Science, Art, Litt, Science based Art & Science Communication
PART -1 - Introduction
Science is not finished until it’s communicated.
If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough - Einstein
Doing hard research by scientists in fort-like labs that are inaccessable to the outside world is one side of Science. Then communicating it in the right manner the world can understand and get benefited by it is a different ball game altogether.
Scientists publish their work in science journals with all the data and statistics and in a language that seems like Greeck and Latin to the man on the street even if he is literate. Then think about the situation of illiterates. To a large section of people, these science journals don't exist at all!
These journals are used by scientists to communicate their work only to their colleagues in their field.
Usually transferring the complex science concepts from the labs to the ordinary world in the manner that makes some sense will be done by science journalists. They do it in the way in which they understand because it is very difficult even for them to understand the jargon and data and depend on the scientists' explanations to communicate the difficult subject. Therefore a miscommunication is taking place ( Ref.4) with the result that science is being misunderstood and even hated by some. People feel the disconnect with science all around in the West (Ref.10) (and to some extent in the East too) from a common misconception that evolution is a theory that says human beings descended directly from the monkeys, to the worry that physicists in Geneva might suck the universe into a tea cup — or something uncomfortably smaller - unsubstantiated fears that the Large Hadron Collider, used to study subatomic particles, might create a black hole. Some think science is responsible for all the ills we are facing in the world now. One third of Americans are rejecting the theory of evolution (13,15). A move is afoot to keep climate science and evolution out of classrooms in the US now (10). And on several major issues we face, the views of public drastically differ from those of scientists in some parts of the world (17 ). Despite tremendous progress brought by science and technology, several people - irrespective of their literary status - still remain entangled in blind and superstitious states of mind as in the dark ages (7,12,15) proving that the communication system had failed to a large extent. Moreover, the influence of politics (Ref 2,3,6,8,16) and commercialization of the fruits of science (Ref 1, 14) are taking their toll on both scientific research and journalism with the former dancing to the tunes of its mentors (14) and the latter falling prey to conflicting stories. This is resulting in ordinary people being left to deal with the chaos themselves driving them to question the integrity of science.
It's important for lay people to have some understanding of the science involved in the important problems we are facing right now like climate change, antibiotic resistance, vaccine safety, etc. to take right decisions and cooperate with the governing bodies. Unfortunately, coverage of scientific topics in the mass media all too often oversimplifies, fails to provide adequate context, and in some instances is downright wrong. Science can be pretty off-putting if it gets all tangled up in jargon and sounds like something tough and impenetrable to the average person. The communicator really has a job here to be an effective articulator of what the point is, what the progress is, why it matters, why it’s exciting, how it could be helpful.
Science is communicated by journalists in two ways: S cience "journalism" (contextualising, investigating and, at times, challenging science) and just science "communication" (a public relations exercise that is brought directly from the scripts of scientific institutions).
Reporting of science is particularly difficult when compared with other fields of journalism or that it is bad because of some special property that science but no other discipline possesses - "the scientific methods" and "peer review". For good science journalism to happen, journalists must try to stay at arm's length from their sources according to journalists. Failing to remain at one-step-removed runs the risk of turning a piece of journalism into some drippy, flaccid piece of science communication. What a journalist should be really doing when reporting science is asking questions and deflating exaggeration. But do scientists have vested interests in the way their work is portrayed in the media? The answer is yes to some extent. Practically any story has the potential to have an impact on a scientist's reputation or his/her next grant application. Journalists, on the other hand, must try to be independent if they are to be credible. Scientists feel Journalists should get the science right in their articles and let them look at the copy before publication to ensure accuracy. As an outsider, media can be irresponsible while reporting by sensationalizing issues like the GM crop stories. Sometimes research is applied out of context to create dramatic headlines, push thinly disguised ideological arguments, or support particular policy agendas. Scientists who demand to see a draft or journalists who let them may be doing so with the best of intentions. But does it betray the reader or the viewer? Reporters will give the story an angle that has their reader or viewer firmly in mind. Sometimes they give it a spin to sensationalize the stories. The biggest issue is that often the media purposefully produce rubbish scientific stories, as it can suit their agendas(ref 9). This is abuse, and there needs to be some form of policing to stop abuse! For instance one journalist wrote very interesting stories saying that intuition and other non scientific methods were being used by scientists. Some artists who read them thought that was true and argued with me saying that such practices were universal and critical to scientific research! I was shocked to hear such nonsense being spread by journalists. Unlike others what the scientists use is 'educated guessing' or 'informed imagination' which is different from ordinary 'intuition'. The imagination of a scientist is based on reality. If the journalists give the working of scientific methods a spin to suit their write ups it is bad science journalism that leads to misunderstandings. Unlike the journalists the reader or viewer is not a scientist's first concern. As a result, researchers can often suggest changes that would flatten the tone, or introduce caveats and detail that would only matter to another specialist in their own field of research. The scientists are more concerned about facts and correct representation while journalists also think about mass appeal and sales of his/her journal/paper apart from correct presentation.
