Science Communication Is The Bridge We Need

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.


“The views, opinions and positions expressed within this blog are those of the author(s) alone and do not represent those of the American Heart Association. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. The Early Career Voice blog is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. Only your healthcare provider can provide that. The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your personal health matters. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke or another emergency, please call 911 immediately.”


3 Tips for Live Tweeting a Conference

What is Live Tweeting?

Live tweeting is when you tweet about an event while you’re there.

You can harness conference hashtags, like #EpiLifestyle19 for the upcoming Epi | Lifestyle Scientific Sessions in Houston, or this past year’s #AHA18 Scientific Sessions in Chicago, to group your tweets with others and help people follow along.

Live tweeting doesn’t mean typing out every word a speaker is saying.

Tweet the name of the presentation and the speaker, the energy of the room, or your big takeaway.

What’s the “so what?” behind the presentation? What did you find most interesting?

You also don’t have to tweet in the moment.

Write down some of your thoughts, and after the session, write up your summary tweet.


Why Live Tweet?

Tweeting short comments at a conference presentation or seminar let’s your followers tune in, like they’re sitting there with you.

In an article for PLOS Blogs, Atif Kukaswadia (@DrEpid) shares an impressive example from the 2011 2nd National Obesity Summit in Montreal.

The conference had 800 attendees, and only a handful of people tweeted.

But those handful of people produced 500 tweets with the conference hashtag, and those 500 tweets reached 80,000 people.

80,000 people.

Can you imagine how many people we’d reach at a bigger AHA conference with meeting reporters live tweeting from nearly every session?

Not only does live tweeting make followers feel like they’re there, but it stimulates discussion as people comment, asking questions, offering their own thoughts, and connecting to other science resources.

In his article “The Challenges of Conference Blogging”, Daniel MacArthur reminded us of the purpose of presenting science at conferences.

Why do we do it?

To promote discussion about our science.

To expand our own influence for future job opportunities and collaborations.

Live tweeting at conferences achieves these things – with the added benefit of concise science communication that expands both the reach of the science but also the understanding.


Tips for Live Tweeting

  1. Live tweeting doesn’t have to be a play-by-play of the talk. Don’t worry about tweeting every single word. Instead, think about what theme or finding resonates the most with you. Tweet about that!
  2. Visuals make any tweet that much more engaging. Use high quality, free stock photos from unsplash.com or www.rawpixel.com along with your post, or search online for a corresponding paper or faculty webpage to link in. Many people snap a pic of the slides or the speaker on stage – just be sure to check with conference policies before posting photos.
  3. Search for the speaker on Twitter so you can tag them with their handle (preceded by @). One of the best ways to do this is to use a search engine with their full name, and “Twitter”. If nothing comes up, try tagging their institution. Many schools of medicine, hospital departments, and universities have Twitter accounts. If you know you’ll be reporting on a session in advance, you can look up these handles beforehand.


For examples of live tweets, search previous conference hashtags on Twitter, like #AHA18, #EpiLifestyle18, #QCOR18, or your council’s Scientific Sessions hashtag.

To learn more about using social media for science communication, with more tips for tweeting and blogging, be sure to come to the Epi Early Career session on Friday March 8th, 7 – 8:30 am in the Galleria Ballroom, Westin Galleria, Houston, TX at Epi | Lifestyles Scientific Sessions 2019.