The great Science Communication challenge

Previously on,  Scientific Scribbles, I have delved a tiny bit into my swimming passion (here), and a lot into my love for marine biology (here, here and here!)… So, I had to really really resist from writing about my one true love, marine biology.

Well okay, it might have a *tiny* bit of marine biology in it…

Do you ever feel like people are switching off and “swimming away” as soon as you mention
Science or your research project??

Getting ignored even when you’re as good looking as a clown fish.
The cold hard truth about not being able to engage your audience (Source: Own Image)

I thought I would share with you an experience of communicating science to a “lay person”. I took this subject with the intention of getting better at this, and was yet to really have an experience where I had to bring the “big guns” out.  Like a good science communicator, I had to think about my audience, I thought about who, what, when, where why and how?

In the midst of writing a literature review, I was speaking to a work colleague about topic of my review. It reviewed management strategies of the invasive algae, Caulerpa taxifolia, colloquially known as Killer Algae. However, the conversation broadened to why we would even care about an invasive seaweed or any other invasive species in the ocean.

This may have been the toughest challenge I have faced so far, not to rely on stereotypes, but the person who I was talking to studies arts and just did not have any understanding of the impacts of invasive species in any context.

It was a real challenge, I had to explain biodiversity, resilience, tropic cascades and how invasive species are impacting native assemblages. All without using any scientific jargon.

Of course, most people find algae boring, even some of you scientists out there think its boring! Well, I used to be the same, until I learnt about their useful traits. I felt that actually seeing things from the perspective of the person who I was communicating to was useful, and was key to my ability to actually have a conversation, rather than just talking to a disengaged listener. Use of a narrative in my “story” helped me explore ideas around invasion biology.

I thought I was doing alright, until I got these questions:
Why should we bother if they have already invaded?
What’s the point of spending money on something that can’t be fixed?
What is the point if invaders are already part of the community?

Tough questions really, but funnily enough, not dissimilar to the questions I had asked myself whilst writing my literature review!

Despite being able to get my message across and convince my colleague partially about the scientific ideas… I wonder if it was effective enough. I wonder if my colleague will engage with the ideas of the conservation. I hope that my conversation has prompted slight interest in scientific issues.

I think my experience really just showed how important “who what when where why and how” is to science communication to you’re average member of the public.

This science communication stuff might have just prompted me to run away and join the CIRCUS!


(Source: Dreamworks Animation – Youtube)

Okay I really mean, this circus!


4 Responses to “The great Science Communication challenge”

  1. Amanda says:

    Cheers Rach, glad you liked the video!

  2. Rachael Hillier says:

    Great post and good luck with future science communication 🙂

    AWESOME VIDEO 😛

  3. Amanda says:

    Thanks for your kind comments about my blog posts Alain! I really appreciate that someone else apart from me is reading my blogs and enjoying my silly jokes (as much as I do!!)

    Yeah, not much convincing needed for weather! The question of why I study what I study is a frequent question for me, and something that I have to get really good at explaining! Well, I think I’m currently doing okay considering my colleague studying arts saw my point of view.

    As for avoiding talking about marine biology on here, I don’t know if I would say avoiding, but rather diversifying. As much as I have enjoyed being able to write about what I love, I felt that I had written quite a lot on marine science, and the audience of this blog may not be all engaged with marine science. I have been finding it very challenging to write about other aspects of science. I have agonised over a number of draft non marine posts for weeks on end, and just haven’t been able to get a good message across because I felt like I didn’t know enough. I took this subject to improve my overall science communication skills, so now I feel like I need to step outside my comfort zone a little bit.

    However, I am very glad to hear you’re engaging with the marine science topics I’ve been posting about.
    I’m interested to know, what are the main reasons you have been interested in the marine posts I’ve written?

  4. Alain says:

    Hi Amanda. I’ve decided I quite like your posts!

    I’m curious as to why you would avoid writing about your marine biology on here. I found it a great opportunity to write (and research) about atmospheric science.

    I now get asked about the weather a lot at work and have to explain how thunderstorms form (and destroy themselves) and why some clouds bring rain and others don’t. It can be quite a challenge not to get bogged down in technical stuff no-one needs to know and won’t understand anyway.

    Not sure I’ll ever be asked ‘why study it’, cos let’s face it, everyone wants the perfect weather forecast 6 months in advance.