Monday, August 17, 2009

Advice for Scientists on How to Communicate

Carl Zimmer is an excellent science writer. He reviews three books directed at scientists on how they should communicate science to the general public. Two of the books are by science writers and the third is by a former biologist who is now a filmmaker in Hollywood.

Part of Carl's review is on his blog: Book [P]review: For The Scientist.
Three books are coming out this year directed at these scientists. Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens our Future, by my fellow Discobloggers Sheril Kirshenbaum and Chris Mooney, was the first. I talked to Chris about the book in this Bloggingheads talk. Cornelia Dean of the New York Times is publishing another, called Am I Making Myself Clear?: A Scientist’s Guide to Talking to the Public. It’s a lean, straightforward tour of the media landscape, led by a journalist who has written about science for many years.

The third is by a scientists–but it’s called Don’t Be Such a Scientist: Talking Substance in an Age of Style. The author is Randy Olson, a biologist who headed to Hollywood. Back in 2006, I wrote about his documentary, Flock of Dodos–which was his own response to the events in Kansas. Rather than post a statement on a web site, Olson made a funny movie that not only demonstrated the flim-flammery of creationists, but also showed how dismally evolutionary biologists communicated to those beyond their guild.
All advice is valuable but I'd just like to make sure that everyone keeps things in perspective.

The major goal of science writers is to communicate science to the general public. That's what their profession is all about. If we have not been successful at communicating science properly over the past few decades then isn't it reasonable to put some of the blame on the professionals?

Just out of curiosity, have there been many books written by science writers where they criticize their profession and give advice to fellow science writers on how to improve their science communication skills? Or, have science writers decided that it should be scientists, and not science writers, who need to correct the failures of the past?

1 comment:

  1. "The major goal of science writers is to communicate science to the general public."

    While I realize that science writers and science writing is your major concern. I think we should first think about writing in general:

    The major goal of all writers should be to communicate to their readers clearly, effectively and accurately. Most writing, especially in email and blog comments, is sloppy and ungrammatical; this writing style affects other forms of written communication. If all writers followed the basic rules and avoided shortcuts, then they would be able to communicate more effectively.