WHAT ARE WE DOING?
As a mathematician by trade, I feel obligated to endorse a number of facts about our world. One plus one, they proved, equals two; two plus two, despite some controversy, equals four. Nothing could possibly be worth more than the sum of its parts. How could it be? But outside of mathematics, I would argue that most things are in fact greater than the sum of their parts. The value of an artwork, for instance, is far more than the cost of some canvas and paints. An essay, well formed and well stitched, brings more joy than a phonebook rollcall of words. We recognise the act of bringing things together always adds something more worthwhile.
Science communication is certainly more than just communicating science. It has the opportunity to be more than getting across facts to the public, trying to teach the beauty of a painting by listing the colours used. But if not that, what are we doing? I find ‘What are we doing?’ is a very useful question to ask at any point in a life, lest you end up making a wrong turn on a busy street or burning down half a kitchen due to uncertainty surrounding the oven. While in the midst of a complex process, reflecting on your goal is highly important in directing your action. So what are science communicators actually trying to do?
Over time, I’ve realised the aim of science communicating should not be to make people know more science, but to understand more science. There are scientists who simply let their research speak for itself and assume the audience will understand, and there are those who would seem on the opposite end of the spectrum, becoming evangelists in their fervour to pound knowledge into the heads of those blind to their cause. Good science communication, I feel, lies nowhere in between these two extremes. My own lofty vision for science communication is not simple fact transference, but opening up a wider conversation. We forget that the experts themselves are a subset of the public; that the public is made up of many shimmering intersecting spheres of experts, scientific or otherwise. When we communicate science, we should not only be presenting information, but inspiring, connecting, and building bridges between endeavours.
So what are we doing, and what should we be doing? If we think of science and its skillset as a tool, a tool is only as good as the artisan using it. Science needs to be more accessible and useful for everybody. As scientists, we owe it to others to relate specific concepts and discoveries in a way that is understandable, comprehensible, and relatable to them. I believe the future of good science communication is not a one way street where academics bestow knowledge on an unenlightened public, but society coming together to exchange knowledge and ideas with each other, with hopefully all of our individual parts becoming something much greater.