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Can you define ‘punctuated equilibrium’ (in one sentence)? A reboot for #SciCommPLOS

PLOSBLOGS Network would like to welcome a new team of accomplished science writers who will be taking on the leadership of this blog going forward. Jason Organ, Krista Hoffmann-Longtin and Bill Sullivan are scientists dedicated to the art and science of science communication. Their self introductions and plans for this space follow, below. PLOS is excited to call on their expertise as we continue to expand the reach of new published research and broader issues in science, both within the scientific community and with the general public. We also continue to invite other researchers, science students, patients, clinicians and science writers who may wish to contribute posts on the subject of science communication to do so by sending their posts to Follow us on Twitter @PLOS —- Victoria Costello, PLOS Senior Editor for Communities & Social Media

A reboot for #SciCommPLOS

What is the job of a ‘science communicator’? And Why #SciCommPLOS?

Science communication, or “SciComm” for short, is in a state of punctuated equilibrium. And, if you don’t know what that means, then perhaps we’re not doing our jobs as scientists and science communicators.

Punctuated equilibrium is the idea that evolution proceeds quickly after long periods of relative stability in response to rapidly changing environmental conditions. SciComm is undergoing a rapid burst of evolution – it is changing a whole lot in a very short amount of time in response to a changing environment. The internet and social media offer extraordinary new tools to bring the meaning and importance of scientific discoveries to the masses. But, because many scientists have been a little slow to join this party, some fields have been overrun with misinformation, alternative facts, and conspiracy theories.

We all turn to multiple sources for information: friends, the internet, social media. Too often, these sources lack input from an expert voice. As scientists, we aim to advance knowledge and solve problems. An often neglected, but equally important, part of our job is to communicate our work to scientists in other fields, to policymakers, and to the non-scientists who fund our research through their tax dollars.

As our fields have become more complex, some Americans have given up trying to understand what we do, leading to scientific illiteracy (which has real-world consequences for people and our planet). At the same time, we have a new movement of citizen scientists who want to be engaged and involved, but can’t find the pathways to do that. The gaps between beliefs of scientists and non-scientists are wide. We, as scientists, have to do a better job of communicating science.

Communicating is easy; to do it well is hard. Not only do we need to spread the word about our discoveries, we also need to engage non-scientists in a conversation and exchange ideas on a human level, building empathy and trust. As a group, we generally fail at this because we aren’t trained with the tools necessary to become effective communicators. We use too much jargon, fail to provide sufficient background, (often mistakenly) assume what our audiences know, don’t know, and want to know. It is no surprise that people don’t understand us! As many of us have seen, this frustration can devolve into a general mistrust of intellectuals and scientists, fanning a flame of skepticism for the scientific process itself.

We hope to bridge this gap in several ways by using the #SciCommPLOS blog as an outlet for effective science communication. Our two major goals are:

  • to highlight interesting and impactful science in accessible ways, and
  • to teach scientists about the art of storytelling as an effective means to communicate science.

We hope to build bridges between scientists and the general public, by explaining why science is cool and important and meaningful and necessary. We hope to convey our enthusiasm for science as a process and a way of seeing the world.


Now, a little about our team…

Bill Sullivan co-founded a science blog in 2014 called THE ‘SCOPE, which examines the science behind popular culture. Jason Organ was an avid reader of this blog until he discovered that Bill’s office was literally down the hall. At that point, Jason begged Bill to give him a shot at writing for THE ‘SCOPE, and a great partnership was founded. At about the same time, Jason had established his own science outreach blog, Eatlemania!, which describes the natural history of animals being eaten by the flesh-eating (dermestid) beetle colony in his lab (Bill was thrilled to learn these creepy crawlies were just a few steps away from his office…ick). Both of these blogs were established as means for becoming better communicators of science – and we’d like to think it has helped considerably! But Jason was further bitten by the #SciComm bug when he stumbled upon the work of Krista Hoffmann-Longtin, who is an expert in teaching communication, and specifically, in using innovative experiential activities (like improvisational theater) to enhance science communication. All three of us are now actively engaging scientists in ways to improve communication by co-teaching courses and workshops at the Indiana University School of Medicine and IUPUI. We are looking forward to using #SciCommPLOS to showcase the importance of science and effective science communication, and sharing a lot of awesome science along the way. More information about each of us is below. Please do get in touch!


