Science, Art, Litt, Science based Art & Science Communication

Q: Dr. Krishna I am a blogger. How can I give correct information about corona virus to the general public?

Krishna: I appreciate your intention to give the right information. But it is very difficult to pick only correct information for people who don't do science themselves. 

This is what specialists do under these circumstances: 

1. Admit that you don't know much. Dunning Kruger effect is very dangerous while dealing with public. Because the virus is so new, there’s still a lot even the experts themselves don’t fully understand. For instance the speculation that the virus may be less dangerous when the weather improves is just that: speculation based on other studies, not on this one. It may or may not be correct for this virus. So don't hesitate to tell,  “Scientists still don’t fully understand how this virus will behave when the weather improves.”

And if you don't know the right information, just keep quiet. Don't talk or write anything about it until you get a clarity on the subject. Tell the stories exactly as they are without twisting or spinning them. 

2. Science takes a long, long time to establish facts. Meanwhile it becomes very messy. But science is a process of becoming less and less wrong as time goes by. That is why some studies have been confusing and even contradictory, such as those on how far the virus can travel in the air and how long it remains alive and viable on different surfaces.  If different studies show different findings, tell people all about them.

3. Trust only high standard peer-reviewed journals to get information. 

New and sensational ones circulated in the media are not trust worthy. 

4. Don't repeat misinformation again and again even if you tell people the story is not  true.  Repetition makes misinformation feel more true. It is human psychology to believe in even lies  that are brought to people's notice over and over again. 

5. Realise this: There are different experts for different subjects.  Experts in general biology need not be experts in Virology. So if a general biologist and a virologist are telling two different things about the corona virus, trust only the subject specialist, i.e., virologist. 

6. Balance things : while telling the truth avoid creating panic and fear among people. 

Read this article that gives tips on how to identify the right information in science: How to trust science stories: A guide for common man

Q: What is the purpose of science communication?

Krishna: Not 'is', 'are'. These are some of the aims of Sci-com:

Inform about science

Develop awareness of benefits of science
Correct misinformation about science
Demonstrate real world application of science
Encourage debate about scientific findings
Provide opportunities for participation in science
Encourage interest in science
Inspire young people to pursue careers in science
Challenge stereotypes about scientists
Build consensus about implications of science
Align science to societal needs
Discuss the direction of research

Q: Why do people attack scientists and science communicators? They are doing a good job.

Do you face these things too and how do you cope?

Krishna: Thanks for understanding and appreciating our work. 

Yes, we do face lots of resistance from people who themselves can't resolve their mind matters. Like

cognitive_biases, confirmation_bias,  Dunning Kruger_effect,  patriarchal mindsets , 

total ignorance and what not.

People who practice pseudo-science like astrologers, body cleansing practitioners think if we make public realise the truth, they will lose their jobs.

People who are highly superstitious think they will lose their mental and external emotional supports these things give them. But they don't realize that science can give more stronger support. 

People who are highly religious think science is completely against religion and is trying to remove religion from the world. Religious leaders attack science and scientists like hell downgrading evolution, heliocentric theories and the like. 

Yes, I do face these things while interacting with people outside. Many of my colleagues from all around the world tell me it 's extremely difficult to deal with stupidity  and total ignorance. Two highly different levels of understanding of a thing can cause friction if not handled properly. But we have no choice but to deal with these things while communicating science. It is highly stressful to deal with sci-com.  It is easy to work in  labs. Sci-com drives you mad sometimes. It takes a lot of your precious time.

Only things that make us go forward despite the difficulties are  atleast some peoples' acceptance that science 's really good for them and the world and their adoption of the subject. The thought that others too might get benefits we are getting from science if they understand the subject in the way we do.

Simply telling someone what to feel or do will not change their perceptions or behaviour.  Further, the science of science communication supports the notion that simply providing more and more accurate information also will not c....

Changing mindsets takes hell of time. Lots of patience. Bearing set backs. Going forward despite everything.  

How do I cope? My mind is a big mess. I love challenges and that is what is still driving me. The desire to succeed ...

"Scientists devote their lives to decoding the Operations of Nature, which are oblivious to your culture and politics. When legions of experts alert society of impending catastrophe, yet warnings go unheeded, with fatal consequences, I'm left weeping for the future of civilization."

