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Science communication: the art of translating science

Guest writer: Kristina Campbell @bykriscampbell

Editors: Sharvari Narendra @DiabolicalDesi and Shreyas Kumbhare @shreyaskumbhare

There have been countless of times where we have come across articles in the newspaper with headlines such as ‘Scientists have discovered…’, ‘Researchers say that…’, ‘Science has found a new….’ There is a general tendency to gloss over that particular section unless the headline is catchy and something of interest to day-to-day life, like cancer, diet, exercise, environment or some novel, controversial discovery or invention, like the CRISPR baby. The power of science communication lies within its impact, an impact that can go to the extent of a global strike just as the ongoing ‘climate strike,’ which shows the kind of awareness created through communicating the ‘right’ and the ‘necessary’ science.

Herein lies the essence and importance of science communication, put in simple, yet impactful words, by Kristina Campbell, a science communicator from British Columbia:

"Here’s a reality we all have to face, sooner or later: out of all the things in the world that are worth knowing, we can’t experience everything directly.

Sure, we can all experience what happens when we put water into a freezer. We can see for ourselves that a bean seed will sprout and grow taller. But many other things we ‘know’ without ever having experienced with our senses: that a community of bacteria and other microbes live on the kitchen floor; that copper, no matter how firm it seems, will melt if the temperature gets high enough (1083 degrees Celsius, that is).

It’s not a problem that we can’t experience everything—as long as we’ve gotten our information from a trusted source. And societies have generally given a specific group of people the go-ahead to spend time empirically observing things, recording observations, and reporting it publicly in the scientific literature so we can all know more. These people are scientists.

So in a basic sense, science is an agreed-upon way of observing things, which ultimately creates knowledge that helps us live our lives and make our decisions.

That’s why I see science as a ‘way of knowing.’

The problem is that not many people have the interest or ability to sift through scientific papers—those records of direct observations, so carefully recorded by the scientists.

The task of communicating science, then, becomes a very important one. It requires faithfully representing the knowledge acquired through a scientific study. And to do this, it’s not enough to report on the findings of a single study, as parroted from the paper’s abstract. Science communicators have the responsibility to add context: What meaning do the results of the study have? What are the limitations of the findings? Good science communication ensures that the end result is to help the study occupy its rightful place in the world.

A science communicator can be anyone—there’s no special credential. But with proper attention to context, these individuals shape the world their audience lives in by calling attention to something that, once known, might change how they go forward.

Without this act of translation, non-scientists would be essentially limited to what they could observe of the world around them with their very limited time and resources. But to communicate science is to leave a lasting trace—a piece of ‘knowledge’—in the mind of at least one other person; this is something small, which matters enormously.”

Science communication, is then essentially, a responsibility to effectively, accurately, reliably and relatively communicate the scientific advancements going on in every nook and corner of the world, to us - the people who are going to be directly or indirectly impacted by these researches - in a way that makes us feel involved and aware of ourselves and our surroundings, from different, eye-opening perspectives. Science communication plays a pivotal role in our progress as a species, as part of an ecosystem and as individuals. Right from the healthy benefits of yoga to the side-effects of aspirin, from which micro-organisms should be used in making alcohol to the preventive measures to be taken against breast cancer, science communication is the way we gain knowledge about everything we know and everything we don’t know. Science communication is the language we use unknowingly every day.

Kristina Campbell (M.Sc.) is a science and medical writer who covers the latest microbiome research for online and print media around the world, helping readers separate the evidence from the hype. She is the author of 'The Well-Fed Microbiome' (Rockridge Press, 2016); co-author of an academic textbook, 'Gut Microbiota: Interactive Effects on Nutrition and Health' (Elsevier, 2018); and contributing editor at Microbiome Times. Kristina also consults on a broad range of educational and policy initiatives related to gut microbiota, fermented foods, and health.

@ bykriscampbell

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