Krista Hoffmann-Longtin, PhD

Krista Hoffmann-Longtin is an Assistant Professor of Communication Studies in the Indiana University School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI, and an Assistant Dean in the Indiana University School of Medicine Office of Faculty Affairs and Professional Development. Her work focuses on communication education, faculty development, and organizational/professional identity. In 2016, Krista was highlighted by the Indianapolis Business Journal as one of their Forty Under 40 young professionals to watch. Prior to earning her graduate degrees, Krista worked for The Weather Channel and Indiana Public Radio. She’s not a native Hoosier, but she did the tour of Indiana schools earning a BA from Ball State University, an MA in from Purdue University, and a PhD from Indiana University. Her work has been published in Academic Medicine, To Improve the Academy, and the Journal of Faculty Development. Follow Krista: Website, Twitter.

Jason Organ, PhD 

Jason Organ is Assistant Professor of Anatomy & Cell Biology at the Indiana University School of Medicine, where his research examines how bone and muscle structure influences how they work. Jason earned his MA in Anthropology from the University of Missouri and his PhD in Functional Anatomy & Evolution from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He has published over 25 peer-reviewed research papers on evolutionary and mechanical adaptations of bone and muscle in scientific journals and over 40 peer-reviewed teaching modules in digital human anatomy references. Jason also has consulted for several science outreach programs including Inside Nature’s Giants and Minute Earth. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the American Association of Anatomists and has used this position to advocate for the importance of effective science communication and public outreach. Follow Jason: Laboratory website, Twitter.

Bill Sullivan, PhD

Bill Sullivan is the Showalter Professor of Pharmacology & Toxicology and Microbiology & Immunology at the Indiana University School of Medicine, where he studies gene expression in infectious diseases. Bill earned his PhD in Molecular & Cell Biology from the University of Pennsylvania. Bill has published over 70 academic papers in scientific journals and written articles for Scientific American, Scientific American MIND,,,, Dumb Little Man, ASBMB Today, and more. Bill also serves on the Advisers Team for the Epigenetics Literacy Project. Bill’s research has been featured in popular press outlets including IFLScience, ScienceDaily, Fierce Biotech Research, Disease Buzz, and more. He has been interviewed by CNN Health, the Indianapolis Star, the Examiner, Medical Daily, and The Scientist. He has appeared on Science Update with Bob Hirshon, Dr. Mike’s SciComm podcast, and SWR2 German Public Radio, and served as a consultant for the Everyday Elements program on YouTube. Follow Bill: Laboratory website, Facebook, Twitter.

Watch for our first full #SciCommPLOS posts in the coming weeks! And by all means leave your comments, questions and suggestions for posts, below.

Want to stay connected with #SciCommPLOS or pitch an idea for a blog post? Tweet us at @SciCommPLOS or email us at

  1. Can you define ‘punctuated equilibrium’ (in one sentence)?

    Thanks for asking.

    Punctuated equilibrium is food energy-dependent RNA-mediated biophysically constrained viral latency.

  2. In south Mississippi, libraries have taken on the responsibility to help educate graduate students and early career scientists in the fine art of communication by holding two workshops “Sharing Science” and “Sharing Science 2.0” in 2016-17. We partnered with “Speaking Center” at the University of Southern Mississippi for workshop facilitators. One of the graduate students who attended the workshop was a presenter at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory Science Cafe a few months later. This is an informal and friendly venue where a practicing scientist speaks to a group of community members and students about their work.

    Shaw, J. M. A. McPhaul, T. Englert, and J. Kastler. 2017. Sharing Science: Communication Skills for Scientists to Build Public Trust, SAIL Annual Conference, May 16-18, 2017. (presentation, Madison, WI)
    Shaw, J. M., T. Englert, and J. Kastler. 2017. Bridging the Public Trust in Science Gap: Sharing Science. Mississippi Academy of Science. February 23-24, 2017. (presentation, Hattiesburg, MS)
    Shaw, J. M., T. Englert, and J. Kastler. 2016. Sharing Science: Bridging the Public Trust in Science Gap. Bays and Bayous, November 30-December 1, 2016 (poster presentation, Biloxi, MS)
    Englert, T., J. Shaw, and E. Azabrakht. 2016. Sharing Science. Mississippi Library Association Annual Conference, October 18-21 (presentation, Vicksburg, MS)

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