Neil deGrasse Tyson

Q: Why is communication important in science?

Krishna: I am glad you asked this question.

There are two important types of communication in science.

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 Greek 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. Scientists publish their work so that their colleagues can understand what work is going on in the field and build further on the knowledge, challenge them so that they can test whether their work can withstand falsification, reproduce it over and over again so that it can be established as a fact.

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 (1) with the result that science is being misunderstood.

Main Reason for misinformation in science: Nearly all the messages about science are coming from people who are 'talking about' science 'rather than doing' science. That is why sci-com by real scientists is very important ... to arrest fake information (2).

Therefore, it has become vital for scientists themselves to come out of their labs and communicate their work themselves. Some scientists are turning into science communicator scientists so that they can present the science in the right way to the general public.

Now why is it important to bring science in the correct way to the general public?

If the general public cannot understand science, they cannot use it at all.

Again, if they don’t understand science in the right way, they cannot utilize the knowledge to the maximum extent possible. Half knowledge is more dangerous than no knowledge.

If they misunderstand the science concepts, they might hate them and move away from them.

If they don’t understand the significance of science properly, they might go to other people who give false hopes, cheat, cause pain, and even loss of life in some cases. Yes, bad science communication can actually have life and death implications.

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.

So "Telling people about science is just as important as conducting the science" for scientists.

Science communication

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

Sometimes convincingly,

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!

Source: Science communication

(This poem is written by me)

Please follow the space Science Communication on quora



2. Science Communication

Q: What is ailing science and its communication?

Krishna: How about explaining it by giving examples?

1. Recently one person submitted a blog to my science communication space: Science Communication 

His science blog has many words like 'research has shown that', 'studies have identified that', 'it has been proven that'.

I always fact check the submissions before accepting them. So I ask for citations to authenticate the submissions.   

When I asked this person who submitted a blog to provide citations, he just added a link to his blog. Then I asked him what studies he ' s referring to. To my shock he told me there were none.  He just wrote it that way because scientists and science communicators write it that way!

When I told him that is cheating and he cannot do that, he told me to delete his submission and disappeared.

So?! Don't believe everything people quote as studies or research. Only if genuine citations are provided from high standard scientific journals to authenticate what people say, should you  trust what  the bloggers or writers say.

2. Please visit this page: Everybody is creating science groups these days.

A 'student' created this group and when an art student asked, 'Hey, can an arts student join this group?'. 'He' said 'yes' and added ,  'I have invited you to be a moderator' and made him a moderator! 

Making an art student 'moderator' of the group can bring you lots of people by your goodwill gesture and hats off to your emotional intelligence but  how can an art student realize how to distinguish between genuine science and junk science? So junk science is being added recklessly to the group. And lots of people who promote junk science  are supporting this group but not the genuine ones run by scientists! 

That is what is ailing science and science communication.

Need we say more?

You have some serious health condition. You need a specialist to get cured. But if you go to a nurse  or a paramedic or a lawyer or a movie star to consult instead of a specialist doctor how does it reflect on your human mental condition? 

Those who are courting and supporting these ineligible people are doing just that. You won't get cured of your lack of knowledge in science on one hand, and on the other hand , you will be mislead, misinformed and you suffer the consequences. 

Q: What are some good sources for scientific information which are understandable?

Krishna: This Q gives a hint that you have problem understanding science.

“Understandable” is a relative term. To understand good science, even the learner should put some effort into it. Depending completely on scientists/ science communicators to spoon-feed you all the time is not correct.

There's a story about Einstein emigrating to America and giving a press conference. One of the reporters asked him to explain the theory of relativity. Einstein asked the reporter to first describe how to bake a cake. The reporter said "Well first you take some flour..." to which Einstein interjected and said "What's that?". The reporter explained and carried on "...then you add some baking powder..." and again Einstein interjected "What's that?" His point was, it's difficult to explain the intricacies of science in a meaningful way without the listener having sufficient background in science in terms of vocabulary and the basics.

"Truth and facts resist simplicity." - John Green

How scientists should communicate with laymen

I think most science write ups and blogs by scientists these days are good and easy to understand. I am a Microbiologist. But when I read some of these write-ups, blogs on the net, news papers, science magazines and answers on PHYSICS/ CHEMISTRY , I can understand them well. If I can understand them, most of the people can too.

