Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Lessons from Science Communication Training

 
"Lessons from Science Communication Training" is the title of a letter appearing in the May 25th issue of Science magazine [Lessons from Science Communication Training].

The letter is from a group at Cornell University who developed a science communication course for graduate students. According to the letter,
... the goal of this course was to improve our ability to discuss our research with both the general public and the professionals writing and reporting on science in the media.
The authors have three key recommendations that I'll discuss below but before getting to them let's set the stage.

Matt Nisbet recommends the article on his blog [At Science, a Focus on Media Training for Scientists]. I assume he endorses the message because it fits with his idea of framing science. Chad Orzel is a little bit skeptical but he accepts the principles laid out in the Science letter [Framing Science: Look Inside the Sausage Factory].

What is the problem that the Cornell group is trying to solve? Here's how they put it,
However, a cultural shift is under way, reflecting the higher stakes of research, and an increased recognition by scientists, stakeholders, and policymakers that (i) scientists need to get their message out, (ii) scientists need training to learn how to do so, and (iii) training should begin at the graduate level.
Now, I don't want to be accused of claiming that all scientists are excellent communicators but as far as I can tell they don't do such a bad job. After all, communicating is extremely important in science whether it be writing a scientific paper or lecturing to undergraduates. It's not at all clear to me that we scientists are doing such a bad job of communicating science.

But we all know that's not really the issue. The issue is the fixation of some people on the idea that scientists need special training in order to communicate to the general public. Apparently the skills needed to communicate within the scientific community are just not good enough when it comes to writing popular science. But is this true? Do scientists really fall down when it comes to communicating to non-scientists?

I don't think so. I have several selves full of books by scientists. You may be familiar with some of the names: Richard Dawkins, Ken Miller, Carl Sagan, Ernst Mayr, Ed Wilson, Jim Watson, Francis Crick, Jared Diamond, George Williams, John Maynard Smith, Lynn Margulis, David Raup, Niles Eldredge, David Suzuki, Richard Lewontin, and Stephen Jay Gould. Many of these scientists have also written newspaper articles and reviews in the New York Times. They've been interviewed on television and they've given public lectures all over the world.

Not bad for scientists, eh? Of course not every scientist can be good at this but that's surely not the point. The important point is whether there's a serious problem when it comes to scientists communicating with the general public. Frankly, I don't see it. The scientists are communicating science very effectively. Maybe some people aren't listening, or maybe some people don't understand science when they hear it.

I think the so-called "problem" here is not about communicating good science. It's about using science language as a tool to persuade people to change their minds. This is what Nisbet and Mooney are on about. They don't really care about the science, they take that as a given. What they want is for scientists to move out of the science sphere into the political sphere. They want scientists to adopt their particular political perspective and fight on their side for the policy changes that they believe in. They don't really want scientists to explain stem cell research. Scientists have already done a good job at that. Nisbet and Mooney want scientists to fight against the pro-life people who would shut down stem cell research. That's not science communication. It's politics. Perhaps you need framing in politics but it's wrong in science.

Let's, for the sake of argument, agree that scientists can do better at communicating science (not politics) to the general public. Who's going to teach them? If you were being logical you might assume that the best teachers would be scientists with a proven track record, like the ones mentioned above. Or perhaps another group of lesser luminaries who have some experience with the media.

Well, if that's what you think you then haven't been listening to the conversations. Did you know there's a large group of people out there who think that scientists need lessons from science journalists, reporters, and people in the press office? Apparently these guys have been doing a much better job than the scientists when it comes to communicating science to the general public. I guess they're better framers. Who knew?

Back to the original letter in Science. Here are the three bits of advice that the Cornell group teaches.
First, involve people from multiple fields across your college or university. In particular, we highly recommend involving staff from the press relations office. These specialists have a unique perspective on what topics are newsworthy and on the challenges scientists face in communicating effectively. Include scientists who have personal experience communicating their research to the public and journalists from your campus or local newspaper.
I like the idea of getting advice from scientists who have personal experience. I'm very skeptical about advice from the staff of press relations offices. My experience with the results coming out of those offices does not inspire confidence. I'm not sure that scientists should be taking lessons on how to communicate to the general public from a group that doesn't seem to be very good at it. I think that press relations offices are part of the problem, not part of the solution.
Second, visit a news room (radio, print, or television) and talk to reporters--not just science reporters, but reporters in all fields. Ask to sit in on a meeting where reporters and editors pitch stories to each other. This process reveals what stories interest reporters and how those stories are developed. Understanding this process will help scientists identify and explain the newsworthy attributes of their own research.
What evidence do we have that a group of reporters sitting around a table is able to distinguish good science from bad science? None whatsoever [SCIENCE Questions: Asking the Right Question]. Clearly the goal here is not to focus on good science communication—it's how to spin good science to conform to what the newspapers want to print. We know what that is. Shave your head, commit a crime, exaggerate your claims. Is this really what we want our graduate students to learn?

