Science Communication or Scientist Communication?

How can we speak to the public about science when as scientists we don’t even speak to each other?

I’m not talking to you.. © Copyright niklasgyori (Niklas Györi) and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons
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Scientists study microscopic details but what about the big picture?

Edge of the Earth (NASA, International Space Station Science, 10/04/03) © Copyright NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence (

If a system is multi-faceted but all the facets only work individually, how do we change the system?

Photogamer: Feb 2, 2008 “Toy” © Copyright shannonpatrick17 and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons
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These are all questions I have been asking myself over the last couple of days during my Animal nutrition lectures. Yesterday, I asked a visiting lecturer how his type of diet would affect the behaviour of the pigs he was feeding and ultimately how it would affect their welfare, a relationship that has been researched by animal welfare scientists, but he didn’t have an answer.

I then had another visiting lecturer tell me that extremely fast growth and extremely high productivity in animals were completely natural processes that nutritionists just exploit. But animal welfare scientists have been researching the detrimental effects of productivity being pushed so far in broiler chickens that their genetics and their diets pose huge health and welfare concerns. This doesn’t seem natural to me.

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It then struck me that although these people were extremely talented and well respected in their area of expertise that hadn’t looked into the other components that make up the whole system. It wasn’t that they didn’t care about the impacts of their work on other facets of the farming system or that they lacked knowledge. The problem was that they had never talked to the scientists doing the research in other related areas of animal science and they had never come together with those scientists to try and solve the problems on a systems level.

It seems to me that this is not just a problem in my area of study but in all sciences across the board. Collaboration is a rare and undervalued commodity indeed. It’s about time scientists started to work together and share and learn from one another, not that they’ll always agree of course, but perhaps bigger problems could be solved and a more united front presented to the public.

If you would like to find out more about growth, productivity and broiler welfare this is a useful paper:

Dawkins, M., & Layton, R. (n.d). Breeding for better welfare: genetic goals for broiler chickens and their parents. Animal Welfare, 21(2), 147-155.

And if you would like to find out about how diet can affect behaviour (specifically high fibre and level of aggression in sows) this is a useful paper:

V, D., & Ellen-Margrethe, V. (n.d). Dietary fibre for pregnant sows: effect on performance and behaviour. Animal Feed Science And Technology, 90(The Role of Dietary Fibre in Pig Production), 71-80. doi:10.1016/S0377-8401(01)00197-3

4 Responses to “Science Communication or Scientist Communication?”

  1. Helen says:

    Thanks very much for your comments everyone 🙂 I would have to agree that, yes, to a certain extent in some scientific arenas that competition between scientists and the need to protect unpublished work can be inhibitory to collaboration. Especially in medical research.

    But, I don’t think that this is the reason why scientists don’t work together in many scientific communities, I agree with Kristal in that they often just don’t talk to each other. I don’t believe that this is necessarily deliberate, i think that scientists can get so caught up in their own work that they can forget about the big picture. Scientists can do incredible work and incredible research but i think that it is still important to take a step back from time to time and look at the wider implications of what they are studying.

    I guess one of the interesting things that might come out of the current Climate Crisis is that it might force seperate departments of science to come together to solve problems that Climate Change is creating which are both multi-disciplinary and multi-faceted.

  2. Kristal says:

    A competitive environment would certainly help explain the holes within an area, such as welfare. But a discovery in welfare doesn’t affect a discovery in nutrition, so much, as the two fields don’t really compete. In a case such as this, I agree with Helen – it’s probably a case of scientists from different fields just not talking to each other.

    There’s a reason we use PANELS of experts, not just one expert, and it’s disappointing to see this kind of collaboration goes ignored in much of the scientific community on a regular basis.

  3. harriswetherbee says:

    Very interesting ideas. I am in plant sciences and it is not quite the same story.
    So far, particularly in my area (generally plant defence), there is ongoing collaborations between researchers – I have met an expert from Copenhagen for example. Having said that, there is often rivalry between research groups (yet the ‘research groups’ I am referring to may each actually involve a number of groups that are collaborating) and the rivalry often circles around who will publish ideas first. Scientists don’t like sharing papers either (for a number of valid reasons, often generated by the universities. eg. point systems that determine how much work a researcher is doing.)
    Perhaps it is the research scientists’ competitive environment that is creating this unwillingness to collaborate and share ideas?

  4. Jessica Taurins says:

    Having been in your classes, I know just how you feel, Helen, but I also understand the wider impact of scientists who never actually talk to each other. So many more things could be done so much more efficiently if individuals or groups would actually try to converse instead of staying in their own little bubbles. It’d be nice to see that in the future.