Without putting an effort to understand, without learning ABCDs of science, you can’t understand the language.

So for an effective SCI-COM to take place both the scientists and people outside labs must play their parts. The latter ,especially should not close their minds, fear about the new terms, and learning some basics in science. Without good foundation, you cannot stand on empty space stably.

Science itself is a bit complicated. You have to prepare your mind for undergoing some ‘difficulty’. Once you make your mind up, believe me it is highly thrilling and extremely useful journey.

Why I am stressing this point ‘s I have seen some ‘school level’ ‘easy science’ but that too has some sort of jargon and ‘old stuff’ that gives outdated information, sometimes pseudo-science and even rubbish.

It is better to get genuine science from the people who do high standard science and not who just talk about it. And genuine science needs your mind’s cooperation.

Why don’t you try this: Science Simplified!

Or this: Science Communication  on Quora ?

Q: What are the biggest challenges for science communicators today?

Krishna: People shouting rubbish! Like anti-vexxers, climate science deniers, flat earthers, creative science proponents ....

Then a more intelligent audience who can and willing to distinguish between genuine science and junk science.

Q: Why do scientists react aggressively when faced by in-depth questions they cannot answer?

Krishna: Do we?

Well that depends on the way you frame your question! And the junk science you try to argue with.

Scientists give more importance to their time. If you try to waste it with unscientific arguments, they naturally get annoyed.

When we don’t know something, most of us would say, ‘we don’t know , yet’. There is nothing wrong in accepting that.

But, the problem with “I’m entitled to my opinion” is that, all too often, it’s used to shelter disastrous beliefs that should have been abandoned long back. It becomes shorthand for “I can say or think whatever I like” – and by extension, continuing to argue is somehow disrespectful. And this attitude feeds into the false equivalence between experts and non-experts that is an increasingly pernicious feature of our public discourse. Perhaps that’s one reason why enthusiastic amateurs think they’re entitled to disagree with climate scientists and immunologists and have their views “respected.” And do you respect ignorance, misconceptions and superstitions in the same way as facts based on evidence and true knowledge? How silly that looks!

There is evidence based on a scientists' years of toil, thorough analysis and testing and there is rubbish based on wild imaginations and perceptions. You cannot give equal importance to both.

More often than not, there is no “opposition party” or “other side” in science. There can be disagreement between various scientists when sometimes the research is incomplete and inconclusive. But non-experts cannot be given 'opposition status' in science. Someone who objects to scientific facts on non-scientific grounds simply cannot form part of the debate. There is the data and what it means. And there are facts whether anybody agrees with them or not. Period.

“One cannot really argue with a mathematical theorem.” - Stephen Hawking

So the answer to your Q is …

  1. When we really don’t know something, we are the first people to accept it. Science is still in an infant stage and it takes time to grow and answer all the questions we have now.
  2. You are entitled to have your own opinion but not to your own facts. We trust only evidence based facts. Any arguments which are belief and opinion based have no place in the scientific world.
  3. Someone who objects to scientific facts on non-scientific grounds simply cannot form part of the debate.
  4. A scientists’ time is very precious. Don’t waste it with unnecessary arguments.
  5. If both people talking are not subject experts, it would be like two blind men arguing about the most beautiful woman in the world. It is completely pointless.
  6. If only one person is a subject expert in any conversation and the other person is a layman, the layman is expected to ‘listen’ and try to ‘understand’, not argue.

If you cross any of these lines, you will have to face the music. Scientists can easily sense whether a person is genuinely interested in learning things or simply trying to confirm or authenticate his/her baseless beliefs and irrational view points.

I would simply shut off my door on the latter. Because I have better things to do.

Q: What are your face palm moments while communicating science?

Krishna: Last week I was lecturing about alternative medical practices. When I said Homeopathy doesn't work and gave genuine evidence for it, one person said as he himself had been 'cured of his condition' by homeopathic medicines, and that my evidence had no value in his view. 

'Lab originated evidence is not genuine', he said, 'only peoples' experiences are genuine'.

Then I said, 'this is completely opposing scientific method. You might not have actually been cured but must be just feeling well because of placebo effect. Show me evidence that homeopathic medicines really worked and cured your disease. Then I would trust you.'

