How do you achieve effective science communication?

May 13, 2022
A reflection from the IGC Seminar course, by Gabriel Borba

 

Achieving effective science communication is a challenge for most scientists. Yet, communication science is part of a scientist’s everyday life; thus, to be successful, scientists need to learn how to communicate effectively, from a peer-reviewed article to an elevator pitch. I invited Dr. Susan Hassol, a well-known climate change communicator, to share her experience and recommendations for effective climate change communication. As she said, she “translated Science into English”.

Many resources teach skills and ways to communicate scientific results but less often focus on how to communicate science more broadly, especially to a non-academic audience. The challenge becomes complex when the considered research topic is climate change, where disinformation campaigns and scientific jargon are common. However, there are key tools and strategies to follow to help understand your audience and how to communicate your main message. Those main aspects of effective communication are discussed in the following paragraphs. I searched for the most commonly asked questions on the Google search engine about climate change communication, and Dr. Hassol’s answers (noted in quotes) follow:

Why is effective communication important in Science?

“People are making decisions and investments now that should be informed by the best science. If those who know that science is not communicating it effectively to those who are making these decisions, or the decision-makers are not hearing it (due to their own ideological or other filters that prevent their accepting the information), the decisions will be hampered by ignorance.”

How do we communicate Science?

“In plain language, in ways that connect with people on issues, they care about. Simple, clear messages, often repeated, by various trusted sources, such as Edward Maibach (Director of Mason’s Center for Climate Change Communication, says.”

What are some examples of effective communication?

“An example of effective communication is when you talk in clear and simple terms. An example of effective communication is when the person whom you are talking to listens actively, absorbs your point and understands it.

For example, TV weathercasters are trusted sources to local communities; people trust them about how the weather will be. Science communicators are engaged to help them integrate climate change into their weather reporting because they are trusted sources (more information).”

How can we best deal with and avoid disinformation campaigns and fake news?

“Nowadays, the war against disinformation campaigns and fake news has changed. And, as part of the problem, there are denial, disinformation, deflection, division and doomism. For example, the fossil fuel industry focuses on saying that climate change needs to be solved by individual actions. Denial – solution actually can solve the problem. Deflecting – the fossil fuel industry blames ourselves. Division – fossil fuel industry tries to divide the climate movements by having them flights among themselves. Doomism – people are convinced that there is not we can do about it.”

“We can deal with and avoid disinformation campaigns and fake news by talking about it, listening, connecting on values, build trust. Focus on solutions that all of us can agree with it. Explain the choice we face, explaining both urgency and agency of action.”

Overview of Science Communication Tips and Strategies

Good conversation is a conversation, not a lecture. One of the most important things to do is listen. What do people care about? Based on that, you may find common ground, establish trust, and make personal connections with them. For example, during an interview, you get an opportunity to develop a history. You give the reporters more information and help them to see the topic you are discussing in a more scientifically accurate way.

For effective messaging, it is necessary to be clear, concise, and compelling. Also, brevity, a short sound bite. Focusing on what you know about the topic is the most effective way to lead with what is happening. The more you say, the fewer people will hear, be objective and use simple speech. Be creative, use imagery and storytelling, and explore anecdotes. Make sure that you deliver your key message many ways and many times. Simple and repeated messages by trusted sources can be very effective. Be prepared to speak about research findings, considering what is novel and important to know about your findings.

Based on all of the information discussed above, effectively communicating about climate change or any other research topic remains a challenging skill to develop. However, recognizing the importance of communicating results from our research to a broad audience is critical to building a greater public understanding of science. We need to connect with our audience on the basis of their values and things that are most important to them in life. Following these approaches, I believe that we, as academics, will have a real chance to reach a wider audience with science. Effective scientific communication ensures that people understand science and can contribute and be connected to it.

 
Additional resources:

  • Communicating Science Effectively: A Research Agenda

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK425710/pdf/Bookshelf_NBK425710.pdf

  • Climate Communication is non-profit Science and operates as a project of the Aspen Global Change Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to furthering the scientific understanding of Earth systems and global environmental change.

https://climatecommunication.org/

  • TEDx Climate Talk: Science and Solutions by Susan Hassol

  • Susan Hassol website page

https://climatecommunication.org/resources/#articles

  • Susan Hassol “guick facts” page

https://www.sciline.org/resource-list/climate-communication/

  • The New Climate War book by Michael Mann

https://michaelmann.net/books/climate-war

  • Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die book by Chip & Dan Heath

https://heathbrothers.com/books/made-to-stick/

Written by Gabriel Borba, Interfaces of Global Change fellow and PhD student from the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Department at Virginia Tech. A Brazilian native who is studying climate change impacts on river-floodplain fisheries.

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