Science, Art, Litt, Science based Art & Science Communication
Interactive science series
Qs ON SCIENCE COMMUNICATION
Q: While communicating science, can we use scientific terms?
Krishna: Yes, you have to use them and ... this is very important ... explain clearly what they mean. That is how people learn new scientific terms.
Q: What advice do you give to journalists like me who want to enter the field of science communication?
Krishna: You are most welcome here. I have already written several topics on science communication.
View them here: some-science
Read them and ask me questions if you have any.
A request though ... try to view the world like a scientist does. Then only you can do justice to your communication process. I know how difficult it is for people outside of science to do this. You don't even know ABCDs of science but you are trying to speak that language and worst of it all you are trying to explain it to others and get them educated! Have you realized now what devil you are going to deal with?
This is not to discourage you. I only want you to learn things scientific first.
I know journalists here just copy and paste things from news agencies and pretend they are their original articles. Sometimes they add a few names they say they consulted but write exact words and sentences we read on news agencies'sites, science sites, press releases etc. They can fool ordinary people but not us. We know who is what and who is a nought.
Some try to write original articles but most often, I have noticed, they write about pseudo-science thinking that it is real science. Some try to cater to the emotional needs of people and confirm their beliefs and opinions. Some publish old and outdated research. We get annoyed. Most of the scientists do go mad when they read these write ups of journalists. But we can't do anything about them. If we try to correct them, they refuse to get corrected. Press freedom! In the name of PF, they publish rubbish.
Please don't go that way. Science communication is a different ball game altogether and try to follow the scientist-communicators, not the journalist-communicators. Then only you will hit the bull's eye.
Now, follow me! And, that is an order. :)
Q: In laymen's terms how to do you define science communication?
Krishna: Bringing science to non-scientists in the language they understand is science communication.
Q: Who is the best science communicator now in the world?
Krishna: Almost of them are good. Famous doesn't mean best here. If you entered the field, you must be good at communication.
Q: How can science communicators deal efficiently with people with closed minds?
Krishna: The other day I was discussing a controversial subject with a techie. I realized he 's highly orthodox and my mind set 's completely opposite to his. But still I accepted this challenge. I tried to be soft and slow. But the moment he came to know who I was, he got up and said, "My beliefs are non-negotiable, how irrational they might seem to others. I don't want to even listen to and consider what you people say. Sorry!" and left the room.
How do you deal with such closed minds?
You cannot target individuals here. You have to go to the roots of the entire system that produced such people. Because these people depend on support system of their groups, families, friends and societies.
Unless you deal with these whole bunches, you cannot arrest the rot. Until the whole system is washed properly, you cannot expect a part of it to become clean. I realized this long back.
Now I am targeting the whole system. I think I am gaining ground by going this way.
Q: What is the biggest challenge in communicating scientific findings to the general public?
I can understand jargon because I have several years of research experience and as I myself write research papers. I can easily translate them into common man’s language.
Providing authentic news is important too when there are conflicting and confusing reports flying all over the space. As I am scientifically trained, I can identify things that are faulty, misleading and papers that are attention seeking for the wrong reasons most of the time. Even if I read such articles on science sites, I don't trust them. Because some of the sites that deal with science are run by journalists and not by people of science. And even if they are run by scientists, if the scientists are attached to the political parties, economic establishments that fund their work, what they publish need not be accurate or authentic. Some sort of spinning occurs when these reports come into the public domain. You need a sharp eye and a very analytical mind to detect these frauds. I usually read original papers in peer-reviewed journals before posting them on my science communication network. I try my best to keep away from such things if my instinct tells me the story need not be true. This again comes from training and experience.
However, I find these things challenging though.
1. Opening closed minds and doors when people tell you their beliefs and opinions are non-negotiable and when people try to shut you off from their worlds.
2. Telling people - especially my friends and relatives - that I just don't blindly accept and follow their baseless beliefs.
3. And when your administration has an unscientific attitude and when it itself propagates pseudo-science, challenging the authority without getting a ‘traitor’ tag.
4. Getting funds, recognition and awards for your work despite going the scientific route and against people who judge you and assess you.