The group that needs lessons here is the reporters, not the scientists. That ain't gonna happen but it's no reason for us to lower ourselves to their standards.
Third, get hands-on experience communicating science as part of the class. Do not just set up a series of lectures and field trips: write press releases, write articles, conduct interviews, get interviewed, create a Web page, and set up a science blog. Ask your collaborating journalists and PR specialists to facilitate and critique student projects. Hands-on experience with feedback from media professionals and other students provided some of the most useful learning experiences in our course.
Experience is important. Nobody questions that. The important question is who is going to be the judge of good science writing? If it's going to be journalists, PR specialists, and media professionals then I want to see evidence that they are doing a good job right now. Are they worthy of trust?

22 comments :

  1. Never, ever have I encountered a book by a non-scientist science writer that can even begin to compare with the best popular books by the scientists on your list and many others besides. And I strongly suspect that I never will.

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  2. So why is there a perception out there that scientists aren't doing a good job and they can be taught by non-scientists how to do it better?

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  3. People just don't care enough Larry. All of the information everyone needs is readily available, but that doesn't matter if people don't care. Why don't they care? Because their parents didn't care and for the most part, people don't need to care, or at least they THINK they don't need to care because their lives are pretty comfortable as is. I don't believe that this sitatuation will ever change until people start appreciating and respecting scientists, and their work, like they should. When will they learn? "Only through suffering do we learn."

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  4. Never, ever have I encountered a book by a non-scientist science writer that can even begin to compare with the best popular books by the scientists on your list

    Quammen
    Zimmer
    Weiner

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  5. I don't know if the Framers guys have discussed this whole thing with George Lakoff, the linguist who has been trying to get liberals to frame their arguments better, but your comment that framing has more of a political purpose than a science communication purpose is exactly what he has been saying.

    When he analyzed the framing of the conservatives his examples involved taking liberal ideas and re--framing them in a negative way. The liberal framing sessions in the Meetups were about turning that particular table.

    I'm sticking with the old fashioned idea that scientists should continue just to be scientists, here.

    The press and public relations core just need to do their jobs better and seek information from the sources if they want to report science more accurately.

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  6. Larry- consider just who is creating and propagating this "perception" (but I suspect your question was rhetorical). ccp- haven't read Quammen, I agree that the other two have produced some of the very best of the books-by-science-writers genre (so yeah, it's fair enough to call me out on my "even begin to compare" hyperbole), but I still feel they're qualitatively just a notch below the level of the best books written by authors who have actually practiced the science of which they write. And they are rare exceptions compared to Larry's long list of distinguished scientist / authors.

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  7. I think it is somewhat illusionary to distinguish "scientists" who write popularizations from "science writers". Case in point -- Dawkins. Sure, he got his doctorate, but he hasn't been a working scientist in decades -- in practice he's basically in the same boat as people like Zimmer and Weiner -- on the outside looking in, explaining the work of others.

    And even the first rate scientists like Watson generally have written the bulk of their popularizations long after their productive research years. In general active scientists just can't find the time to devote to popularizing.

    One of the few exceptions I can think of is Sean B. Carroll -- he's written two excellent popularizations in the last couple of years while still actively publishing some of the most important research in evodevo.

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  8. The group that needs lessons here is the reporters, not the scientists. That ain't gonna happen but it's no reason for us to lower ourselves to their standards.

    Exactly right! A substantial (and difficult) part of the science wars in the Ohio State Board of Education over 5 years was spending a whole lot of time educating reporters (and their editors) about the questions at issue. It was worth doing, but it wasn't easy. By the end, virtually all of the major state newspapers were reasonably accurately reporting the issues, but it was a long hard slog.

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  9. The conflation between PR and reporting is not a new problem but it is quite disturbing non the less. What we need is a more informed and critical audience willing and able to make the effort to distinguish between PR and news reporting.