The relationship between scientists and journalists remains difficult, sometimes even hostile. There are complaints on both sides — scientists doubt the ability of journalists to report accurately and responsibly on their work, while journalists complain that scientists are bad communicators, hiding behind jargon (11) and therefore can confuse them which ultimately could lead to bad reporting. Journalists have a need for digestible headlines that convey simple, accessible, and preferably novel lessons. The scientific method stresses a slow accumulation of knowledge, nuance, and doubt.
But scientists should realize that at times in a scientist's career, it can be extremely important, perhaps even critical, to have a good relationship with a few key journalists more importantly if they themselves cannot communicate their work properly.
Bad science journalism also comes from an inability to make sense of statistics and scientific data. Do journalists read primary source? Without a basic understanding of the techniques being used ( a little research here benefits everybody) or a grasp of statistics. One of the things science journalists can do to improve the quality of their work is when something they think is bad, they should ask relevant scientists to check if the facts in the story are accurately described. Because there is a special property that science but no other discipline possesses: it's extremely complicated and the gap between common knowledge and new scientific findings is ever widening. Bad stories are where reporters get the facts wrong, because they don't know what the facts are. The danger of losing the facts in translation is what worries the scientific community the most.
Stories, especially the big ones, should have some form of fact checking performed on them prior to publication. Journalists can get the story checked by another scientist who does know something about the subject and who isn't associated with the scientist or the paper that is reporting. Some journals do a good job of this and you often see quotes attributed to scientists not involved in the study passing comment as part of the new story in them. However, majority of news papers and journals that get involved in the rat races, want to publish the story first without checking the facts. It is very easy to write things better than scientists can but which subtly or not so subtly alter the meaning. Running it by a third party would be a useful compromise of checking the science without giving up journalistic principles. If something sounds odd or a scientific claim just sounds too bold, then we expect reporters to question it - and check with independent sources as to whether it stands up. It's unrealistic to expect any journalist, however scientifically literate, to have expert knowledge of all the fields in science, so there is nothing wrong with contacting a person in the field to check that your coverage makes sense. Journalists should collaborate with actual scientists more. On the other hand it would be better if Journalists themselves try to specialize in science subjects.
Journalists say they have deadlines to meet and cannot take time to verify the facts. One journalist told me his editor says - "If you can't write 500 good words an hour, you're in the wrong business." And I told the journalist - if you can write 500 science words an hour, you are in the wrong field! You chose a wrong subject! Even the most experienced science writer is not an expert in all the areas of science! You got to check and recheck facts. Scientists take years to do a paper. Can't you take even a few days to communicate it?! I want to tell these media people deadlines are death knells for science communication. Rat races kill their efficiency in science journalism.