5. Maintaining your sanity while dealing with un-scientific thoughts, ideals, opinions and beliefs.
6. Dealing with trolls and attackers when ‘your science’ exposes cheats’ ‘exploiting ways’.
7. Persistence in the most trying circumstances.
I wrote a series of articles on science communication. You can find them here if you are interested:
Q: Is it important that we systematically describe things while communicating science?
Krishna: While communicating science to their colleagues, scientists describe things systematically.
However, while communicating science to the common people, such systematic descriptions, although provide neatness to the articles, prove to be boring. They come out like products of a factory outlet, point numbers, 1, 2, 3, 4, .... eek!, strongly resembling one another. Add some zing and variety folks. These need not be silly jokes. But should show you as a separate and unique science communicator.
I never saw Neil deGrasse Tyson or Bill Nye talking to people in a systematic way. But they are very popular science communicators and attract lots of people.
Q: How do you become a respected science communicator?
You get real respect for your authenticity, clarity of presentation, passion and dedication, friendly attitude, simplicity and of course command over the subject.
Q: Why is it difficult for scientist communicators to make people accept scientific facts?
Krishna: Lots of research went into this. And it was found that the general public agrees with scientists when the scientists say things they already believe, and disagrees with scientists when the scientists say things they don't believe. People in general believe whoever tells them things that already fit their conceptions and biases.
A conditioned mind rarely co-operates.
Science can’t condition a mind like ideology, culture, religion, and business PR do because it is against scientific attitude.
Where questioning, validity and verification is given importance, you cannot control minds with sweet talk, misleading information and emotional appeal.
Science can’t compete with substandardness.
Q: Do science communicators adopt different techniques while communicating science to different people?
Krishna: Understanding the psychology of people you are communicating with really helps. Yes, single strategy doesn't work with all the human beings you deal with.
People who love science are easy to connect with and convince.
People who sit on the walls try to jump towards the majority's side. Keeping the highest numbers on your side works with them.
Emotional minds yield to sweet talk.
Fearful minds listen to you when you invoke insecurity in them ( Don't misunderstand this. This is not exploiting like others do. Just stating the facts too can instill fear and insecurity like 'smoking can cause cancer', 'not getting vaccinated can make your children susceptible to diseases).
Distressed minds come to you when you provide solutions.
Closed minds are the most difficult ones but when you associate them with their groups or communities and treat them as whole bunches, they would give some ground to you.
Children and illiterates get attracted to fun and art.
But the most important part is how you identify these different types and how you plan your strategy.
And that is not easy. You got to have a sharp mind and good analysing techniques to understand the complex human psychology. A single wrong move can backfire and turn your whole effort a big waste.
Q: How do you rate your success as a science communicator?
Krishna: People I interact with themselves gave me a direct picture. And I am extremely satisfied with the rating. I don't want to mention it here though.
Q: Why do you communicate science?
Krishna: If you don’t communicate, how will the world know about it? How will the world get benefitted by the knowledge?
Scientists do it in two ways:
Communicating with their colleagues using ‘their own language’ by publishing in journals and presenting in conferences, seminars etc. Then your colleagues, assess it, confirm it making a scientific fact and improving on it or building more knowledge based on it or applying it and make life more comfortable to people.
Communicating it to the common people using simple language so that they can use it and get benefitted by it.
Q: As a science communicator how do you want us to co-operate with you for our common benefit?
Krishna: This is the question we (me and my colleagues) liked the most. You came here with the right attitude that even learners need to put in some effort for the success of science communication.
The first thing we need is an 'open mind' and a 'passion to learn things scientific'. If you have these qualities, our work will become easy.
You should also have some basic knowledge in science to understand the subject. Without learning the alphabets first, you can't read, learn and understand a language.
Communicate with us, ask questions if you don't understand something. Only when we see your Qs/ messages, we understand where the difficulty lies, in our explanation or in your comprehension and where we went wrong or where your inadequacy lies.
Your understanding that science is not your enemy but a friend that is trying to help you is also what we expect from you. And that we are here to provide strength to your mind and health to your body in the right way.
