The impetus for this piece was an essay I wrote for iBiology a year or so ago discussing the importance of scientific discovery for a a general science audience (i.e., our science peers who are not in our respective field). I was excited to write the piece because a lot of the Science FRIEDay articles I write focus on relatively recent scientific discoveries, and this article is more of an opinion piece. So why is scientific discovery important for an audience of science peers who do not explicitly work in our specific field?
It is easy to marvel at the wonders that exist on our planet and in the surrounding universe, the known discoveries. As a natural scientist, I also appreciate the beauty in the hidden mysteries of the natural world, those processes, behaviors, and functions that we have yet to elucidate. The notion and concept of scientific discovery is romanticized as a purist’s deed. Edwin Hubble said it best, “Equipped with his five senses, man explores the universe around him and calls that adventure Science.” A scientist’s basal desire is to further the state of knowledge, but equally we crave information about the fields of knowledge that are expanding around us, of which we are not explicitly involved. We aspire to understand the “99%”, at the very least surficially. The importance of this desire explains why scientific conferences play a major role in our profession, and journals such as Science and Nature are so popular. Yes, we as scientist want to share our new discoveries, but we are also equally as intrigued about what others have accomplished; we want to know how science is progressing outside of our bubble, especially those really groundbreaking feats. These coupled characteristics are a necessary component of science. Hearing and learning about the work of others fuels one’s own scientific passions to go and do more, and can often challenge an individual to think more creatively about their own research ideas and approaches. To a general audience of our scientific peers, sharing scientific discovery temporarily satiates the yearning that scientists have about the progression of knowledge, but also can serve as motivation and inspiration.
To that end, this is why I believe it is critically important that we as scientist be adept at scientific communication. Our scientific peers cannot share in the adulation of a new discovery if it is presented in a convoluted and cryptic manner. Effective communication of science is important not solely to indulge the desires of other research scientists, but these discoveries often play a role in science policy and management. This necessitates that the information being presented be understood to ensure effective science governance. We as scientists should possess the skills to intelligibly present our findings, in addition to conducting research. However, it’s a balancing act and some scientists do not possess the communication skills necessary to effectively disseminate their discoveries.
The science community must become effective communicators to inspire further scientific discovery and to ensure proper implementation of science policies and management. The method by which this is achieved is complicated given the difficulty of breaking complex concepts into an easily digestible presentation without losing the “nutritional value”. Blueprints for success do exist, the structure and teaching that goes into TED talks is a good place to start, but more importantly we as a community must value and elevate the importance of science communication; perhaps applying more focus and training in the skill during graduate education.
Shaping a field into effective communicators will not be easy, but just because it is difficult does not mean it’s impossible, ’Impossible’ is not a scientific term, and the relatively recent rise of the science blog/tweeter shows the value in using social media platforms to communicate science to a broader science audience.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.