Everyday scientists try to tackle some of the world’s biggest challenges, such as curing cancer or growing new organs from stem cells. News about their research regularly makes national and international headlines. However, the information that is being reported by the media sometimes can be ‘mistranslated’ and falsely reported to the public. One way to help ensure the accuracy of that information is for the researchers to play a more active role in disseminating it and take the responsibility for communicating their work directly to members of the public.
Scientists have to drop that incomprehensible scientific jargon and switch to a more ‘primitive’ language that can be understood by different audiences
Communicating scientific ideas is challenging and many academics are still a bit reluctant to get involved in a public debate, but as in research, the challenges like these have to be taken by some of us. And of course, just like in the lab, some of the experiments with public engagement do fail but some of them do turn out to be of a great success. One of them is Pint of Science (PoS), which was an initiative of two post-docs from Imperial College to bring scientists and member of general public into the same room. Yes I know, not a novel idea, but what was different about it, was the idea of changing the surroundings of this meeting and instead of going to a lecture theater, both groups met in a more informal settings – the pub. Crazy huh? Well, this crazy initiative has started back in 2013 in London, and now two years later, this festive of science takes place in nine different countries, across 52 cities across the globe. One may ask what made PoS, so successful? Well, some of you may say – booze, and it probably does account for some of its success, but I think the key to PoS success lies in its less traditional approach to bridging knowledge gaps between the scientists and the general public, making us the researchers more approachable. If one thinks about, not everyday one has a chance to ask some of the most respectable academics in the world (including some Nobel Prize winners) about their work or recent scientific discoveries reported in the news outside university gates. What is even better, one can have a drink with them over which they can share their crazy ideas on how to save the world. This approach makes the non-researchers less shy about nagging the scientists for some answers and it can make some of the researchers more confident about their work and the fact that people do want to listen. Of course, let’s not forget about the fact that in order to make this conversation flow, scientists have to drop that incomprehensible scientific jargon and switch to a more ‘primitive’ language that can be understood by different audiences. This itself is non-trivial, as not everyone has a natural talent for public speaking or took a course on ‘how to communicate research to non-researchers’. So to answer the question what scientists should change to better engage the public? Well, definitely in order to find out they should leave their labs more often (to see how the real world looks like) and talk to some ‘muggles’ to see what they have to say on this issue.