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.
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!
SUBMISSIONS: Please reach out to any of the editors below with a brief proposal outlining your idea for a post.
Krista Longtin, PhD
Dr. Krista Longtin is an Assistant Dean for Faculty Affairs and Professional Development at the Indiana University School of Medicine, where she leads health communication training programs for IU’s over 4,000 faculty, medical students, residents, and graduate students. Krista is dually appointed as an associate professor in the departments of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Communication Studies. She researches communication education and faculty development in the sciences and health professions. Krista leads a graduate minor in Communicating Science at IUPUI. She has served as a consultant on communication and education projects for national and international organizations including the Indiana State Department of Health and the European Science Media Hub. An award-winning educator and researcher, Krista’s work has been published in Communication Education, Academic Medicine, and the Journal of Faculty Development. Follow Krista: Website, Twitter.
Andrew Cale, PhD
Andrew S. Cale is an Assistant Professor of Anatomy, Cell Biology, & Physiology at the Indiana University School of Medicine, where he teaches human gross anatomy and neuroanatomy to medical, health professional, and graduate students. He earned his M.S. in Modern Human Anatomy from the University of Colorado, followed by his Ph.D. in Anatomy and Cell Biology (Education Track) with a minor in Communicating Science from the Indiana University School of Medicine. His work focuses on anatomical sciences education, particularly development of novel teaching strategies, metacognition (thinking about one’s thinking), and educator development. Andrew has also been involved with a plethora of science outreach programs ranging from the local to national levels. Follow Andrew on 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 more than 100 academic papers in scientific journals and written articles for Scientific American, Scientific American MIND, National Geographic, Discover, The Conversation, ASBMB Today, and more. He has been interviewed by CNN, Fox & Friends, CBS News, The Doctors, New York Post, Wall Street Journal, Indianapolis Star, Science Fantastic with Dr. Michio Kaku, The Scientist, and many more. In 2019, his first book, “PLEASED TO MEET ME: Genes, Germs, and the Curious Forces that Make Us Who We Are” was published by National Geographic Books. Follow Bill: Laboratory website, Author website, Facebook, Twitter.
The Public Library of Science (PLOS) is a nonprofit publisher and advocacy organization founded to accelerate progress in science and medicine by leading a transformation in research communication. Stay connected to #SciCommPLOS by following us on Twitter.