Please don't come here looking for conformation of your opinions, beliefs etc., science cannot and doesn't do that.
Also realize that when we say something here, we are only giving scientific facts and their evidence. They are not our 'opinions'. Several people fail to understand this and try to argue. You cannot argue with a mathematical theorem, can you? :)
If we can close the gap between our worlds with the co-operation coming from your side too, we would be relieved.
Q: What qualities should a science communicator have? I am asking this Q because I want to become one like you.
Krishna: Glad to hear your aim and ambition. It is a nice choice.
A science communicator should have vast knowledge in all the fields of science not in one specific area (my scientist friends say they are jealous of me because of this quality of mine)
S/he should be a critical thinker.
S/he should be completely neutral.
S/he should be frank and very daring - shouldn't be afraid to speak truth and facts no matter how much people resent it.
S/he should be a hard worker, very passionate about science and should have a service oriented mind.
S/he should eat, sleep, think, drink, write, live, follow, trust science through out his/her life.
S/he should also have some creative skills to put things efficiently before people.
It is a highly thrilling life. You will love it. Just go for it.
Q: How can I effectively approach the usage of scientific papers without a formal academic background?
These things overwhelm them. They face a mind block and immediately close the pages.
That is why science communication came into existence. We entered the field of science communication to simplify things for you. We work hard hours together to make things easy for you.
Q: Scientists don’t know most humans don’t give two flips about facts or rational discussion. They are constantly exposing normal people to facts and continue to expect those people to come to rational conclusions based on those facts. If high IQs meant anything like what everyone who wants one thinks they mean scientists would have long ago figured out that to convince the general public of anything you have to either coincide with their preconceived ideas or offer them immediate gratification in some way. Asking people to give up an immediate gratification for a greater good more than a day or two away is an overall failing proposition. What do you think?
Krishna: We do understand laymen's world is different. At the same time we cannot allow people to live in a state of ignorance and far away from reality for ever. We strive to bring people outside into our world slowly but surely.
If you want facts to coincide with people's preconceived notions, that is not possible always. Because these notions came into origin long back when science as a field hadn't been established and when irrationality and ignorance ruled the world. If people who fear their hold on human psychology would diminish would release their grip on it, science communicators would succeed. Right now we are striving to do exactly that, succeed!
Okay, if you want gratification, we have some incentives too. Like better health. Comfortable life. Removing hunger and poverty. Living a fear-free and stable life. Any evolved human mind that can think better than apes, would opt for greater good, instead of instant gratification.
When you face hunger, poverty, bad health, death from a deadly disease, you would understand our logic, alright and forego instant gratification. That is the power of science.
Why do you think thousands are visiting this site? For instant gratification? No!
For the incentives that slowly turn their lives into better ones. I am succeeding in the only way science knows it would.
Q: What is the difference between looking for confirmation of biases and really learning things? How can we ask questions only to learn things?
Krishna: We can easily recognize the difference. A person who really wants to learn things, ask questions in a different way. People who want to confirm their biases, come with a preconceived notion, like for example pseudo-science is real science and that we should agree with their assumptions and argue endlessly to make us do that. Some, I have noticed, don't even click on the links provided to my articles that clearly explain things, read them, try to understand them, and analyse them and then ask questions.
Instead, they refuse to even read them ( we have a way to find out, here on this network, whether the person read my articles or not) and go on and on arguing from their own point of view. That is refusing to see things from others' point of view, refusing to learn things in the right way, looking for confirmation of their biases and beliefs.
The moment they realize they can't get confirmation from science, they start attacking it with frustration.
This is really very annoying for us - when a person who has false knowledge refusing to get corrected, wants an endorsement of his corrupt knowledge arguing endlessly wasting our time.
When a person is willing to learn, he would definitely try to read my articles, try to understand them, think about them and then ask questions or clarifications and try to find out why anyone went wrong. If he understands and agrees with them, learn things and thank us for that.. .
Each word you use, sentence you construct, the way you talk or ask Qs, tells a lot about you. With lots of experience in dealing with people, I can easily identify what type of a person you are. While genuineness of your desire to learn things makes us deal with you happily, other intentions put us off.
