How important is communication for the future of science?

Maud Webster takes a look at the crucial role of communication for inspiring people with science

Maud Webster
8th October 2020

In theory, science communication cuts through media bullshit and translates scientific fact into a medium the general public can consume. Science communicators are vital in both educating the public and ensuring there’s another generation of young people inspired to take up scientific roles. 

In his instagram debut last month, Sir David Attenborough explained he’s “exploring this new way of communication [...] because, as we all know, the world is in trouble”.

Instagram’s demographic spans, well, every demographic, but particularly young people; 70% of Instagram's users are younger than 35.

As a science communicator who’s almost exclusively stuck with ‘old media’ - TV, radio, magazines, newspapers - this shift onto Instagram has the potential to target many younger people who wouldn’t see his work otherwise. Amassing a following of 4.8 million already (at the time of writing), Attenborough will have another huge international audience who may watch his content.

Will this really help him save the planet? I’m skeptical, but with science communication becoming increasingly popular on social sites (Instagram particularly) we can notice how crucial this deciphering bridge between scientists and the general public is and the role social media can play in it.

Science communication will become more important than ever in the future.

The world is constantly experiencing complex scientific acceleration, and as science becomes more complicated, it becomes harder to translate. If anything, science communication will become more important than ever in the future. 

Obviously, science communication is a career in its own right. Science communicators are an important presence both in the media but also as part of scientific research centres and similar. However, we shouldn't rely on these mediators to ensure everyone is clued up on science; it’s important to teach people not interested in science to have a lifelong reception to scientific information, as well as teaching science students how to communicate their research effectively. 

Sir David Attenborough pictured at 2019 IMF World-Bank Spring Meeting. Credit: Flickr

Why is this so important? The larger the percentage of people informed about science (and more likely to care about what’s going on), the larger the chance people will make individual change, and encourage businesses and governments to prioritise scientific issues such as climate change. It’s easier to effect systematic change, through policy and economic priorities, when more voters are educated on science and are motivated to do something.

It is clear that Attenborough's priority is to reverse, or at least minimise, the effects of the climate crisis. For this to occur, widespread scientific communication is essential, becoming even more crucial in the coming decades.

Featured Image: Flickr

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AUTHOR: Maud Webster
she/they | third year architecture & urban planning student @ newcastle | co-head of culture for the 21/22 academic year

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