‘Scientists shouldn’t have to do scicomm’ is a thoroughly modern misperception.
Communicating science has been ‘normal’ for centuries, from painted messages on cave walls, to classical orators and beyond. From ancient times, scientists took their responsibility to share science with people very seriously.
Yet today, mastery of language and the art of non-scientific communication are rarely taught or encouraged in modern science degrees. History isn’t taught much either.
Instead, many science students and graduates train to be skilled data collectors and ‘facts’ wranglers. Scientists are consistently bombarded with rigid anti-eloquence ‘rules’ that only succeed in suppressing the power of language – never use passive voice, don’t use big words, shorten your sentences, simplify your message etc. etc. God forbid you should sound like you care about your subject matter. Continue reading
Authorship is a really important issue when publishing academic work, particularly when multiple authors are involved. It’s about giving appropriate credit for intellectual property, but also about authors taking responsibility for their work. Leaving off an author’s name who did contribute to the research is just as bad as including an author who didn’t contribute anything at all. Most institutions and academic journals have standards and guidelines to help authors understand these issues.
But how does a scientist navigate the co-authorship issue when translating their work beyond their discipline?
Say you have co-authored an academic paper that’s just been published in a journal, and now you want to translate those findings into a popular science article for a public audience. Who should initiate the scicomm piece? Do all authors on the paper have to be involved? Continue reading
In an era where PR rules the news and superlatives rule science, how can a reader really know what’s what?
Critical analysis skills are a key survival skill, but facts-on-demand has taken over in many modern educational structures. And despite the best intentions, the ‘openness’ of the internet has simply confused things. Opinions on scientific issues regularly rub shoulders with evidence and sometimes it can be hard to tell which is which (for scientists and non-scientists alike).
And what is ‘scientific evidence’ anyway? I wrote about this a few years ago, but it’s much more complex than I had room to explain.
I recently stumbled across this great series on how to evaluate scientific publications, from the German peer-reviewed medical magazine Deustches Ärtzeblatt. The papers are useful for teaching, for critical news audiences, and for practicing scientists. All articles are open access, translated from German. The series started in 2009 – I haven’t found a contents list or an apparent end-date for the series, so I will keep this updated as they get published. Continue reading