Science communication describes a variety of practices that transmit scientific ideas, methods, knowledge and research to non-expert audiences in an accessible, understandable or useful way. Science communication audiences should not require any prior interest or educational background in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM). There is no limit to how to communicate science or who to communicate science to. It is a burgeoning field that is multidisciplinary in nature that may take from a wide range of communication disciplines and styles. Science communication includes academic study of communicating science to different publics that draws on a wide range of disciplines in the social sciences, humanities and sciences. This includes research, critiques and debates on models of science communication practiced by science communicators.
The job of science communicators is to instil science within narratives relatable to non-scientists. This enhances public awareness of science, increases enjoyment and interest in science, technology and engineering, and informs public understanding or opinion of scientific endeavours (Burns, O'Connor and Stocklmayer, 2003). The goal of science communication is to inform and inspire first, but it may also entertain. For example, to pique the interests of young people who may be budding scientists themselves through a chemistry show about colour, or to make something understandable to a policymaker who must make an important decision that requires scientific expertise.
Science communication is as old as science itself, and the term has grown in popularity since the late 1930s. Science communicators should come to grips with what science is, how to bring out its nuances and comprehend its vast, complex, technical and sometimes esoteric knowledge base. Much of the past and current work on this topic is in the academic literature of Science and Technology Studies, which includes studies of science communication.
While the school textbook definition of the scientific method may be satisfactory in introducing students at school to science, when communicating science more widely the definition of science may seem far broader than originally proposed. Students or academic researchers interested in science communication may refer to the book 'What is this thing called science?' by A.F. Chalmers for a primer on the scientific method, for an earlier account of science they should refer to Francis Bacon’s classic 'Novum Organum'.
While an important question that is open for debate, the simplest and shortest answer is ‘No’. It is up to the science communicator to make sense of science in their own words and explain it in an intelligible way to others. Education or training in science helps but is not an absolute requirement.
But there are a range of prerequisites that can help anyone interested in doing science communication, such as a university degree in a scientific discipline or science communication or being closely involved in STEM activities or research. It is possible for anyone to communicate science & technology and as with communication in general, doing it well is a matter of practice. A willingness to learn about technical or quantitative subjects, grasp of media skills and storytelling are useful tools in the science communicator’s toolbox.
This guide was originally written in collaboration between the Library and Brett Cherry, former Science and Communications and Marketing Manager.