A journalist who deals with science once asked me," If a science writer calls you up and says: 'Dr. C, I write for Y publication, and we would like to feature a precis of your paper that appeared in this morning's issue of the Journal of Last Resort. My editor gave me a copy of your paper a half hour ago, and my summary is due in an hour and a half. Could you please answer the following questions about your paper and refer me to someone else in your field who could comment on it now,' what would you say?" And my reply to her : "I would just say, 'sorry, wrong number' and hang up! Nothing annoys a scientist more than dead lines." I prefer to have no article on my work than a bad article sculpted by a dead line because I am from the life sciences and a badly written article might harm the people who read it!
Here is a gem of a quote from a scientist: Journalists take liberty with my articles in a manner that is not a slight "mishap" but an attempt to sensationalise. Everywhere in the world but more so in Africa where people may not have other resources such as books, TV or internet to counter check the info given on newspapers, such liberties at time have more than just an annoyance factor for the scientist, they actually have life and death implications...think MMR, and other anti-vaccine stories based on misquotations or poor synthesis of research information. So as a journalist in your rush to avoid being killed by your editor think how many readers you might actually harm with the article...deadlines or dead readers ...the choice is yours!
I will give another example. When Indian Space Research Organization launched Mangalyaan, its Mars Orbiter, recently, all the news papers just quoted what the scientists said during the launch, copied from ISRO's site a few details and published them the next day. I took one week to write my article and post it here, after doing thorough research on it and people told me my write up was the best they came across on the subject! Need I say more?!
And some of the things science journalists do - which might not be deliberate but still- can make people understand things differently from the way scientists want they should be understood. For instance, in their effort to "hear both sides of the story," professional journalists have contributed to the misconception that there is a "debate" among climate scientists over anthropogenic global climate change. That "debate" really exists only in the misguided minds and resulting headlines, and here is why: If a journalist tries to "balance" a quote from one of the vast majority of scientists who agree on climate change (97% according to scientific studies, ref5) with one coming from the tiny minority of those who don't (just 3%), he or she creates the wrong impression that the scientific world is equally divided about the issue. No journalistic training, only brains, can protect from such blunders.
Let us watch a funny video to really tell the world how it should be done:
Some media people don't even bother about educating people regarding scientific explanations of things happening around the world and breakthroughs because 'science' doesn't increase the readership, viewership or TRPs of the media. So they think - why spend time and space on it?
Therefore, Scientists should make more of an effort to do pieces themselves for popular media, more regularly if they want correct portrayal of their work. Some of the best blogs and stories written these days are done by real scientists. They are creating art works based on their own work. Making videos and movies is the method followed by some. I am glad scientists themselves are coming forward now to communicate with the people outside and art is being considered as one of the important tools to use in this process. Quite a lot of discussion is taking place lately in the Scientific community about the need for Scientists themselves to come forward and share their knowledge and in ways that will reach more people.
It is difficult sometimes for scientists to understand how the world sees what they see. They get entangled in scientific jargon, think and work at a different level and fail to see from the angles of ordinary people. This is because they get several years of specific and special training in the subject to deal with the complexity of science. The training turns them into experts to deal with highly complicated subjects, data and the jargon. Sometimes the jargons don't even have words to describe in common language. It becomes inconvenient and highly demanding for the scientists to deal with communication. So opening a dialogue is really important. Only when the scientists deal with the world outside of theirs, they can understand the problems faced by people in understanding them and their world and how close or far away they are from them. Then they can do full justice to their work by delivering the themes in the way the world wants. Scientists are really facing some problems in communicating with others, but they are trying to overcome them. I wrote an article on how scientists should communicate with laymen based on my experiences. You can read it here: http://kkartlab.in/group/some-science/forum/topics/how-scienitsts-s...
I write on science topics and even stories to remove misconceptions about science I come across while dealing with people. Some of the false notions prevalent among the ordinary people are really shocking to me. Some human beings have very closed minds that are too difficult and time consuming to open. We get entangled in arguments that are quite unnecessary. Scientists will not have have so much time to waste in them. But that again shows the gap between the scientific world and the ordinary world. Now we are trying to close it. But what is the best way to do this is the issue before the scientists right now.