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  10. ccp - Amen to Quammen and Zimmer. "Song of the Dodo" in particular is wonderful (if anyone's looking for musings on endangered species with a bit of evolutionary theory as background).

    Larry said: "Did you know there's a large group of people out there who think that scientists need lessons from science journalists, reporters, and people in the press office?"

    Errmm - until you attain perfection, isn't improvement possible, and desirable? The remaining question is whether "science journalists, reporters, and people in the press office" know anything worth learning. You seem to conclude that the answer is no, but I'm always reluctant to think of issues in such broad-brush terms. Surely there are people working in these areas who have helpful knowledge worth seeking out.

    "The group that needs lessons here is the reporters, not the scientists. That ain't gonna happen but it's no reason for us to lower ourselves to their standards."

    *Lower* yourself? Jeebus, Larry, sometimes.... Hope that was intentionally provocative language on your part, not an indication of an oversized ego.

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  11. Larry: The group that needs lessons here is the reporters, not the scientists. That ain't gonna happen but it's no reason for us to lower ourselves to their standards.

    Jud: *Lower* yourself? Jeebus, Larry, sometimes.... Hope that was intentionally provocative language on your part, not an indication of an oversized ego.

    What I've seen of the standards of journalists includes tolerance for sloppy and vague citations, stupid attempts at 'balance' by directing unwarranted attention to cranks and mindless denialists, and a general failure to appreciate the historical background of a particular piece of news.

    Examples abound: when was the last time a science journalist's article contained sufficient information to track down precisely the publication they are citing? It always seems to be "in this week's issue of Nature" or something similar, never "the article by John Smith and colleagues, Oh what a great thing we found, on pages 22-33 of volume 102 of the Journal of Exciting Sciency Stuff, from this November" or something equivalently informative.

    Examples of stupid crank interviews for 'balance' are also very common. If there's a scientific consensus on an issue, such as global warming (i.e. yes, it's happening), why would you interview the PR guy from Exxon-Mobile who everybody already knows will repeat the mantra "not happening" until the day he dies? How does that contribute to a story?

    As for historical background, I'm primarily refering here to the tendency of science journalists to present each new refinement of a theory as a ground-breaking, establishment-defying sensation. See Larry's previous post about an article in SEED, about Neutral Theory.

    I don't think any of that kind of writing would be tolerated by any peer-reviewed journal, although I expect there are a few exceptions. So I think it is fair to say that a scientist who is used to writing science, rather than about science, would have to lower their standards to write in the manner of a professional journalist.

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  12. Larry,

    I think you're right that framing is important if you want to persuade people to do something (e.g. vote a certain way). If you want to teach science then it's not such a big deal.

    How much of the focus on evolution/ID debates is on persuasion vs. teaching science? I think this debate is all about persuasion. We want people to get ID out of schools. That's persuasion, that's politics. Teaching evolution will not, by itself, persuade people to vote out school boards that push ID into classrooms.

    To influence what's taught in public schools, you have to engage in public policy debates, and you must "lower" yourself to the standards and practices of public policy debates. That includes framing or whatever you want to call it.

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  13. Mark Powell says,

    How much of the focus on evolution/ID debates is on persuasion vs. teaching science? I think this debate is all about persuasion. We want people to get ID out of schools. That's persuasion, that's politics. Teaching evolution will not, by itself, persuade people to vote out school boards that push ID into classrooms.

    I'm not interested in persuading people to keep Intelligent Design Creationism out of the classroom. In fact, I think the best way to kill it is to expose it to the cruel light of day in the classroom. The students themselves will start to see how silly it is and they'll start making fun of anyone who believes in it.

    If you live in America you may have to fight that fight. Turn it over to the lawyers 'cause it ain't science.

    Everyone needs to keep in mind that on the issue of teaching good science there's no compromise. There's no spining, no little lies, and no framing allowed. Evolution is just as it is, warts and all.

    When you move into the political arena it's a different ball game. Some people want to take lessons on how to argue in the political arena. They take those lessons from the same people who advise politicians.

    I'm not interested in that but this seems to be a big surprise to Mooney and Nisbet. For some reason they think that all scientists have a secret desire to behave like politicians on the stump.

    Maybe it comes from living in Washington.