We don't want to waste our time with the second category people. And I am convinced you are a genuine person. Thanks for really trying to find out the difference. People like you make us glad to interact with.
Q: How can a science communicator differentiate between real research and a bogus one?
Krishna: Knowledge in scientific methods and methodologies helps you in identifying the genuine ones. Critical thinking is very important to differentiate things.
I wrote some articles and posted on this network to help people like you. Please read them by going to the home page of this group 'Science Simplified'.
If you still have questions after reading them, please do ask.
Q: What is the difference between earlier science communication and the one done now?
Krishna: When I was young, I used to watch some documentaries on science. They were like class room lessons. You learn something in science alright but fail to creatively connect it to your life and why it is important. That is not how science should be communicated.
To make science more interesting, you have to tell people why it is connected with your life and make them understand the significance of it to get it stick more firmly to their mind and use the knowledge. Today we do that and this way of communication is making more impact on people.
Watch this video where Brian Cox and Neil deGrasse Tyson discuss about science communication ...
Q: What strange problems did you face while communicating science?
Krishna: Just two days back I, in the company of some of my scientist friends, was defending science and criticizing pseudo-science. But a person who follows a guruji who propagates pseudo-science started attacking us all of a sudden.
When one of my friends started providing evidence, this person said, " I will not listen to Christian evidence".
Then I said, "Evidence is just evidence in science. There won't be Hindu evidence, Christian evidence or Muslim evidence."
But this person was adamant, "No I won't listen to this Christian person. He is against my Hindu guruji".
Then my friend asked me to give the evidence to which I agreed and started my speech. But this person stopped me too and said, "You people hate our guruji. That is why you are saying these things".
Then I said, "We are not against anybody. We are only against pseudo-science. If your guruji, whom we don't even know anything about, propagates it, naturally you feel this way. Just consider what we say, then decide who is wrong and who is right."
Then he got up and said, "No, I won't listen to anything you people say. You are against my guruji, my religion and my belief ", and walked out.
We don't know anything about this guruji. Then how can we say anything against him? We 're only against pseudo-science. What a strange situation to be in! We were being accused of things we weren't doing!
'How can we deal with such close-minded, mis-guided and hatred-filled people?' is the Q that is bothering us now.
Another episode: Somebody asked us, a group of of people from various fields, whether dogs can predict their owners' pregnancy. People told very beautiful, creative but imaginative stories. Some men depicted how their dogs 'guessed' their wives were pregnant , how their pets even 'predicted' that delivery of the babies had taken place in the family and showed strange behaviour.
Then somebody had asked me to explain all this scientifically. I was literally shocked by their stories as they were just creative anecdotal experiences without any scientific back up. This was my explanation:
"People tell strange stories, don't they?
What people say is anecdotal and just their interpretations of the situation, not reality.
Yes, dogs can sense hormonal (chemical) changes that occur in a pregnant lady because of altered scent. But they really don’t know the science behind pregnancy. Therefore, they cannot realize their owner is pregnant. Sensing the change in odour is not sensing pregnancy. Get that right first.
If pregnancy related hormonal changes has you riding the emotional roller coaster, your dog is probably noticing it too. But it really cannot phantom the reason for it. It might change its response to your behaviour.
Any positive behavioural changes you say happen is just your wishful thinking, strange perception and attributing your thoughts to dogs and other pets! That’s all!"
Then one person started attacking me. " How can you humiliate us like this? We have very special bonds with our pets. My dog could predict my wife was pregnant. It predicted my daughter was born. If you say he can't do this, you are insulting him! You are insulting and humiliating our family. And what I told is the truth".Then he enquired where I did my Ph.D. and said, " Your university provides bogus degrees. You are a bogus Ph.D. You are a bogus scientist. You don't know anything about these things". And then added, "Did that hurt you? Now you know how much we're hurt by your answer".
I was dumb-founded. What was my fault? Telling facts? Clear misconceptions? Making people differentiate between facts and fiction? Hurting anybody wasn't my intention at all.
We are strange people. People of science have very poor emotional quotient. We just speak truth as it is without any emotional attachments. We have pets at home too. But I never interpret their behaviour in such strange ways. I never claim my pets can predict things like scientists with their extensive knowledge can do!
