When I talk to scientists or science enthusiasts, one of their greatest frustrations in communicating science is facing an unresponsive audience. It’s hard to try to argue for climate change or evolution with someone else whose beliefs are firm and unwavering.
Some science based Facebook or Twitter pages tend to make this disconnect worse by mocking people who don’t accept scientific facts. I started following some of these pages myself because I like being connected to other science enthusiasts. I was shocked though by some of the memes and posts that outright personally attack the misinformed public, or people who spread science misinformation. While I understand their motivations and frustrations, these pages isolate the general public and aren’t helping. How then do you as a scientist avoid these common pitfalls and open up lines of communication? In my last article, I ended with seeing scientific argument as a partnership. Here, I outline my tips and tricks for effective science communication that won’t isolate others.
Avoid logical fallacies
Believe it or not, even though a lot of these pages on social media are run by intelligent people with scientific backgrounds, they commit the worst logical fallacy: ad hominems. An ad hominem is a personal attack, which literally means “to the person.” Name calling, swearing, and threats are all ways to commit an ad hominem. These attacks are either directed at people who peddle products based on pseudoscience, or the general public who doesn’t have an advanced understanding of science. While both of these groups of people can pose challenges and barriers to effective science communication, personally attacking them is not the right method. Here are some examples of these sorts of posts floating around Facebook:
The issue with ad hominems is that they attacks the person rather than the argument itself. If you want to change someone’s mind, take the focus off of them and stick to the evidence.
Put yourself in the audience’s shoes
Take a step back and look at how far your education has evolved since you were a little kid. From the time your interest in science sparked to today, you have become (to some degree) an expert on science. Even if you don’t have a PhD, perhaps you’ve taught yourself enough science to know more than the general public. Now try to think about how you learned science growing up. Who were your favorite teachers? How did they help you to understand scientific concepts? Keep in mind when you’re having a debate with someone about climate change that they might not know as much about the topic as you do. Think about how you frame your arguments knowing that the other person probably doesn’t have the same arsenal of facts and data as you do. With that in mind…
Don’t use technical jargon
Scientific terminology is appropriate in a research paper or at a conference, but not when you are speaking to a general audience. Use simpler terms and try to create comparisons to simpler, more well-known concepts. As I’ll get to in a later post, this is communicating science using metaphor, and it’s extremely effective. This also will make you seem more relatable and less elitist to whomever you’re speaking to.
Seek collaboration, not competition
I ended my last post stressing the importance of seeing science communication as a communal process rather than a debate. Again, I’d like to stress the importance of working together and reiterate that this is the best way to avoid isolating your audience. Creating an “us vs them” mentality is counterproductive and at best will make your audience trust you less. Trust, as you’ll soon learn, is another important key to science communication.
With these tips, you can reach a level of mutual respect between you and the general public. Don’t make the mistake of other science social media pages that isolate and attack the very people whose minds they are trying to change.
Have you seen any examples of bad science communication? Share your stories in the comments below.
As always, thanks for stopping by my blog. In my next post, I’ll talk about the power of using stories in communicating science. Make sure to subscribe to my blog and follow me on Twitter or Facebook for the latest updates.