I was halfway through my undergraduate degree in physics before really learning about science communication. Jim Al-Khalili gave a guest lecture that I attended, where he spoke about how he had ended up on TV explaining science to a general audience.
I still had to go away and learn more about it, and the more I learned, the more felt like it was something that I wanted to do. I had begun my degree with the impression that I would continue to work in the stereotypical role of a scientist, lab coat and all; however, I was disillusioned by my poor maths skills for a scientist.
But what have I since learned about what science communication is?
Essentially, it does what it says on the tin—it communicates science. But rather than just talking about science in such a way that causes the general public to be lost in a sea of jargon, the idea of science communication is that the science should be understandable by and accessible to the masses.
A good example of science communication would be pretty much anything that is narrated by Sir David Attenborough, with Planet Earth and Blue Planet being prime examples. These documentaries provide the audience with information about the world around them, but they do so with a narrative, which stops the show just being a long list of facts. It is also this narrative that allows the audience to connect with the science that they are being told about.
To see the impact of science communication, think about how, since the airing of the final episode of Blue Planet II, we have become more aware of the dangers facing marine life arising from human activity, in particular the effect of plastics. The episode has raised the public’s awareness to the issue, and the outcry has resulted in governmental promises to try to reduce the use of single-use plastics within the UK.
The government is planning to achieve this by banning straws and cotton buds for a start, while supermarkets have agreed to cut down on the use of plastic in packaging, as there always seems to be more than is really needed. While it might be hard to completely cut out plastic, considering how much of it we encounter on a day-to-day basis, it can certainly be cut down.
For example, ‘Bags for Life’, as well as the policy to charge for bags at the checkout, which is pushing people away from using bags that might split after only a few uses, are helping us work towards making the old thin plastic bags are a thing of the past.
So, you should be able to see the power that science communication can have in helping the general public to understand science, and how they, armed with this new knowledge, can influence governmental policies.
Featured image: Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade