10 Things Science, Science Communication, and Just Maybe All of Academia Needs

On the heals of being inspired at #scifoo at GoogleX, I’m a little fired up.  Monday morning at the American Library Association meeting–after flight delays, a red eye flight, too few hours of sleep, and perhaps just one to many cups of coffee–I spoke in a session on science communication.   Below is the energized list of 10 items I thought were needed.

1. We focus a lot on science communication as the generation of content.  However equally, and if not more, important is the filtering of content.  In the last few years, poorly informed, incorrect and out right maliciously wrong content has become prolific.  We need now, more than ever, for trusted domain experts to amplify, share, and provide reliable and accurate information. I saw this first hand reporting here at DSN with both the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and the Fukishama Reactors that bad information was rampant and people were looking for trusted content.

2. Somewhere we stopped teaching students and the public how to critically evaluate information. Or may be it never existed at all.  We need with renewed vigor to teach students and the public how to think, reason, and evaluate information.  We need mandatory classes and lessons across education levels in logic, philosophy, mathematics, statistics, problem solving, and scientific methodology.

3. We need to make sure good and correct information is more accessible and more viral than bad information.  We need to make it easier for students and the public to get the information they need to be an informed citizenry.

4. Science needs to be more open.  Open access publishing, science communication, and citizen science and other initiatives were good start of a larger “open” movement.  But now we need to swing the doors of science open a little wider.  We are not open or honest to our failures in the enterprise of science.  Metal health issues, inequality, profiteering, and harassment run rapid.  We need change and a river in Egypt isn’t the first step.

5. We need to renew the social contract between educational institutions and the public.  We need to place value on an informed and educated citizenry.   This is the hallmark to economic prosperity and quality, political stability and growth, innovation in the sciences and humanities, and overall public health.  The renewal of this contract comes first and foremost with economic commitment from local to national levels and the foresight that this investment will be returned 10-fold.

6. Scientists need to all become nerds of trust. On Facebook, over beers at the bar, in your local and state government meetings, you need to be there with science.

7. Science communication needs to be goal and mission oriented.  The idea of a “Field of Dreams” model of putting something out there and expecting it work is ridiculous.  If you have not thought about what success is and how you are going to measure it, stop now.  Science communication has to be deliberate in action.

8. We need to break out of the echo chamber.  If you defriended all of your Facebook friends who had different political leanings to you, you are probably part of the problem.  Are your science communication efforts only reaching the NPR and PBS, science-enthusiast audience?  Was the last science and drink night you talked at just hipsters in tweed? Probably…  Are you still wondering why the public is struggling with science or just actively anti-science.  YOU ARE NOT TALKING TO THEM.  We need new and creative ways to reach new audiences especially those in lower socio-economic classes. We need to go to where they are and put science there.

9. We need to create and support places and times of innovation…places that domain experts in humanities, social science, education and pedagogy, science communication, and scientists learn from each other and build together.  These need to be places that applaud risk and go after moon shots while focused on action and products. Events like #oceandotcomm are one example.

10. Even if we don’t get anything else right, we need to get one thing right.  Be passionate.  This idea of science as cold, heartless, and stale enterprise needs to die.

Dr. M (1801 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Executive Director of the Lousiana University Marine Consortium. He has conducted deep-sea research for 20 years and published over 50 papers in the area. He has participated in and led dozens of oceanographic expeditions taken him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses on how energy drives the biology of marine invertebrates from individuals to ecosystems, specifically, seeking to uncover how organisms are adapted to different levels of carbon availability, i.e. food, and how this determines the kinds and number of species in different parts of the oceans. Additionally, Craig is obsessed with the size of things. Sometimes this translated into actually scientific research. Craig’s research has been featured on National Public Radio, Discovery Channel, Fox News, National Geographic and ABC News. In addition to his scientific research, Craig also advocates the need for scientists to connect with the public and is the founder and chief editor of the acclaimed Deep-Sea News (http://deepseanews.com/), a popular ocean-themed blog that has won numerous awards. His writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web.

2 Replies to “10 Things Science, Science Communication, and Just Maybe All of Academia Needs”

  1. Nice read, thank you. I couldn’t agree more. We are desperately trying to be part of the solution. it would be good to connect.

  2. Totally agree with all 10. Lots of misinformation out there about almost any topic. How about schools get rid of the incredible amount of standardized testing and instead focus on how people in the real world learn – together!

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