Many of you probably saw the recent article from Scientific American. It’s another in a long line of opinion pieces talking about how scientific communicators are probably doing it wrong in one way or another. We will get to my own hot take in a bit, but this article bothered me in particular because it’s thesis statement was, “…are we leading audiences to rely less on data than emotion?” I agree with the author that unscrupulous emotional appeals aren’t the best way to gain the public trust, but the Op-Ed left me with the impression that data driven argumentation is the one good way to do science communication. That’s a premise I do not support.
I think the real problem is many folks giving advice to scientific communicators have a real misunderstanding about what persuasive communication actually is. If we are seeking to persuade audiences, and as scientific communicators our basic goal should at least be to persuade folks that our work is interesting and worthwhile, we need to understand how persuasion works from a communications perspective.
What I’m not saying in this essay is that using data to drive your scientific communication is wrong. I think data driven communication efforts can be effective and compelling! I am saying persuasive communication is a flexible tool and we, as a scientific community, are doing ourselves a disservice if we don’t understand all the different ways we can use it.
Like in so many instances, we ignore the wisdom of the Social Sciences at our own peril.
Buckle up buttercup. Get ready for Persuasion 101 in 500 words**.
As a child I *loved* watching The Land Before Time. Over and over again. Every time I was heartbroken as Littlefoot is left alone without his mother. Every time Sharptooth was just as scary. Without a doubt this movie must have helped in some small way to shape who I am today. I still love finding tree-stars in the wilderness. That movie will be a part of me forever. But people remember some weird stuff from their childhoods. As an older millennials who grew up on VHS tapes, we remember the previews and commercials that came before the feature film. And as much as I hold this movie close to my heart, it’s not actually what I remember most about this tape. One of the previews for this movie was a Pizza Hut commercial with a mom dropping off her young son for a birthday party. She’s giving him all sorts of advice for how to behave and she reminds him, “Don’t forget to share. Share, share”. These words somehow got lasered into my brain. Anytime I hear the word share it’s like that clip plays in my brain.
As far as weird snippets of pop culture from my youth forever etched into my brain (alongside the Doug Funny theme song, and the (first two) Ninja Turtles movies) it’s not too bad. Sharing is pretty important. Sharing pretty much underpins everything we do here at Sweet Tea, Science. And sharing is why four years ago I created the best holiday a #SciComm nerd could ask for. That’s right the 5th Anniversary of Share a Science Documentary Day is upon us! What started as a simple social soiree to sneak science upon some unsuspecting schoolmates and kindred spirits is still…just that. Really why mess with perfection? Continue reading “5 years of Sharing Science Documentaries”→
Staying motivated in the unstructured work environment of academia can be difficult. For me, it has always been easy to stay on task during the field season because the summer ticks away regardless of how much I get done. I have to be organized and get in while the plants are growing and the tides are favorable. As summer gives way to fall, I have often gone through productivity slumps. This was especially true after I was done with my coursework and, more recently, when I was struggling with some mental health issues. In spite of these challenges, I have been at this graduate school game for (*gulp*) nine years now, and I’ve learned a thing or two about how to bring structure to my days and set myself up for maximum productivity. In other lucky news, I have tons of smart friends who kindly offered up some of their best advice on a Facebook thread I started. Thanks Tanya, Jeff, Christy, Brendan C, Danielle, Haley, Kevin, Sarah, Brendan H, Anne, Vadim, Ashley, Chhaya, Jamie, Lyndsey, Eddie, Jessica, Caroline, Sacha, Becky, Bjorn, Carlos, Aviva, and Colin!
Here are my top tips for staying focused and productive!