American Geophysical Union Has Been Leading the Way on Science Communication

John Abraham has a nice writeup in the Guardian about the American Geophysical Union’s science communication work. The organization’s Sharing Science initiative,  in particular, is a growing hub for Earth scientists who are looking to convey their work with everyone from kindergartners to cabinet members.

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Two AGU staffers having fun with literal interpretations of scientific jargon. These posters were deployed all over the conference and derive from work done by Susan Joy Hassol and Richard Somerville.

I’ve worked with AGU staff for several years on member workshops and I was particularly struck this year by how ready scientists were to think through tough communications problems.

Like a lot of people who have run workshops with scientists, I’ve often found that I need to lead off by explaining why science communication is a good thing, why it doesn’t have to involve dumbing down your message and why it’s not up to somebody else (the media, the education system) to do it for you. More than once, I’ve had scientists ask me very critical questions about the very premise of even doing science communication in the place. Not that I minded — critical thinking and openness is one of the things I love about the scientific community.

But over the past year…I just haven’t had to do that. Scientists increasingly see and feel the need for better, stronger, faster, cooler science communication. And I think it’s easier than ever – thanks to the Internet – to see what happens when ignorance wins out over reason and conspiracy theories, misinformation and just plain goofiness on science-related topics proliferate.

Other societies are doing great work, too, of course, but I suspect AGU has been out front on a lot of communications work, in part, because Earth scientists are used to dealing with public controversies on two big hot-button topics: evolution and climate change. Importantly, it’s a society that’s open to lessons from other fields, too, including epidemiologists, tobacco researchers and historians of science.

There’s a lot to learn when PhDs take on science communication. For scientists, societies are often the very first place they turn to for help. AGU is right on to create a “positive feedback” effect of their own when it comes to fostering accurate, effective science communication

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