 02

The ABCs of Science: Always Be Communicating


A case for rebranding.

Scientists have some perception problems.  The first is how the public perceives scientists, by turns as smart, but not very trustworthy or as politically motivated [although this survey reported a more favorable outlook]. The second is how scientists perceive the public, as knowledge-poor citizens who, if presented with enough scientific evidence, will align their beliefs accordingly [read last week’s Neuwrite post for more on this topic].

A scientist can throw as many graphs and statistics at a person as they please, but without an air of integrity and warmth, that evidence is unlikely to be deemed as credible.  If trust in the scientific community crumbles, affronts to evidence-based policy or cuts to science funding may follow without much resistance.   


Source: The Atlantic. Dr. Yamilé Molina, a health-disparities researcher from Chicago, holds a sign next to the National Air and Space Museum during the Women’s March on Washington.

Some ideas going forward.

So, how can scientists gain the trust of the public?  A good place to start is to put aside powerpoints brimming with data for a second and reach out to the public in a more personal way, whether that be through storytelling, twitter feeds or the old art of talking to strangers.

The hope is that the public may come to see that they share similar goals and values.  That scientists, like most human beings, are inquisitive about their surroundings. They are captivated by mysteries of cosmic and microscopic proportions.  But, more than that, they are people with hobbies, families and cats.  Scientists come from different countries and have varied religious beliefs, but are united in the quest to use sound experimental techniques to test ideas about how the world works.




Let’s get to it.

If you happen to be a scientist, try to think of ways to connect with your community.  If you aren’t a scientist, invite one to speak at your library, your school, or to get some coffee.  Just remind them not to bore you with the molecular properties of caffeine.

Need some inspiration? Science communicators are generating some really amazing projects that aim to humanize scientists.  I wanted to highlight just a few for you to chew on.

Consume and Share!

Real Scientists : scientists rotate through this wordpress/twitter handle and report on themselves and their science.

Story Collider: Like “The Moth” but about science and scientists. Happy and sad stories that unite us all.

Alan Alda Center for Communicating science:  They run workshops, outreach events, and hold contests to help scientists get out of their shells and into the spotlight.

Traveling Geologist:  Geologists take you with them on their adventures in terrestrial science.

LabHopping: Celebrates Indian’s women in science.  Get to know these awesome ladies.

The Secret Life of Scientists: Videos and blog posts about scientists and engineers and ” how their surprising secret lives fuel their work, and vice versa.”

Salk Talk: A podcast of character vignettes of scientists that work at the Salk Institute for Biological studies in San Diego. Full disclosure- I produce Salk Talk.  I’ve profiled a pink haired, Muay Thai practicing punk rocker; a foodie and childhood soap opera extra; and a rock climbing, band-leading dad.

Scientists featured in Salk Talk from left to right: Pablo Hollstein, Elena Blanco, Chris Howard

Please send us more websites/vlogs/blogs/podcasts that humanize scientists by writing us on twitter @NeuWriteSD with the hashtag #HumanizingScience