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  14. Larry,

    I'm confused, you say you don't want to persuade people to keep ID out of classrooms, but then you say that straight-up science teaching is the best way to kill it.

    Is the persuasion the problem?

    Are you saying that you do want to kill ID, but that it's only "right" to kill it by teaching science and explaining evolution?

    Is it that persuasion is unacceptable as being too manipulative and dishonest?

    I really am trying to understand here.

    Mark

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  15. Mark Powell says,

    I'm confused, you say you don't want to persuade people to keep ID out of classrooms, but then you say that straight-up science teaching is the best way to kill it.

    Why is that confusing? In some science classes they introduce astrology as an example of pseudoscience and show why it doesn't work. IF some people claim that HIV doesn't cause AIDS then bringing that up in class is a good way to teach the truth and show how science really works.

    When you have a major "scientific" conflict in society, such as the creation/evolution controversy, then surely one of the best ways to deal with it is to discuss it in school? We won't be doing a good job of educating students if we don't meet the challenge of Intelligent Design Creationism head on and show why it's wrong.

    In America, what they're doing instead is creating a martyr out of Intelligent Design Creationism. By fighting so hard to keep it out of the schools they are creating the impression that scientists are afraid of IDC.

    Thus, Americans are failing the public on two levels. Not only are the schools prevented from teaching the truth about IDC but the lawyers are enhancing it's image as a threatening new theory that brings God into science.

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  16. Larry's argument about letting ID into the schools to be exposed as non-science resonates with me. I have contacts at a few local high schools and help out with some of their activities every year (including a DNA day for the 10 grade biology students at one school). I have repeatedly expressed my willingness to visit the class room to discuss evolution and ID. The offer is never taken up. the teachers are afraid to do it. It is a taboo subject. I'm not sure if it is even legal to discuss it. This is not a good situation. Kids are left with no information at all.

    Of course I also see the flip side. The risk/problem with the 'let it in as a an example of bad/non science' argument is that there are far too many science teachers who believe the drivel themselves. So the message that would be delivered is the absolute opposite of the one intended.

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  17. thebrummell said: "I don't think any of that kind of writing would be tolerated by any peer-reviewed journal...."

    Lessee, the specific criticism you made of "that kind of writing" was presenting new findings as more surprising than they really are? See Larry's post criticizing scientists' published expressions of surprise at the (low) number of genes in the human genome: http://sandwalk.blogspot.com/2007/03/facts-and-myths-concerning-historical.html .

    And outside the peer-reviewed journals (whose letters and comments pages have seen more vicious arguments than laypeople might realize - *both* sides can't be right in such arguments, and sometimes *neither* is), it's a whole different world. There are rafts of global-warming-denialist scientists; a few years back there were researchers working for tobacco companies or tobacco industry organizations minimizing cigarettes' harmful or addictive qualities; and way down in the inner circles of Science Hell, there's Jonathan Wells and his Ph.D. in Molecular and Cell Biology (though if you wanted to say one couldn't possibly dignify Wells with the description "scientist," I'd be damned hard-pressed to argue with you).

    Simple version: Scientists are human. The types of foibles that are being criticized are thoroughly human, and scientists are thoroughly subject to them.

    Back on topic: The concern should be not whether one will "lower" oneself to some perceived squalid state occupied by despised "others," but what one may find in the best examples of scientific colleagues and those in communication professions. Even the finest communicators among scientists and science journalists may conceivably improve.

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  18. It seems as though a lot of these comments make the same strategic mistake the US made in Vietnam, namely assuming "the enemy" (media or Communists) are monolithic. My experience in talking to the media about my science has been quite varied. Some true science reporters are excellent; they take time to hear the background, they will identify relevant scientists to comment on the work, and in the end, the pieces they write are usually illuminating and reasonably accurate. But most science you see in the morning paper comes from the AP beat writer who will call an hour before deadline wanting a quick quote to spice up his rewrite of the press release. The very worst science is from local beat reporters covering a breaking science-related story (e.g., a large earthquake) where their instincts of distrusting authority figures makes for bizarre theater; I still recall one Southern California TV reporter who went on camera claiming the USGS was covering up an ability to predict earthquakes (Lucy Jones, of the USGS Pasadena office at the time, had a press conference where she said, in essence, trust my desire to be famous--the first seismologist to successfully predict an earthquake will be renowned--I'm not about to hide any such success). None of the suggestions here or in Science really address problems in this mode of communication.

