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Science Communication - jargon led Or jargon less?

"Those with limited literacy (and critical thinking) are more open to following fake news and denying scientifically proven processes such as climate change. "



Dr. Stephen Wagner*



How Science Communication shapes the World around us



Communication is important because…


How would our world look like if there was no communication?


Take your time to think about your answer. A few seconds of thinking provide valuable insights.

Without communication, we would not use our five senses. We would not feel, taste, smell, see or hear. Consequently, we would not be able to connect to the outside world. We would be isolated individuals, starving out of isolated existence, and would not even perceive it. We would even stop reproducing and finally become extinct.

Fortunately, we can use our five senses in real life. In fact, communication should embrace all our senses whenever possible. More precisely we should take care of the words we share because of their different meanings and interpretations, not to mention mimics and gestures. How do other people feel while we are talking to them? How should they feel? What are our specific goals while speaking up?

Communication is about personal relationships, whether at work, in our everyday activities, or with our family and friends. No matter how independent we feel, the individual reactions of our audience will affect us in some way. Why else would we talk to and with other people?

Communication is also important to understand other people’s ideas and to accept and respect their individual opinions. It is also important once people from different disciplines start working together.




Fake news in red against white background
Pic courtesy: https://pixabay.com/illustrations/fake-news-lie-news-media-2127597/

Science Communication against Fake News


Research studies highlight the distinct relevance of media and internet literacy to cope with dissatisfaction and frustration. Those with limited literacy (and critical thinking) are more open to following fake news and denying scientifically proven processes such as climate change.


It is one more reason to translate scientific findings into a language everybody can understand. Of course, we then need to reduce our claims regarding scientific accuracy by applying “easy” and thus non-scientific words. It will nevertheless help to bridge the gap between experts and non-experts, whether children, politicians, or people with a skeptical attitude. To reduce skepticism even further, communicators also need an unbiased mindset embracing empathy, a willingness to understand people with different attitudes, and an openness to connect to people of diverse backgrounds.


This is why our society needs translators, i.e., presentation experts who can train researchers and experts in communication skills. Applying an academic language is of course suitable for presentations within the science community, yet it is not a standard solution for everybody, not even for an individual expert.


Let me share a real-world example. What do you think when reading or listening to the following sentence: “Perspectives for Climate Policy: The Potential Role of Climate Policy Agreements for the Millennium Development Goals and Realistic Transport Policy Measures to Mitigate and Slow down Climate Change.”

Guess what? Almost nobody would understand this sentence immediately. It’s too long, most words do not translate into visual information because it’s far too technical language. But what would you think and feel when reading or listening to this sentence: “Slow down for climate change!”?


Now we open the room for discussion because most people will have a certain opinion regarding climate change. Now even skeptical people would open their eyes and ears because we all have a certain opinion regarding climate change. Advanced communicators would now continue by sharing an intriguing story or real-world examples, possibly underlined by unique images highlighting the effects of climate change.


Of course, there are people whom we will not reach at all, but others will initially listen. Provided they can follow the speaker, they will start reflecting on what is communicated. To understand and connect with others, communication skills are essential. It’s a stronger asset than any fake news.



Academic language or easily understandable jargon?


This is why training scientists in communication skills is essential to shape a realistic image of the world we live in.


However, researchers are paid and funded by doing research. They must publish not perish, they must apply for the next funding phase, and they must take over administrative tasks. In short, their science career will flourish once they communicate within their research peer group – and not to schoolchildren, refugees, or the interested public.


That’s the sad truth!!


If one dares to break barriers by translating science language into plain words, he or she will be disregarded as vague and inaccurate. All too often, the ability to translate science language into plain words is a devalued currency within the science community.

Just join one of my presentation training sessions, and you will quickly find out that students complain they will finally follow the advice of their supervisor instead of applying professional communication skills. Why is that? Because they do not defend their Master or PhD thesis to a communication trainer, but to their professor. And professors are not easy to convince by delivering lean, easy-to-understand content. Guess whose words will carry more weight? Guess how students will decide regarding their science communication?


Finally, training in communication and presentation skills needs to become an essential part of any science career. It should already start as a part of Bachelor and Master studies. It should continue to be trained during PhD and Postdoc studies, including professional advice from qualified trainers and coaches.


Communication skills matter a lot and will become increasingly important in times of ChatGPT and artificial intelligence.



*Dr. Wagner is a certified trainer and presentation coach. He has over 20 years of experience. To know more about him visit: https://redelandschaften.de/en/





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