Last week, we discussed the difficulty of communicating scientific ideas to the American public. A lack of common knowledge of basic science, along with the politicization of science and weak communications skills on the part of researchers, makes dialogue between the American public and the scientific community difficult, if not impossible.
Why should scientists take the time to discover effective ways to relay their data and improve their scientific writing? If the general public doesn’t understand basic science, wouldn’t communicating to a general audience fall on deaf ears anyway?
Well, we gotta start somewhere, right? Here are a few thoughts to inspire scientists to commit to better communication with the public sphere.
Scientists want their work to be relevant and meaningful to a large audience. According to Alan I. Leshner of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, young researchers often express a desire to reach out to the broader community, but mentors often reinforce the notion that engaging non-scientists is somehow selling out or not worth the time investment.
Research often depends on funding that depends on grant-writing skills. Reviewers are often hurried, reading many complex proposals in a limited time. Sometimes the proposals even fall outside the scope of expertise of individual panelists and, according to one NSF reviewer , “The science is, of course, important, but I learned that, even if the science is strong, poorly written proposals generally don't fare well.”
- Poor communication is a disadvantage in the job market. The National Association of College and Employers lists communication skills as the No. 2 priority of employers in 2012. Even if the job requires the majority of time be spent in a laboratory with other scientists, researchers will have to write reports for administrators and explain ideas to supervisors.
Honing writing and communication skills allows scientists the ability to connect laypeople with advances in science that directly affect their lives. Remember, Americans want to know more about scientific developments. Improving scientific writing skills allows scientists to reach several of their goals: sharing their knowledge, securing research funding, and improving likelihood of employment.