Scientific Writing for the American Public


industryAmericans want to learn more about science. The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism shows that 52 percent of adults aged 18-29 desire more coverage of scientific news. The general public understands that scientific research has tangible effects on everything from medical advances to transportation to heating our homes.

Scientists appear to have a captive audience for their writing: Americans are thirsty for more scientific knowledge. So what’s the problem? Why is it so difficult to disseminate scientific information to the general public in an interesting, accessible way?

  1. The biggest problem is that Americans, in general, have extremely low science literacy. A poll conducted by Harrison Interactive on behalf of the California Academy of Sciences indicates that the U.S. public fails the most basic science test. For instance, only 59% of those polled know that the earliest humans and dinosaurs did not coexist.Test your science literacy with Richard Carrier's quiz .
  2. Science has been politicized. Americans receive daily doses of polar views on scientific topics like climate change and immunization safety. Once someone’s mind is made up, persuading him or her of another position is difficult, if not impossible.
  3. Communication education in universities isn’t sufficient. Too frequently, journalists are not confident in their abilities to understand or explain complex, technical concepts to the American public. At the same time, scientists often do not have the necessary communication skills to confidently and clearly relate their findings to a general audience.

The good news is that these hurdles are passable for the American scientific writing audience. Americans want to learn about science through writing, so the real fix for the low science literacy in the U.S. is better communication between scientists, journalists, and the general public.

What science topics are most interesting to you? Keep reading our blog for tips on engaging a non-scientific audience in scientific materials.