Scientists should learn to be communicators, says Chris Mooney

Interesting talk yesterday, the main points of which were:

  • Science is complicated
  • You can’t expect the media to get it right
  • So, scientists should stop obsessing over tedious facts and learn to market, or “frame”, our work.
  • Nice sentiment, but facts are what we’re trained to do, and facts are all that many of us care about. If gene expression profiling suggests that one race is smarter than another, then that’s what they’re going to believe. The very literal, logical point of view is why they became scientists in the first place, and it’s a necessary ingredient of their success. If they cultivated their creative, expressive side they might not have been able to tolerate the grueling tedious hours in the lab that were necessary to achieve their discoveries. I think Chris missed this because of his English background, really, so it’s understandable, but do we really want to put the responsibility of communication on the non-socialized, Asperger’s-afflicted, born nerds?

    Science blogging is great, but one’s audience is self-selected, so you can teach someone who accepts global warming about climate models, and you can teach someone who accepts evolution about phylogenetics, but you don’t get to reach the undecided without the help of broadcast media. Media that exposes people to things they didn’t seek out.

    Of course, I’m comfortable with science blogs being a source of information for broadcast media science reporting, digesting the raw science into understandable issues, but I think that’ll be a pretty bitter pill for traditional media types to swallow.

    “Bloggers producing content that the media repeats?” “Inconceivable!”

    So it seems to me like the real question is whether the real story of science gets told better by science-ignorant reporters sensationalizing things or by unsocialized, slightly sociopathic scientists trying to learn to communicate their results better.

    Maybe there’s a niche for people with a science background who somehow retained communication skills? What’s the going rate for a “science ambassador” these days?

    Chris Mooney in New Orleans

    The talk is “Science at High Speeds: Hurricanes, Politics and the Battle Over Global Warming”, at 5PM at the Lavin-Bernick Center on the Uptown campus and it’s part of the Focus the Nation event. Since Chris is a scienceblogger, I’d like to extend a warm blog-welcome to him from my adopted city.

    Check back here Wednesday for live coverage of the event. I haven’t heard of any plans for streaming this, and I’ve been wanting to play around with Qik(my review), so this seems like a good time. I don’t have much experience with this sort of thing, so I can’t vouch for the visual or auditory legibility of anything I stream, but check out my test recording and if you are watching and have questions, you can send me an IM on jabber/GTalk.

    The stream is here(FYI: this is service is alpha and may have network or other issues)
    My profile page is here, in case the embedded stream is showing something from someone else (like it is now).
    The parade is going to make getting from downtown a little difficult, so if you’re planning on being there in person, come early.

    It looks like I’ll be fairly limited in terms of battery life in what I can show, but I have a good feeling it will show up on his YouTube channel.