Then the person said: 'You should not consider lab tests true at all because they don't tell you the truth. Only people can tell the truth'.

The person argued endlessly that only he 's right and scientists and lab tests 're wrong despite my explaining what evidence is, what scientific method is.

Several people who trust science face palmed when they heard this man's arguments.

That is the effect of 'blind belief' in something. You become totally blind to genuine things and go after pseudo-things.

Q: What irrational arguments people use to counter you?

Krishna: Last week I found one such argument. When I said this ....

" The principles that are responsible for the origin of our universe, governing it after its origin and running it are scientific . These are absolute facts because the evidence that this universe is running on them without any hitches is itself proof that they are beyond any question.

This universe runs on scientific principles, life runs on scientific principles, and your body runs on scientific principles. This is an evidence based fact.",  

a person said, *how do you know that this whole universe is running on scientific principles? We are yet to find several things. Who knows we might find a few things that don't follow scientific principles.*

I was too shocked to even give a reply to this person.  Because he told me he thought God 's running this universe with his will, not scientific principles.

I was about to say, 'When we find (discover) new things they also come under science. Maybe they get a new term or heading or a name but still it is science'.

Then I thought, 'Is there any use in arguing with such people? You won't  argue sometimes not because you can't, but because you don't want to'.  

Shut my mouth and refused to argue. The person might have felt he won, but I knew when people use irrational things in the arguments they lose it the moment they use them but are blind enough not to notice it. 

Another incident: When I was trying to tell with evidence a gathering that homeopathy 's pseudo-science,  a homeopathic doctor  started arguing with me. She gave anecdotal evidence of people saying that it worked for them. Then when a colleague of mine said, it could be a placebo effect and that anecdotal evidence didn't count much in science and genuine science cannot accept it, she became extremely furious and said 'it 's time to redefine what science is'!

Can anybody change the definition of science according to their whims and fancies to suit them  like that? 

It is becoming increasingly difficult to convince people who refuse to even consider the evidence you show them  and instead ask you to change the rules of science to suit their view.

Science doesn't work like that. That 's why we have scientific method to check such things. But how do you deal with people who refuse to accept it and abide by it? 

Q: When several people say things which are contrary to one another, who should we listen to?

Krishna: I would listen to an expert who could do critical thinking too. I ignore everybody else. 

Q:Where should we pick up our science stories from?

Krishna: I observed a difference between scientist communicators like me and the journalists in this regard.
I get stories from peer reviewed high standard journals.
Journalists get their stories from news agencies, EurekAlert *( an online science news service featuring health, medicine, science and technology news from leading research institutions and universities), or press releases of universities or research institutions or pre-print servers**. 
When you get your stories from the latter, the claims will sometimes be over-toned. Whereas peer reviewers tone down the claims in the papers published in good journals and you get a realistic picture. 
Sometimes the stories get twisted, spinned (spun-is used in weaving - but 'spinned' in the context of spin is a form of propaganda, achieved through knowingly providing a biased interpretation of an event or campaigning to influence public opinion about some work - in this case research) , or lost in translation when you get your matter from news agencies.
So it is always better to get your science stories from peer-reviewed high quality journals.

* EurekAlert! facilitates embargoed access of pre-publication scientific research information in an effort to ensure fair and equitable access among reporters worldwide and to offer working journalists additional lead time to prepare in-depth and accurate original reporting.

**A preprint is a scientific manuscript that is uploaded by the authors to a public server. The preprint contains data and methods, but has not yet been accepted by a journal. While some servers perform brief quality-control inspections (see details on the practices of individual servers), the author’s manuscript is typically posted online within a day or so without peer review and can be viewed (and possibly translated, reposted, or used in other ways, depending on the license) without charge by anyone in the world. Most preprint servers support versioning, or the posting of updated versions of your paper based upon feedback and/or new data. However, most servers also retain prior preprint versions which cannot typically be removed to preserve the scholarly record. Preprints allow scientists to directly control the dissemination of their work quickly to the world-wide scientific community.

Preprints are for the scientific community, not for the Journalists - but I have seen journalists reporting research work from preprints. This is not a good practice because preprints are not 'very authentic'.