    As for the press office, a good press office wants as much coverage as possible. So they will tend to emphasize to the point of exaggeration material that you give them. I have found it most helpful to involve the press office early enough that I have time to rework their initial press release, correcting context and adding credit to other scientists. Sometimes scientists think they have to agree to allow text claiming that this new work SOLVES problem X or REDEFINES field Y when it is more incremental. You can get decent press--and not have to hide from colleagues at a future meeting--with a more honest representation of the work. That press release will be printed nearly verbatim in many places; get it straight, and a lot of ills (like taking credit for the internet or things like that) will go away. A good press office will get the good science writers to see that press release.

    Another good non-scientist science author is John McPhee. His books on geology work so well in large part because he is a good enough journalist that the views of his subjects come through clearly (this is also the weakness of the books, incidentally).

    The best thing any scientist can do is talk to people--at school, on the plane, in the bus. Recent PhDs often avoid this--they cannot explain, they think, without a basketful of jargon (I know of one who would say he was a firefighter to avoid explaining things). All too often scientists are told by funding agencies and such that they need to be more relevant to society. This is misinterpreted to say what your latest scientific endeavor will do to improve the lot of, say, shoe salesmen. This is wrong. In my work, I have to tell a lot of landowners about my research in order to place equipment on their land. It is generally the "gee, I didn't know you could do that" aspect that they enjoy hearing about--that I can record a magnitude 5 quake from halfway round the world, or determine just where the boundary between the crust and mantle is right under their house. And I can SHOW them this. Rekindling a bit of the awe of discovery in folks is what satisfies a lot of the public. Building on this will do science coverage more good than adopting the tricks of master hucksters; we don't need no stinking smoke and mirrors--we have science.

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  19. Okay, this is my abbreviated response to this post. My full and much more inflammatory and purile response can be found here.

    I can understand the political naivety I'm reading in this post; after all, natural scientists are notoriously out of touch with the social sciences, like Politics, which most of them don't consider real science anyway. It doesn't change the fact that we are pathetically ineffective at winning the culture war.

    It's really very simple. Stem Cell research doesn't get Federal funding because scientists working with stem cells haven't communicated the issue successfully so that people know the difference between a viable fetus attached to the uterine wall and cluster of undifferentiated cells frozen in liquid nitrogen. Most people reject evolutionary theory, because Richard Dawkins and all the other brilliant evolutionary theorists have failed to persuade them. If we were really communicating science to the best of our abilities, then we would be winning the war of ideas.

    Natalie Angier's recent book, The Cannon, frames science in terms of everyday average human experiences, putting the natural sciences in contexts the 99% of the world who doesn't work in a lab or classroom can appreciate and make an emotional connection to. Angier is a journalist, a self-described "Science Debutant," and Dr. Moran disapproves of the journalistic approach to communicating science that professionals like Angier utilize:

    I'm not sure that scientists should be taking lessons on how to communicate to the general public from a group that doesn't seem to be very good at it. I think that press relations offices are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

    I can't help but wonder what are Dr. Moran's criteria for successful public communications? I see newspapers selling everywhere, journalists filling their pages with text. I see journalists filling the radio and television mediums with their reports. Scientists are few and far between in these mediums. I don't see people gathering around the water-cooler on Monday mornings to discuss the latest articles in the journal Nature. Journalists are demonstrably and undisputedly superior at communicating with the public than scientists, and it's silly and dishonest to excuse your poor communication skills by rationalizing that it's everyone else who's too stupid to understand you.

    The group that needs lessons here is the reporters, not the scientists. That ain't gonna happen but it's no reason for us to lower ourselves to their standards.

    Science communicators shouldn't "lower ourselves to their standards," standards that journalists must adhere to because they are communicating to audiences of average intelligence. In other words, Dr. Moran doesn't think we should be modifying how we communicate science so that average people (ie. the most people) can understand it. Instead he advocates making Journalists be as incommunicably erudite as scientific experts.

    Anyone who has read The Selfish Gene is aware of the importance of memes in humanity's evolutionary fitness. Politics is the science of exploiting human cognitive schemas to ensure certain memes take root in our social mindshare. Any scientist who thinks politics isn't their business is a scientist who undervalues the importance of teaching science to the masses.

