Nowadays it’s typical and obvious that conversations create and maintain their existence within “bubbles” or “echo chambers”. The examples are plenty and diverse, across all topics and around the whole world. This is partly a result of the expanding space that allows for more conversations to happen, namely the interconnected world of online web. Never before has it been easier to have a conversation between individuals that reside in different continents, and have the conversation be as fluent and dynamic, in real-time, as if the individuals are all sitting around the same table. And not only is it a matter of technology that facilitates these conversations, it is also the ability to have a large, common, and easily accessible wealth of information to fuel the talks. These factors combine to create a type of communication ecosystem so rich and diverse, that it has inevitably been utilized to support wide-ranging types of microenvironments and subject matters.
New ways facilitate the ability to communicate between individuals interested in ideas, regardless of the actual quality, reason or purpose of these ideas and conversations. It is however not my goal here to debate or argue against some of the prevailing conversations that exist now on the internet. That feels like an issue that requires a different format and a different type of communication than a blogpost in a health and science geared online platform! Instead, my goal today is to spotlight and encourage more of the type of rich communication possible, especially by directing my message towards… and you probably guessed this, scientists (and physicians and all other types of academics. Scientists get the headline in this blogpost because… well I’m a scientist myself!).
I believe that in this rich ecosystem of communication possibilities, there needs to be an increased effort by scientists to engage in open discussions with as many individuals as possible. This is counter to what has been the case for the past century, where scientists placed the highest priority into communicating their knowledge, investigative findings and even their questions (with no present answers) to other scientists, in platforms that are extremely inaccessible to the vast majority of the general public. Scientists (and academics in general) almost intentionally sidelined themselves from active participation in what the world was preoccupied with and talking about at any point in time.
To that extent, it is highly encouraging and exciting, to see that in the past few years, attention and valuable effort has been put into the wide-ranging field of Science Communication (#SciComm), by a growing number of young and established scientists, that answered the call of science beyond the walls of the lab, or the research group, university or hospital that houses them. #SciComm can have many forms, and all of them are totally appropriate, depending on how it is performed, and by whom, and for what purpose. #SciComm can be an addition to the portfolio of an active scientist (student, early-career or even a fully tenured senior investigator). #SciComm can also be an entry-level job by a recent science graduate that has an interest in media and public outreach. #SciComm can also be a lengthy career all on its own, spanning decades (you know who’s basically a #SciCommer: Bill Nye! Also, David Suzuki, and Sir David Attenborough!).
Science communication to the public takes a completely different form, of course, compared to science communication between peers. Academic and medical publications read by their intended communities are perfect examples of “conversation bubbles” and echo chambers. There is no doubt a benefit in having conversations between subject-matter experts. The increased potential of collaboration and the advancement of ideas and innovations has greatly benefited from the ability to communicate within these well-structured communication bubbles. So I would not want this type of discussion to end or be discouraged at all. However, it is increasingly evident that scientists also need to utilize, and take advantage of, the widening communication avenues. Otherwise, the role scientists play in the expanding world will inevitably shrink and become marginalized.
(Collage assembled from pixabay.com images)
New avenues for scientists (and everyone else) exist in all relevant communication styles: If writing is preferred, many blogs/online magazines and newsletters are accessible (or easily created), which can be utilized to “translate” knowledge that exists in academic and medical publications, and allow far easier accessibility for the public. A word of caution here is warranted though: it is important to learn about the content provider (publisher), and vet the content on that platform, to know for sure the value and accuracy that is present there. As scientists, we must value our own output, and make sure it gets sorted into a worthwhile content provider/publisher, and never in a “predatory” or compromised communication form. We should not lend credibility to something that fosters false or biased or unproductive content.
Moving on, when audio style communication is desirable, then podcasts are the modern-day addition to the “radio” format of science communication. And finally, if video is the go-to communication medium, then YouTube is there for everyone. And just like with my words of caution regarding writing and content disseminating new avenues, one must be careful about Podcast and YouTube channels that one is thinking of contributing to; great options exist and are highly recommended, but there also exists a large number of channels and content distributors that would do more harm than benefit to the overall science and general public. Today I’m not going to tackle the world of Social Media here (Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, etc), but know that these also count towards #SciComm (and probably could be the most dominant force of communication moving forward). That’s a future topic to write about!
So, as a scientist, an early career professional, and an enthusiastic communicator of knowledge, to as a wide an audience as I can reach, I’ll continue to encourage, support and amplify the desire for more science communication, and utilization of the expanding avenues available for everyone. Because when science is available for all, the world can tackle more challenges, and everyone can benefit.
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