Both scientists and journalists usually pay attention to the journal a study is published in. Often higher journal impact factors are regarded as indicators for higher quality work. Simply the fact that a paper has undergone peer-review is often seen as a criterion for quality.

With preprints that are published without assessment by other experts, there is a risk of weak studies receiving disproportionate attention. Experts fear that weak preprints could get overblown in the media while good work might get ignored. This may lead to misinforming and confusing the public.

When a significant study is published the traditional way, journalists are usually able to access the paper and an accompanying press release a few days ahead of publication. This gives them time to do their research, interview experts and write an informed news item.

With preprints journalists may rush to be the first to write about an exciting finding, potentially misleading the public. Indeed, most papers receive more attention after being published as a preprint rather than after they have appeared in a peer-reviewed journal. 

To lower the risk for publication of pseudoscience, medRxiv, a preprint server in the field of health sciences – a discipline where hypes around false findings may have serious consequences – has implemented a somewhat tighter screening process than other preprint platforms.

These concerns are valid. Preprints may simply not be the right place for all studies.

Another important piece of the puzzle is to educate the public about the difference between preprints and peer-reviewed articles. Also, when referring to scientific findings both journalists and scientists should specify whether these have been published as a preprint or peer-reviewed paper.

Q: It is easy for you to say 'read and get information only from peer-reviewed high quality journals' because you are a scientist. For a layman like me this is not possible. What is the way out? 

Q: How do I start blogging about the science subject because I do not have any idea about it?

Krishna: We, the trained science communicators,  are here to help you.  Don't get the science information from just anybody or any media house. Get it from only the reliable sources, if not from peer-reviewed high quality journals, from the scientists themselves.

I appreciate your interest in science. But it is very difficult to pick only correct information for people who don't do science themselves. 

If you don’t have any idea about science, please don’t write about it. Science is not a cooking recipe so that everybody can have a go about it. It is life itself and if you give wrong information or misleading information, everybody gets affected by it.  Sometimes lives will be lost like it happened during the COVID pandemic. We fought like hell all the misinformation that came into public spaces during that period. We are also now fighting all the junk science that affects humanity. Don't undo all the good work scientists are doing. 

Science is a special subject and should be dealt with only by the specialists.

So first become a specialist, learn about science communication,  get training to do it and then only write about science. Don't do it now just because you are enthusiastic about it. " I don't have any idea about it " is a red zone  in science. You have to leave it first and get into expert zone. Then only you can do something about it.

Q: What methods do you use to attract so many people towards science?


Reverse psychology (RP): It works well!

It’s so powerful that a large portion of the world consumes potatoes today — and this wasn’t a thing, three hundred years ago. Back then, potatoes were seen as “lowly” food, worthy only of being given to pigs and cattle. A man named Antoine-Augustin Parmentier was the biggest promoter of potato consumption. He knew of their nutritional value.

How do you make a food source (or anything, really) popular? You make it seem desirable and you make it seem exclusive. So Parmentier went and built a farm. And he placed armed guards near that farm, guarding his “precious potatoes”. At night, he’d remove the guards… and, lo and behold, poor people from town would sneak onto his fields and steal his potatoes. They discovered that potatoes were quite good when prepared well. Not to mention, nutritious.

Reverse psychology helped make the potato a popular staple food. And because of its nutritional value, it helped improve the health and well-being of millions of European people. All because of one man playing mind games with people who wouldn’t have touched the stuff with a ten foot pole otherwise


Potato publicity stunts

Parmentier  began a series of publicity stunts for which he remains notable today, hosting dinners at which potato dishes featured prominently and guests included Benjamin Franklin and Antoine Lavoisier. He gave bouquets of potato blossoms to the king and queen, and surrounded his potato patch at Sablons with armed guards during the day to suggest valuable goods, withdrawing them at night so people could steal the potatoes (the same story exists in Germany about Frederick the Great). 

If you put cheap food on an expensive plate, people would think the food is expensive too and eat it and praise it too!

If a  person who travels in an expensive four -wheeler wears cheap clothes,  people think they are expensive and admire them!

If a Hollywood movie actress says vaccines are good, people accept it without a second thought!

That is why they hire Tendulkar and Amitabh Bachan to teach science to people!

And if I don't use this RP as a science communicator, I wouldn't be treated as an intelligent person, would I?

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