I wasn't hurt by these words and behaviour of these persons but started wondering how can I improve myself in putting facts before people more efficiently. I cannot weave false stories to attract people. I cannot mislead people with emotional episodes. My scientific training doesn't allow me to say things or accept stories that have no evidence. Shall I keep quiet and let these people spread misconceptions? I cannot do that either. I will have to reveal truth. If that hurts some what can I do? Sorry! I can't help!
Another one: Some of us, a group of scientists, were discussing a hot topic with some lay men. While we were providing evidence to stress what we said was right, one person stopped us and said, "Your belief is wrong". Then I said, "It is not my belief, it is an evidence based fact". The person said, "What difference does it make? You are expressing your opinions as if they are ultimate truths". Then I said, it is not my opinion either, it is evidence based fact, get that right".
" When people of science say something, they usually don't express their opinions or beliefs. They mention evidence based facts. We can show you evidence of what we say to stress it is an established fact".
Then this person who was arguing with me said, "It doesn't make any difference to me whether it is a belief or an opinion or a fact. You might use any word for it, it is still wrong".
Then I said, "How can something that is based on solid evidence be wrong"? The person said to our horror, "It is wrong because , it is against my belief"!
"Then I asked, "Doesn't evidence count? Can't you consider it"? The person said, "NO, no, never, if it is against my belief!"
Ufff ... what can you do with things like confirmation biases and cognitive dissonance? What can you do if you face a person who doesn't know the difference between opinion, belief and an evidence established fact? And refuses to understand the difference when explained?
How can we deal with them? Scientists are bothered about these things because while communicating science these things are becoming great obstacles.
Not everybody will be like these people. Most of the people we interact with are very sweet. They try to understand what we say. But out of thousands, one or two will be extremely problematic and these people try to influence others around too. And we are concerned about them more!
Q: How did you learn communicating science? Have you done any courses?
Krishna: I didn't do any courses. But I had to explain things scientific to my family members. That's how it all started. Almost all of my family members are into commerce. They don't have any science background. I don't understand commerce! So I created interest in them about science. We talk only science when I am at home! No commerce! That is how I manipulated their interest. Especially my sister is very interested in learning all things science ... She did M.com., CAIIB and is working with a bank. She asks me so many questions on science that made me a good communicator of science.
Then my niece and nephew also are interested in science. While talking to children and explaining things to them, you learn how to communicate in a simple language.
My home is my school! Experience is my teacher!!
Q: How do you deal with subjects like physics and chemistry which are not your specialization?
Krishna: I have basic knowledge in almost all science subjects! We were taught them in school and college. Why even while doing my M.Sc., we had maths, physics, biochemistry, biometry and learnt them in my first semester and wrote exams in them and passed with maximum marks!
Then I read a lot. Original research papers published in high standard journals, not second hand explanations. Even the most difficult research papers have abstracts and conclusions that are simple to understand. I also watch videos made by scientists. Then, I experiment with some high standard science magazine sections of science journals.
I have scientist friends in several areas. If I find something difficult to understand, I approach them and ask them to explain things. I ask questions like a child and try to get simple answers.
I am not an expert in all subjects but if you are really interested in learning things, who or what can stop you? Yes, of course, I have an advantage over others in dealing with science because I am a trained scientist and your jargon is not jargon for me! :)
Q: Not all people will be interested in science. How can we make everybody read science?
Krishna: How about making them view science through art? How about making it fun with poems?
That is what I do! Even the most closed mind opens when it sees my art work based on science. Even the most illiterate person gets attracted to my pictures in colour. I have no problem at all in attracting people.
Then I try to make things as simple as possible. That sometimes gets close to fiction but actually are fact based stories! Balancing facts with real stories, not fiction, is an interesting aspect of science communication.
"Science simplification" for a scientist is difficult but when you really try it, it becomes very interesting.
Q Can you do justice to science when you are dealing with art and literature?
