I like to think of science and communication as a bridge.
On one side of the bridge are scientists, who are studying and discussing and debating their respective fields together. On the other side of the bridge is the public, who watch the scientists from a distance to get a sense of what’s going on.
Problems can occur quite easily. The scientists can stand too close together and talk too quietly so the public can’t work out what they’re saying. The public can get bored and forget why watching the scientists is important. And, most effectively, people can stand right in front of the scientists, blocking the public’s view by waving signs and shouting. Even if the scientists try hard to be seen, and even if the public tries hard to watch, it’s next to impossible.
What we need, in my opinion, is more traffic on the bridge. We need more people constantly crossing back and forth between the two sides.
We need some scientists who take time out of their work to walk across the bridge and talk to the public directly. To accurately summarize their work and answer questions, all from a place where the sign-wavers can’t get in the way.
We also need some members of the public to cross over the bridge. They are in a unique position – they have an insider’s perspective of what the public knows, what still needs to be clarified, and what degree of complexity is appropriate for communication. They’re also not busy doing science (which can get fairly addictive).
These people, the few that have sufficient interest and stamina, should cross over the bridge for a time, observe the scientific discussions more closely, and then report back to the public. They should do this often, so they’re sure that they actually understand what the scientists are discussing. It shouldn’t be a different person every time.
We need communicators of both types – the first to ensure accuracy, and the second to ensure understanding and effectiveness. And somebody really needs to deal with the sign-wavers who are blocking the view.