Today I’ve been thinking about all of the influences that have made me so passionate about scientific literacy and effective science communication. As a global society we are challenged daily with obstacles that can most effectively be solved using our modern scientific understanding of the world. Yet for a variety of reasons much of the general public is unaware of the startling leaps and bounds generated by the modern global scientific community, aware but misinformed by sloppy reporting, to downright distrustful of science and those involved. While we could go into these various issues and their origins at length, I would rather take a moment and share some of the resources that have pushed me to share my love of science with the public in the hopes that I can spread my passion for scientific communication to others.The book that started it all for me: Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future by Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum. This is a wonderful work that outlines why the scientific community should (and must) be actively involved in communicating their work to society. As a beginning graduate student it was very easy for me to become myopic in my view of science and what I wanted to accomplish; but in reading this work I was introduced to a new way of looking at my work, no longer as a strictly personal academic affair, but one fully integrated with the public-at-large. This cognitive shift has been more important in driving me to communicate my work and science in general than anything else to this point.
Articles that have influenced me further: Teaching Ph.D.’s How to Reach Out and Making a Public Ph.D. by Leonard Cassuto at The Chronicle , Reforming Science by Ferric Fang and Arturo Casadevall in Microbe magazine, and Next-generation training in Nature. These articles take a good look at how we train Ph.D.s and what we may want to do differently about it. Public outreach, interdisciplinary training, and the cultivation of skills outside of academia are all given thoughtful consideration. It doesn’t take much of a stretch of the imagination to see that the development of these skills in today’s scientists-in-training would be a huge step in increasing the scope and depth of effective scientific communication.
Finally, I have included a TED Talk that I saw for the first time last evening that truly resonated with me by E.O. Wilson entitled Advice to young scientists. After watching this talk my first impulse was “I want to hug this man for saying all of these things” because he makes many wonderful points that the new generation of scientists would do well to acknowledge and build upon. Interdependence, collaboration, and imaginative flexibility are all key to approaching the scientific questions of the future and Dr. Wilson makes a compelling case for this new mode of thinking. While this is not directly an outreach piece, it does make an argument for new methods of thinking and approaching academia which overall would contribute to more scientists with strong communication skills and more effective outreach.
I hope that in the coming years more and more graduate programs will diversify their class offerings to provide support to students who wish to learn how to effectively communicate science and broaden their professional horizons outside of classical academia.