Krishna I think, I can most of the time. Unlike journalists, artists and writers who are not trained in science, my attempt is purely based on my intention of protecting my subject and presenting it as it is without any distortions. That is not easy. Trying to balance several things takes a lot of time and effort. It tests my mental capabilities. But somehow I manage it. And when people tell me they are happy with my work, I feel satisfied. Because they are the litmus papers.
Q: Do you think your work of science communication can change people
Krishna: My main aim is to put things reasonably accurately in a simple and attractive way before them, stir their grey matter, and make them think.
If you do that you will succeed most of the time.
Q: How do you deal with controversial subjects while communicating science?
Krishna: If the controversy is between science and faith or pseudo-science, I take the side of science because after a thorough critical analysis, I find it the most accurate thing to follow.
If the controversy is between two views of science ( although just opinions have no place in science, if the science is not established fully, it becomes controversial ), I put both sides before people with all possible evidences and leave it to them to decide what to trust.
Q: Can I follow you while writing about science?
Krishna: Follow me but don't copy me. Develop your own style.
(Copying is imitating an action. Following is imitating the principle behind the action.
“Copy” is an act of copying the result. “Follow” is an act of knowing the process through which the result was achieved and then copying the process. In english, the word “copy” & “follow” are used interchangeably there by diluting the entire meaning of the words.)
Q: How can we deal with people who have no respect for science?
Krishna: I came across such people several times. Most of my scientist friends also told me they too experienced strange situations with these people. Some human beings just close their minds to evidence, facts, knowledge, reality and just believe in whatever they think is truth.
I tried my best to open their minds to science. Some agree to this but some totally refuse to come in to the world of science. These people have 'conditioned minds'. How can you de-condition them? How can you re-educate them? We discussed this a lot. Being in a hostile situation makes us very stressful too. While keeping our stress in control, emotions in control to not to react adversely towards them, is quite a balancing act. Science communication is a very difficult job.
I have learnt to be tolerant but when something is really harming and hurting them and when they refuse to realize what is that that is causing this harm, and blame everything else except the real cause and when you really know what is wrong with that situation, it really is a testing time. Know what? People listen to you when they are in such situations! I wait till I get those conditions and then strike. And I achieve success to a great extent!
It is quite unfortunate to observe that some people don't realize their mistakes until they themselves suffer a lot. Feel sorry for them.
Q: What are the most important things a science communicator should keep in mind while writing an article?
1. Authenticity. The internet is full of fake stories, pseudo-science, misconceptions, and false propaganda. A science communicator should be able to differentiate between genuine science and pseudo-science. He or she should try to read the original research paper and try to realize whether what is being told is an established fact or not. It is the responsibility of a science communicator to write only on authentic reports and not fake ones and add more confusion to the already confused minds.
2. Usefulness of the story. The story can be useful to just researchers. This helps them to work on them, improve on them, discover or invent new things based on them. Some stories merely add to the knowledge. But while writing for the lay man, you should also consider whether the story helps the man on the street to improve his life in any way.
3. Simplicity. People reading your story should be able to fully understand what you are trying to convey.
Q: Have you ever gone through bad behaviour while communicating science that has shaken you up from the core of your heart?
What shocks me to no end is when people consider my science based facts as no answers at all or when they consider I am ignorant about reality! Recently two people asked me Qs about 'haunting highways' and 'black magic'.
Several people told several interesting stories that they had seen ghosts on highways and faced black magic consequences. People liked them because they thought they ‘re real!
But when I explained, when asked, why people 'saw'ghosts or 'suffered' because of black magic based on science, some people said that I didn't know anything about them and that I should keep quiet if I didn't know anything about them! (For these people 'ghosts are real' and 'black magic is real' and science is false! )
The reality is 'If anybody knows the truth about these things, it is the scientists. Rest all are imaginative stories based on just perceptions and illusions', but these people refuse to accept answers based on critical thinking, science and reality.
For them pseudo-science, irrational beliefs, and delusions are reality. What type of world are we living in? No wonder when science is trying to take us towards light, these people are afraid of that light.
We can forgive a child who is afraid of darkness but we can never forgive an adult who is afraid of light!
Yes, some people are afraid of light and try to remain in darkness! And they try to harass people who are trying to light lamps!