I was pleased to see a post on Framing Science outlining an upcoming workshop that he’s teaching to postdocs and grad students on how to communicate their work to the public. This post is cross-posted there.

I’m a scientist-turned-journalist who has given several talks on this subject to other scientists, and really appreciate hearing that you’re doing much of the same. Scientists are used to simply presenting facts and letting their audience make sense of it. That is not how PR or the media works. Working with them to frame their message can be nothing but useful. If you let your audience frame the issue for you, you’ve lost much of the power of your message.

Because some of my background is in radio, I’ve found it very useful to play some audio clips of scientists talking about their work on the radio. That lets the scientists I’m talking to hear their compatriots talking in their own words . This is particularly effective in showing how powerful metaphor and story can be when trying to communicate to someone who knows nothing about your work. I try to play clips about, say, biology, to physicists, so they’re put in the role of the novice.

I’m also curious what you or anyone else thought of the “Scientists Guide to Talking to the Media” book, in the reading list in the post, from Union of Concerned Scientists.

Note that there was also an interesting post from Mary Miller at the Exploratorium about the backlash to Matt Nisbetts (the Framing Science guy) perspective on communicating science to the public. She wrote:

There’s been a backlash though from some bloggers and science communicators that accuse Matt of distorting science, of advocating manipulative tactics similar to that of political operatives. One online comment in a piece by The Scientist (you must register for free access) says that under no circumstances should anyone “spin” science which is how he interprets framing. The poster, Earl Holland of Ohio State, goes on to say that scientists should stick to their work, running experiments and distilling the facts, and leave the communication to the professionals. I think this shortchanges the abilities of many scientists to tell compelling stories about their work and make it understandable and relevant to everyday people. Science is multi-dimensional and the implications of the enterprise go well beyond ”the facts” and into realms of politics, policy, culture, education, the economy, and everyday life. Wading into these realms may make some scientists uncomfortable, but it is the right of citizens in a democracy to know what their tax money is supporting and its relevance to their lives and interests. The Exploratorium has a long tradition, beginning with our founder Frank Oppenheimer, of working with scientists fully capable of explaining their work to public audiences and discussing its implications and context in a larger world. The more scientists there are who embrace this more public role, the better we are as a society.

Note that graduate students are trained to do science, but generally not how to teach it or to write or talk about it. Regardless of how you feel about the framing issue (whether it’s “spinning” or not), the simple act of talking to future scientists about how to communicate their message can have nothing but positive impact.

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