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Communicating in Science: Why It Matters

Connected Science Learning May-June 2021 (Volume 3, Issue 3)

By Beth Murphy

Formal science education has long focused on teaching science students in K–12, undergraduate, and graduate programs to interpret works of and create works for other scientists. This is reflected in the Science & Engineering Practice of Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information, which articulates the need for students in science and engineering to interpret and create “domain-specific text.” However, this isn’t the whole picture. There’s more to it than communication between scientists; discourse about science between scientist and non-scientist and even between non-scientists are also important skills to be developed.

The AAAS reminds us that the communication styles of scientists and the public are very different. Traditional scientific research communication presents the important findings after presenting and making the case. Effective public communication “flips this approach on its head” with key points taking the lead. This is essential for the recipient to decide if they want to engage further with the information being shared. This communication strategy is increasingly important to appreciate with the existing and yet-to-be-developed methods for near-instantaneous information sharing of social media and online news.

Effective communication between scientists and non-scientists helps the broader public to be actors and decision makers with regard to how science impacts their lives. It also can influence the scientific research that gets done. 

A science blogger in Scientific American states:

“When scientists are able to communicate effectively beyond their peers to broader, non-scientist audiences, it builds support for science, promotes understanding of its wider relevance to society, and encourages more informed decision-making at all levels, from government to communities to individuals. It can also make science accessible to audiences that traditionally have been excluded from the process of science. It can help make science more diverse and inclusive.”

The National Science Foundation requires all grant applicants to address the proposed project’s broader impacts, defined as “the potential to benefit society and contribute to the achievement of specific, desired societal outcomes.” Fortunately, today there are a wide variety of resources out there for scientists who want to become better public communicators, such as university courses, resources from professional organizations, and consulting communication experts.

Communication is a two-way street: it’s both something we give and something we receive. Effective communication requires empathy—an understanding by communicator and communicatee of each other’s perspectives. Thus, it’s not only about scientists being better communicators, it’s about nonscientists also being part of the conversation.

Two of the articles you’ll find in this issue help illustrate this point. Fact Checking in an Era of Fake News guides students to become critical consumers of the science-related information they read and the CogSciDIY project engages the general public in the process of doing research. We hope you enjoy these and other articles you’ll find in this issue over the next two months.

Beth Murphy, PhD (, is field editor for Connected Science Learning and an independent STEM education consultant with expertise in fostering collaboration between organizations and schools, providing professional learning experiences for educators, and implementing program evaluation that supports practitioners to do their best work. 

citation: Murphy, B. 2021. Communicating in science: Why it matters. Connected Science Learning 3 (3).

STEM Informal Education

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