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Effective science communication

08 July 2021 By MINUSHIKA PUNCHIHEWA

Science and research are fundamental to understanding the world around us and how it works. It can provide us with innovative solutions to everyday problems and prepare us for the future we want to live in.

However, these scientific and technological discoveries are only as valuable as our understanding of them. Without effective and clear science communication, science and research will not be understood by the people and communities they are meant to benefit.

Effective science communication – what is that?

Science communication is the practice of informing, educating, or raising awareness of science issues. A good science communicator aims to demystify complex ideas and present them in a way that is accessible to all.

Science communication happens all around us, often without us even realising. For example, we often think of science communication as the traditional academic articles, lectures, and science projects. However, science can also be communicated through many mediums and across different platforms, such as artwork, news reporting and social media posts.

Communicating COVID-19

The importance of science communication has been most evident in the world’s response to COVID-19. Since its discovery, the scientific community has pivoted their efforts to understand this global pandemic. In doing so, effective science communication has emerged as a powerful tool in managing the public health response to COVID-19.

Several scientists in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematical (STEM) industry are leading this space through translating health information to entire nations and communities but are doing so in creative ways.

One of these people is Associate Professor Siouxsie Wiles from New Zealand, who has been pivotal in communicating and translating the science behind COVID-19 to the wider public both in New Zealand and globally.

Associate Professor Siouxsie Wiles

(Image Source)Associate Professor Siouxsie Wiles

Associate Professor Siouxsie Wiles is a microbiologist and science communicator, specialising in infectious diseases and bioluminescence at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. She also runs her very own Bioluminescent Superbug Lab from the University of Auckland. In 2018, she was awarded the New Zealander of the Year award for her work on antibiotic superbugs and infectious diseases. In 2020, Professor Wiles was announced as the Supreme Winner for the New Zealand Women of Influence award.

Associate Professor Wiles was most recently recognised as one of the BBC’s top 100 inspiring and influential worldwide in 2020. Her contribution to communicating the COVID-19 response has been translated into many languages (specifically the ‘flatten the curve’ visualisation). She plays an integral role in demystifying and bridging the scientific gap for New Zealander’s understanding of COVID-19.

Dr Radhika Patnala

(Image Source)Dr. Radhika Patnala

Dr Radhika Patnala is a neuroscientist and the founder and director of the start-up, Sci-Illustrate, a company that creates scientific illustrations for a whole range of clients.

Her company reflects two of her passions, art and science. She reconnected with her artistic side during her doctorate studies in immunology and epigenetics. Dr Patiala realised how art could be used as a medium to engage with the wider public on STEM. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr Patnala created a 10-part series illustration on COVID-19, called COVID dreams. Her illustrations visualise different aspects of the COVID-19 experience and intend to engage and communicate science through a creative outlet.

To read more about Dr Patnala and similar stories of other women who are combine their artistic talent with their STEM expertise.

Effective science communication in action

Dr Tollulah Oni, a guest speaker at the 2019 LIYSF, believes that the “onus to some extent are on us [the science community], to be able to understand what the needs are of the person we are speaking to, whether that is in policy, whether that’s in community and speak to that degree of understanding and for us to better understand and communicate what we do.

The London International Youth Science Forum (LIYSF) is an example of effective science communication in action. Participants are exposed to different ways of communicating science and are also provided with the opportunity to do so themselves through the Science Bazaar.

Participants presenting at the 2019 LIYSF Science Bazaar

The LIYSF Science Bazaar allows participants to present and share their research with a community of global young scientists. After all, communicating science and research to other academics, peers effectively, and the wider public is part of how science translates into practice.

Five key points for effective communication

  1. The best science communicators tell a story by providing wider narrative context to their technical science. For example, the University of Queensland presents ‘Out of Africa,’ the story of how an African herbal tea launched a revolutionary line of medicine.
  2. Science communicators who stand out from the rest, use high quality visual aids. These are used to support their findings and incorporate rich photography, videos, illustrations, or scroll-based visual effects. For example, Imperial College London tells the story of the journey to space in their ‘Mission to the Sun’ article through photographs.
  3. Adapting and adopting new technologies will ensure science communication is up to date with the highest standard of web publishing. This also includes being mobile-friendly and ensuring accessibility. For example, the United Nations Development Programme adopts such techniques to tell the story of ‘A wilderness of Water.’
  4. The application and personalisation of science and technology by sharing individual people’s stories help bridge the gap between technical knowledge and its purpose. For example, the University of Utah presents ‘The Emerged Transformed’ which explores burn treatment through the stories of burn survivors.
  5. In responding to COVID-19, the visualisation of data became a vital part of science communication. Translating data into an accessible format encourages engagement and understanding by the wider public. For example, cartoonist Toby Morris from New Zealand used illustrations and comics to convey important public messages such as the necessity of social distancing and proper hygienic practices.

In the words of Professor Sir Nigel Shadbolt “there’s no point in doing science if you don’t tell other people about it.”

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