Science and engineering lack a "culture of explanation."
Compared to other professions, including law, medicine, sports, politics,
and show business, science and engineering lack an inherent "culture of
explanation," which weakens their influence in society and their ability
to help solve society's problems.
"Gateway" media neglect science and engineering coverage.
Newspapers and TV networks devote only two percent of their coverage to
science and technology. This neglect by "gateway" media marginalizes
science and technology in the public mind. Lack of coverage reduces the
likelihood that students will be interested in becoming scientists and
engineers, and gives strength to "junk" ideas from intelligent design to
To survive professionally, scientists must learn a "visual
vernacular." New interactive scientific publications—such as Cell's "Article
of the Future"—and the expectations of 21st-century students
and other audiences mean that scientists must learn a "visual vernacular."
They must not only master the tools for creating videos, animations, and
images, but also develop a visual sensibility about communicating their
Public or Private? How scientists should decide. Choosing
whether to be a Carl Sagan or an Alvin Anonymous—or something in
between—is a decision scientists must make carefully. There are costs and
benefits for both choices. The laboratory can become either a refuge or a
Communication tools are career-builders. Surveys of employers
consistently show that they value communication skills over other
capabilities, not only for science and engineering, but for all
professions. Fortunately, acquiring these skills is not difficult.
Communication traps snare many scientists. "Vampire
speculation," policy foot-in-mouth, hyperstories, and misquoting are only
a few of the communication traps researchers can avoid with just a little
preparation and strategy.
Scientists underestimate value, versatility of news releases.
Most scientists think of the simple news release as merely an announcement
to media. But the release also serves a large array of other functions,
including: political ammunition to funding agencies, a statement of historical
record, and a basis for boasting at family dinners.
Science, engineering education neglect communication training.University curricula for science and engineering woefully neglect lay-level
communication training. The faculty argue that "our students are
writing-averse," or that there is "no room in the curriculum."
need to enlist PIOs in their communications. Most researchers are far too passive in
their relationships with public information officers—both inside their
institutions and outside. PIOs can play invaluable roles as media
relations experts, institutional ambassadors, educators, and hard
Distinguishing "sales reps" from "PIO/journalists" important for
scientists. Public information officers who sell their researchers
like soap are far less credible or useful than those who function as
Appreciating that lay audiences are "need-to-knowers" enhances
communication. Most scientists wrongly concentrate on the ignorance of
lay audiences—for example that more than half of laypeople do not know
that the earth circles the sun once each year. Far more productive is recognizing
and using the power of audiences' "need-to-know" nature.
"Research-speak" separates scientists from audiences. Bombarding
laypeople with technical jargon is not the only linguistic blunder
scientists make in communicating. They also neglect to understand that the
public defines words such as "theory," "believe," "enhance" and
"radiation" differently than do researchers.
Scientists must adjust to new "active audiences." There is no longer an "audience" in the
traditional passive sense of the word. Today, scientists must take into
account that with blogging, podcasting, online video, and Web sites, audiences
actively transmit and share information in ways scientists might not like.
New interactive media offer golden opportunities for communicating
research. The Apple iPad and other such devices offer scientists and
engineers a powerful new way to communicate their work both to lay and