Scientists representing their own work in the visual communication of science is one way of doing it or working in general on science themes and science culture is another aspect. I do both text and literature and art communication of science. The former in the form of articles, stories and poems and the latter in the form of paintings, installations and videos.
Art helps science in communicating the theories, concepts, facts in a better manner. Even an illiterate person can understand science when it is showed in a picture form. A scientist knows what s/he wants to communicate therefore will be in a better position to put his/her work in a picture form. I feel when scientists are doing this, they should try to simplify things so that there won't be any communication gap between scientists and non-scientists. Some of my artist friends advised me to make my art works complex as I try to make them as simple as possible.. According to them there is no need for common people to understand art! But I disagree with them. Science is a complex subject and if you make it more complex people won't be able to understand so much complexity and move away from them and the whole purpose of communication will be lost.
Several of my colleagues in the scientific community all over the world are strongly supporting me in the way I communicate the science concepts with well balanced themes in the form of art ( You can see my work on my website: http://www.kkartfromscience.com/ ). I am glad more and more scientists are coming forward to try this method and able to do this with ease. If journalists are not bothered about science communication or good science communication, yes, scientists will have to do this work themselves.
"Telling people about science is just as important as conducting the science".
Dr. Krishna Kumari Challa's poem on "Science Communication"
From the group (Art- literature-Science Interplay)
Science communication, science communication, science communication
An useful tool that converts difficult to understand things into easy translation
Brings in human beings many a right vibration
Communicators are people who guide this beautiful mutation
Yet other times cajolingly,
Using metaphors freely,
Making people trust science merrily!
If science communicators fail to convince,
In order to solve the problems we face
There is no other go but to use force
The field that gets maligned in this process is Science!
Communicators have a difficult role to play
Art, literature, text, speeches and plays are the methods to sway
Whichever route used to convey
Science messages should reach the masses every way!
Copyright © 2012 Dr. Krishna Kumari Challa.
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
One of the things science journalists can do to improve the quality of their work is something you think is bad: ask relevant scientists to check if the facts in the story are accurately described.
science journalism is always going to be a tossup between accuracy and impact. Science is not aimed at being media friendly and hardly ever gives you a punchy take home message.
Perhaps the answer is context, if sci-media articles were to provide a nice serving of scientific background in their articles it may make it easier for readers to put the research into context.
Although this may limit the audience, mistakes may be less likely and (assuming the authors are skilled in expressing the science behind the findings) readers may actually come away feeling better about the article and generally happy that they understand the science and aren't just aware of the findings.
People promoting pseudoscientific cures will take science articles and plagiarize them acting as if it was their own work, or contact a scientist that wrote the article allegedly for the purpose of fact-checking, and then the citizen journalist(s) publish the "spinoff" article full of inaccuracies which they immediately copyright as their proprietary intellectual property.
An experiment with 243 young communication scholars tested hypotheses derived from role congruity theory regarding impacts of author gender and gender typing of research topics on perceived quality of scientific publications and collaboration interest. Participants rated conference abstracts ostensibly authored by females or males, with author associations rotated. The abstracts fell into research areas perceived as gender-typed or gender-neutral to ascertain impacts from gender typing of topics. Publications from male authors were associated with greater scientific quality, in particular if the topic was male-typed. Collaboration interest was highest for male authors working on male-typed topics. Respondent sex did not influence these patterns.
This article says: A good science/health/environment journalist should read the paper if possible. It is the record of what the scientists actually did and what the peer reviewers have allowed them to claim (peer review is very far from perfect but it is at least some check on researchers boosting their conclusions).
Without seeing the paper you are at the mercy of press-release hype from overenthusiastic press officers or, worse, from the researchers themselves. Of course science journalists won't have the expertise to spot some flaws, but they can get a sense of whether the methodology is robust – particularly for health-related papers. In any case, very often the press release does not include all the information you will need for a story, and the paper can contain some hidden gems. Frequently the press release misses the real story.
