nSCI has identified eight areas of science that rely heavily on effective communication and that can be targeted with improved communications. These areas are divided into two groups—those that involve science discovery tools and dynamics and those that involve improving science understanding. nSCI’s “discovery” focus areas include research collaboration, informatics, study design, and tech transfer; “understanding” areas include science writing, STEM education, science marketing and public policy. nSCI believes that science needs better communication tools and practices in these areas to help realize the full potential of research and also make faster advances in science education, science policy and other areas where science and society intersect.
Science writing underlies everything in science communication. Unfortunately, science writing is often obtuse and unintelligible, even between peers. Science writing is also directed primarily to subscription-only academic journals instead of to open-source journals and other public information sources. Better writing and writing practices are critical to the future of science.
Science education begins with kids getting excited about science, and with the public being inspired by science and discovery. Science education transitions into the classroom with well-written textbooks, knowledgeable teachers, and courses rooted in relevancy and application.Every element of science education requires effective science communication.
Science marketing means communicating science clearly and effectively for the benefit of both science and the general public. An improved focus on science marketing will result in better information sharing among researchers and with the public, more efficiency and effectiveness in research financing, and public policy that reflects a better understanding of science.
Science in America has become politicized. It is no longer possible to formulate policies for the public good by drawing on a single set of scientific facts. Every camp has their own “experts” and “facts” and the public is left to choose sides. This is an outgrowth of our information society, but it is also an outgrowth of poor science communication. Better public policy is an important goal of nSCI.
Can scientists do a better job of sharing information? Databases that share research findings in a usable fashion are not common, and research collaboration tools are also still novel. There are institutional, legal and cultural impediments to completely open sharing, but technology holds some solutions for improvement. Testing the utility of these new approaches will be important.
Science informatics is a budding and crucial field. For now it is focused on technology—finding tools that can help analyze and sift through increasingly unmanageable volumes of research data. Science informatics also needs a creative bent. What’s the big picture? What perspectives from other fields can be utilized? Communications will play a key role as informatics develops.
Are researchers collaborating with the right groups? Do studies have the right communications components built in for marketing, graphics, writing, outreach, and dissemination? Are research databases set up for collaboration? Are findings shared and applied or just published? There are a host of issues and best practices in study design that aren’t currently being addressed.
Tech transfer is an important focus of higher ed institutions. How can universities get research out of the lab and into the marketplace? While the focus is almost exclusively on technology, there are also purely science transfer issues that merit attention. And once these projects come to a tech transfer office, are offices set up to handle them? Conversations and best practice guidelines will help.