Nancy Baron has written the bible for science communication, Escape from the Ivory Tower. She has extremely generously allowed us to use a chapter, How to Deliver a Clear Message, from her book free of charge. Please read this chapter, which you can access under Week 2 Instructions on the Google+ community page for this class.
In this chapter, Nancy introduces us to the Message Box. The Message Box is a structured method that scientists can use to craft their science messages for non-specialist audiences. This technique is frequently introduced as a way for researchers to effectively communicate with journalists.
In fact, our use of the Message Box will feature a back-and-forth between a scientist and a (pretend) reporter. But this technique is about a lot more than just media training, as the journalist is really a stand-in for the audience with whom a researcher is attempting to communicate. So, whether you are planning on becoming the next talking head on CNN or just want to explain to your family what you do all day, the Message Box is a great place to get started.
As you read through Nancy’s chapter, you may find yourself relating to the examples provided in the chapter. It is very easy for scientists to fall into the communication traps Nancy discusses. In fact, one of the biggest hurdles in scientific communication is the language barrier.
To combat this, take a look at the following article which came out in 2011 in Physics Today: Communicating the science of climate change. Please pay particular attention to the “Better communication” section of the article. This article really makes clear how words can really get in the way of science communication – sometimes in very unexpected ways. Many scientists already know that the use of jargon can make it hard to talk with people not in their field. But the article discusses a more insidious problem, namely with language that has a double meaning (one meaning for the public and another for the scientist). Read the article to learn how to dodge this particular minefield.