The New Rules of Science Communication

Guest Author: Ed Henry
Editor: Patrick Cooney

The 148th American Fisheries Society meeting in Atlantic City is about a month in the past, and I have had time to reflect on my experience. It was a whirlwind of networking, discussion, collaboration and discovery. Science communication was a consistent topic, especially since the theme of the meeting this year was “Communicating the Science of Fisheries Conservation to Diverse Audiences”.

As I moved from talk to talk, session to session, and event to event, I started to note that the need for change was in the air. Not change in a dramatic sense; as in how we practice science or how we meet. But more on how we communicate. There are new rules being proposed, and it is about time that they are to be discussed.

My list here is not exhaustive. Nor are they to be set in stone. It is meant as a discussion piece and a way to think about communicating our science in ways unfathomable to those who came before us. In a world of noise and misinformation, I feel that it is our responsibility to bear the torch for fisheries science and keep the tradition of communicating science to a broad audience, even if it means breaking with traditional methods.

1. Shorten Your Message

This is strictly in a communications sense. Many times in presentations and posters it is very hard to decipher what is being discussed, let alone keep your attention for 5 – 10 minutes. I am not going to sugarcoat it, many talks that I am very excited to attend can lose me in the first couple of minutes if the message is not defined early.

Melissa Cristina Márquez (@mcmsharksxx) discussed this in her talk as part of the Science Communication Section’s symposium “One Size Does Not Fit All: Tailoring Science Communication for Diverse Audiences”. She presented a set of rules specifically on how to accomplish an excellent presentation. Right there at number one “Ain’t nobody have time for you to prattle on”. During her presentation she lead by example. This drilled home the message of her talk “Las Conversaciones En La Ciencia: Science Is More Diverse Than What We Portray It to be”. The science community needs to increase diversity in communications to effectively communicate within a multicultural society. That science just in English excludes many individuals in the world. This message had a significant impact on me, and it was very well presented and understood!

2. Be Yourself

This rule can be the most challenging to accept. It is hard, especially in science, to step in front of your work and say hello. To show the personality behind the work is a scary thought for many. I struggle with this myself. When writing reports, an article, or even day to day email correspondences it is professionally expected to take the personality out to let only the work do the talking.

However, science communication is not about providing to literature. That hopefully has already been accomplished, or is in the works. It is about making a connection to an audience. An audience that wants to know your work and understand it. Not just the publication, but what it takes to accomplish the science, what it means, and who is behind the information.

It is scary to put yourself out there. However, there are those in our field that are blazing a trail. Take Dr. Solomon David (@SolomonRDavid). I met him through AFS, but have stayed in touch with him through social media. Learning about gars, his work, his travels, etc. And the great thing is, spending time with him in person has shown me that he is the exact same as his twitter persona. Hard to believe sometimes, but amazing scientists are amazing human beings as well!

3. Innovate

What is it that we are missing from science communication? Is it more art? Is it utilizing Linkedin as a communication platform? How about a new way to place your research in front of those who need to see it, reference it, and absorb it? I do not have the answers to those questions, but maybe you do. Today science communication needs leadership and creativity. If you feel like something is missing, create it!

A great example from AFS148 is the initiation of “The Fisheries Podcast”. Nick Kramer (@Kramerica44) put a call out at the start of the conference about the potential of a fisheries podcast. Positive feedback was immense, leading to the initiation of The Fisheries Podcast (@FisheriesPod)!

4. Meet in Person

It is not uncommon to associate the term science communication with the internet. Online communication has been the source for a surge in the ability for people to connect. However, that does not mean that we can forget about the valuable face-to-face communication platform. It is one thing to tweet, it is another to gather at a conference and chat about your passion, work, and community.

There is more to a person than their twitter avatar. I learned this at AFS148 when the Science Communication Section held a “tweet-up” (fancy twitter term for an impromptu get together). The intention of the meeting was to bring together folks that have interacted with online, to meet in person and discuss their experiences. In doing so, I found myself getting to know the people behind the tweets, joking about past memes shared and the new trends online. I learned about their research, their homes, and travels to the conference. Now when I scroll through my twitter feed, or even review journal articles and see their names, my interest is increased significantly knowing the passion that is brought to their work.

As I said in the introduction, these rules are not extensive nor set in stone. However, I can almost guarantee that if they are to be followed, one’s general impact will grow. The interest in your work will increase and so will your network of like-minded people. Really, the possibilities of who you can influence are endless. Fishery Scientists can take on this responsibility and run with it, and the time is now.

About the Author

Ed Henry, Fisheries Data Coordinator/Fisheries Statistics and Services

International Pacific Halibut Commission (@IPHCinfo)



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