Too often scientists ignore talking to the public. They would rather spend all their “communication” time and energy talking about their science to their peers. They meet in hallowed halls and conference centers to communicate their science to their own. “Cause that is who funds us” I hear them say or “you have to water the science down for the public to understand”.
Because of this, the greater public has no real understanding about what geoscience is and what geoscientists do. They think that the weight of public opinion trumps (no pun intended) scientific fact. The public wants to see equal time given to "small splinter-group opinions" against the overwhelming weight of scientific evident.
Look what is happening right now in the United States and other countries about:
- Climate change policy
- The rise of anti-vaccination
- The dismissal of alternative fuels over fossil fuels
The days of just talking to each other in the hallowed halls and conference rooms is over. We have to get out there and talk to the public. We need to let them know what we do, how we do it and why it’s so important for their lives.
We need to throw off the academic mantles and get right down into the muck of our communities – where the rubber meets the road. Where our science is under threat.
The funder of our science is public opinion…not PhDers in some granting agencies.
Now I know how much this scares many of my peers. Talking to the public is way out of their comfort zone – but by following these simple guidelines you can really make a difference:
Be an ambassador
You have to be an ambassador for ALL of geoscience and not just for the tiny thread your research is focused on. If you don’t have confidence in talking at the very lowest level about basic geoscience, then get yourself an introductory (geology 101) textbook and scan through it.
You have to be able to show the relevance of the work you do as a geoscientist. You need to be able to show people that the layer of information that geoscientist offer can really help society. For example, geoscientists help reduce the risk to people and property when they study volcanoes and earthquakes. Geoscientists help understand how our planet will respond to climate change because we understand large scale systems and change over time.
You have to be able to explain the scientific methods that geoscientists use. This includes looking for evidence, collecting data, sharing data, peer review. You need to explain that science is based on working with facts not opinions.
Explain at a low level…but leave the door open for deeper knowledge. I always image that I am having to explain something to my 9-year-old, or grandmother. Cutting out all the jargon, or explaining those terms that you MUST use, is so important. People ‘tune out’ when scientists start talking another (in this case scientific) language.
Seek out an audience
Local schools and libraries are always looking for people to come and talk about their work. For schools, find a way to talk to the teachers (open night etc) and let them know you are available to come and talk. Chat to your local library staff. Drop emails to your social clubs. Don’t t=wait for them to come to you. Get your science out there!
Show your passion
Finally, the most important thing is to show your passion for your science. Don’t bottle it up – let it ooze through every pore of your being! Everyone one has a passion for something – and they understand and will be captured by your enthusiasm. Geoscience is NOT boring, dusty and dull. It is exciting, relevant and important.
Don’t let our science die because of your lack of action. Be part of the solution. Talk to the public.
Here are some resources to help (if you need them...)