    I hope I've sufficiently stirred up the pot to get some real disputation going on here. Maybe we can make a long weekend out of it? : )

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  20. larry moran said: So why is there a perception out there that scientists aren't doing a good job and they can be taught by non-scientists how to do it better?

    It isn't a matter of people not caring. It's a matter of people not understanding what science is, and that failure, in the United States anyways, is a direct result of science not having been taught in public school for decades.

    Yes, there are "science" classes, but most of these classes (from my humble experience, please back me up or refute me as necessary) are designed to teach the student a little bit of jargon and theory backed up by "experiments" that have fixed and gradeable outcomes that must be hit precisely in order to pass "science."

    The purpose of true science is NEVER to ht a predetermined target. The purpose of true science is DISCOVERY. And as long as students are taught that science is a fixed body of knowledge, codified in a textbook with an irrefutable answer key, the general public will NEVER understand science and its true value to humanity. Religious convictions will always win out over "I did the experiment, my answer was different, so I flunked the project. Science sucks!" because what you FEEL in religious study is more important that what you KNOW. And we all know it is much easier to feel something than it is to understand it.

    There's your perception hang-up. We're talking about two different definitions of science. And that's why the public may read Dawkins, Sagan, Gould, et al., but they won't understand what these writers are trying to communicate. Those of us who appreciate science as a meaningful tool that deepens understanding are talking to a public who appreciates science as a collection of nifty factoids, but nothing of tangible value.

    I understand the dangerous implications of "tarting up" science to make it more palatable to the "great unwashed masses." (FSM bless our stinky little hearts!) But the solution to the problem of perception lies not in putting trampy costumes on science or keeping science a respectable vestal librarian, but in real science education in this country.

    I have to make an aside to disagree with your belief that ID, exposed in the pure light of a science class, will shrivel and die like a mythological nosferatu. Those religious devotees are indoctrinated from a very early age to stand up in those classes and challenge their professors with their heartfelt zeal, and this act is taught to be heroic and godly. You can be sure that the passion with which some of these students defend their god against the wiles of satanic atheistic science is a real and potent force in the classroom, one that, unfortunately, will never be swayed by logic or reason but has the power to sway by sheer lunatic bravery.

    From what I understand, it is very difficult to flunk these "students" who refuse to learn because of the threat of lawsuits and the relative scarcity of tenured science teachers on any level from junior high to graduate school. In this case and cases like these, the word must get out to the masses that teaching and learning the concepts of Darwinian evolution is not a threat to dogmatic religious belief, whatever one's favorite flavor may be, and many, many more people read The Daily Picayune or whatever your local fishwrapper may be than they do scientific journals or other science-based media.

    That's where non-scientists can be of great use: not as spin doctors, but as educated liaisons who can parlay the thoughts of a scientist keen on discovery and progress into something the average person can digest with gusto over breakfast.

    Jon Stewart is our only other hope.

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  21. Like it or loathe it, this kind of communication can make careers and reputations, secure political and financial support for particular fields of research, and inspire the next generation. Most here can name a book by Dawkins, for example, but how many can cite a major *research* paper by him?

    So who is best placed to provide the training for this purpose that everyone agrees is desirable? Larry and others seem wary of PR folk and media types. Well, there are a very few research-active career scientists who are also professional science journalists. I'm one of them - and I also run a company that provides training in science communication and media skills (www.sciconnect.co.uk). We uniquely understand both the perspective of researchers *and* how the media etc works.

    I'll admit journalists etc often get it wrong / do a lousy job (but so do some scientists in their own profession - we just seldom see it - Hwang, anyone?). But they can also make a mess of their media communications - I use a couple of case studies in training courses that show the errors come from scientists *and* media folk in misrepresentation of the facts.

    To assume scientists have nothing to learn is part of the barrier that makes science inaccessible to many. And most of us are spending public money in our research - we need to tell taxpayers what we have found and why it matters. That's the purpose of this kind of communication - and it requires very different skills to communicating with our specialist peers in research papers and presentations at conferences.

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  22. Jon Copley says,

    To assume scientists have nothing to learn is part of the barrier that makes science inaccessible to many.

    Nobody is saying that. The question I'm concerned about is who should teach scientists how to communicate with the general public.

    As far as I can tell, scientists as a group don't do such a bad job when they undertake the job. As far as I can tell, science journalists and PR specialists don't do a very good job. So why should scientists take lessons from people who don't have a good track record?

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