The compelling case for science communication

By Amy Dunkle | Rhode Island NSF EPSCoR

Why science communication? Because climate change, evolution, vaccines, and the moon landing, to name a few examples of anti-science sentiment in the United States today.

“It’s critical that a lot more people become engaged and interested in issues of science and science policy to have any traction on these global issues,” says Sunshine Menezes, executive director of the Metcalf Institute for Marine & Environmental Reporting, speaking at the 2015 Fate of the Earth Symposium, April 1-2, 2015.

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The work of artist Natalie Miebach, using weather data to communicate science in a three-dimensional, tactile way. (Photo by Amy Dunkle, RI NSF EPSCoR.)

Held at Michigan State University by the Environmental Science and Policy Program, the event sought “to explore what we know, what we need to know and what we must do as we move into a century of unprecedented environmental change, technological advancement and scale of human activity.”

Menezes’ talk, “Tipping the Scales Toward Effective Science,” highlights a positive shift toward a growing interest in science communication and identifies ways to better engage diverse public audiences.

The complete presentation is provided in the Youtube link above and deserves a watch. Menezes offers a primer on science communication, its trajectory in the past decades and the increasing acceptance within the scientific community of the need to communicate to the non-science audience.

And yet, although scientists feel compelled to talk to the public about their research and its implications, Menezes notes that many do not know how to broach the subject; there is a sense of being stuck between wanting to communicate, but not knowing how to effectively engage people.

Showcasing the work of artist Natalie Miebach, who was featured at a Metcalf workshop on data visualization in Providence, RI,  Menezes points to basket weaving as a novel means to tell the story of temperature change. Miebach collects weather data to create baskets, the basket being her medium to communicate science in a three-dimensional, tactile way.

“We need to think differently and much more creatively about how we tell stories of science,” says Menezes.

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