The art of science: science communication:
Scientists are more interested in glorifying themselves than leaving things better than how they could find them. As we acquire knowledge, we climb a ladder that helps us see farther and observe unexplored territory. A new scientific creation demands several smaller steps, continually communicating findings to their collaborators. This may be envisioned as skipping the stairs and rather taking an elevator. The result would be that each paper will contain fewer questions and more answers. Our scientists are isolated in their researches. If communication truly erases distance in the scientific community, new fields are likely to emerge in the intersections between disciplines.
Scientists, even more than today, will have to learn how to work together. it is also a sociable affair. Communication between researchers in different fields is vital. Team work is one of the things that categorizes interdisciplinary.
In the last ten years, the rise of a variety of web-based and social media platforms has dramatically changed the role of the science journalist. No longer do people have to rely on traditional media to learn about a new issue, instead they can go online and visit a host of blogs to find the specific information that they want. This new media ecosystem, write Declan Fahy and Matthew Nisbet in a recent study, has greatly diminished the power science journalists previously held as “gate-keepers.”
Every single one of the big existential challenges we face in this century calls for better science, to identify the problems, and better technology, to identify the solutions. But the science won’t get done, and the solutions won’t get implemented, unless the general public is part of the process. And to be involved in a meaningful way, citizens need accurate information. That’s where science and technology writers come in.
Do we want consumers and voters to be prepared to make smart decisions that will contribute to rational policy changes? If so, we have to figure out how best to engage them and offer a wide range of compelling and accurate stories about science and technology.
If we, as a society, don’t broaden our basic research literacy — our scientific understanding of the way life works — then it’s very difficult for us to make common-sense decisions that allow us to take care of each other and our environmentally endangered planet. And beyond the save-the-world aspects — and, yes, they matter — I think a basic understanding of science accomplishes an essential something else. It reminds you that we live on the most fantastic, complicated, unexpected place. It just makes life more interesting.
A scientist explained how science communication should be done in a better manner:
At an event he attended, it seems, an audience member stood up and asked a question that had been all over the news in 2008, before a court dismissed a lawsuit alleging the dangers of particle accelerators: "Are you concerned that the Large Hadron Collider might create a black hole that engulfs the world?"
"No," responded one of the scientists present there. "This work is peer reviewed," he said, "and any talk of black holes is complete nonsense."
That seemingly condescending reply immediately set the wrong tone for the dialogue with the audience. The lecturer instead could have addressed this widely felt public fear and explained the facts refuting the threat.
"When you start telling people: 'We're experts. Don't worry about it,' that's the best way to turn off the public," says the scientist . "We have to open up that process somehow to the public. It's not a one-way street. It's also how the culture can more broadly enter into the debate of science and create a more socially robust science."
"As scientists, we tend to underestimate how esoteric we are," he says. "We deal with concepts and words that are just not part of general daily life. Very often we end up mystifying people, rather than engaging them. Just getting people familiar with some of the technology and concepts without trying to do science education I think is an important part of the cultural appropriation of science."
This is the point I have been stressing all the while! Now other scientists too are realizing it! - Krishna
The public and researchers complain of inadequate training for journalists. And there are few examples of innovative technology being used for dialogue among scientists, communications professionals and lay audiences — certainly fewer compared with the arts and 'culture' industries. Therefore, there are signs of increased demand for science journalism.
On science being challenged by religious fundamentalists, some educationists and polititians:
The problem is not that science is being challenged, it is what it is being challenged with. If logical questions are being posed, it is appropriate. If the challenge comes from restating ancient faith-based fables it is not appropriate, both from a scientific and separation-of-religion-and-state perspective. Plain and simple.
Science being challenged by scientists is the essence of science. Science being challenged by public school teachers with an agenda is the essence of stupidity.
Read the actual legislation of some states in the US which is actually not so bad. It only permits teachers to "help students understand, analyze, critique and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught" and to encourage students to "respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues," which include evolution, global warming, etc., so as to "develop critical thinking skills." It does NOT permit the teaching of ID or any other non-scientific theory, nor does it permit any teacher to refuse to teach any particular scientific topic.