Day 2’s sessions ended up focusing on the Communication side of Education/Outreach/Scientific Workforce, and I think that framing it that way drew a bigger audience. One presentation on how to create a video was very similar to Ari Daniel Shapiro’s Education talk on producing radio programs or podcasts the day before, with how-to’s, but the audience was much bigger. Is it that “education” and “outreach” are scarier terms than “communicating”? If so, we educators need to think about how to make education more “do-able” for scientists if we want them to do the education to at least some extent, rather than leaving it all to education professionals.
We wonder, however, why education and communication are separated? Perhaps we have slightly different goals, but perhaps not: communication may have a specific outcome in mind, such as motivating people to think a certain way or do a certain thing, where education might more broadly want learners to understand how science works.
One afternoon talk pointed out that between science and communication, at least, it depends on your audience. For example, scientists focus on what we don’t know, whereas policymakers need to know what science does know. So in communicating and educating, we have to decide whether we’re trying to convey what science is and how it works, or whether we’re trying to convey where science is at the moment.
Throughout the week COSEE is hosting a series on how to do education/communication of your science. These lunch workshops that have had about 100 participants, or roughly 2 percent of the conference attendees. Again, by a show of hands on Tuesday, many of those, however, were graduate students.
Last night there was a panel discussion on Bridging the Cultural Gap between Scientists and the Public. I overheard one scientist at the COSEE exhibitor booth pooh-pooh the need for him to attend the panel, as he basically said he knew there was a gap but that it was the public’s problem. COSEE staff made a valiant effort to convince him that he was actually a vital part of bridging the gap, but regardless, there was still a relatively small audience for the program. However, attendees seemed to skew a little bit more toward the early- to mid-career scientists than the other education sessions (perhaps because the grad students had all run off to get beer). We had mixed feelings about the presentation because we walked away a bit more confused about what we could do. The researchers on communication and communicators on the panel offered us ideas about what the communication breakdown was, but we didn’t get a chance to discuss many practical ideas.
The basic premises were that it’s not a problem of literacy, but of people tending to affiliate with groups and basically only attend to information that those groups agree with, in order to maintain that affiliation. The other presentation highlighted peculiarities of the journalistic process that complicated the communication picture, such as editors who focus on minor details to up the drama factor and sell their products. So on the one hand, we need to remove the threat that holding a position on a subject would automatically mean you’d no longer be part of a group that’s important to you, that is, we have to change the “meaning” that accompanies the facts. How to do this, however, is what remains for us to figure out.