Scientists communicating their science
This post initially appeared on Science Blogs
Christie Wilcox has a great post over at Science Sushi about why scientists should be on social media. I don't disagree with anything she says, and I try to do it myself (see: the twitter and G+ links to the left... I also recently signed up for tumblr which is kind of fun). But sometimes the social media is just the first step.
Last night I, along with fellow graduate students Sky Brubaker and Jillian Astarita, gave a lecture for the Science in the News lecture series about how an immune response gets started. The SITN fall lecture series is something I've done for the past few years, first with a lecture on autoimmunity (slides here [pdf]) and last year I talked about the good and bad bacteria living in our gut (slides and video).
Christie's whole post is worth a read, but she said one thing that I think is particularly important:
It's not that non-scientists are too stupid to get science. Far from it. The average person simply doesn't have the specific vocabulary to understand a scientific paper[...] This jargon wall breeds distrust.
After working on this talk for months, knowing my audience and trying as hard as I could to be clear, when I gave a practice talk last week, I still managed to slip into comfortable ways of speaking about biology, which for me means using jargon. I care about science communication and I think it matters, and I still managed to talk about proteins being "expressed" when I could have said they were "made," or mentioned a "virion" instead of a "virus." It's hard to change the way you speak about something so familiar, and I think that's why so many scientists avoid it (though Christie is right - we have no one to blame but ourselves when it gets misinterpreted).
But people aren't stupid, and despite the fact that this topic (with receptors and cytokines and phagocytes) is more complicated than most of the ones Science in the News covers, it was clear from the audience questions that people DO get it, as long as we take the time to make it accessible.
PS - At least one girl was there because she found out about it on this blog... Thanks for coming!
PPS - The slides and the video from last night's lecture will hopefully be up soon. I will post them here when they're ready.