Friday, October 7, 2016

The three E's

I do Science Communication with the three E’s in mind:
Spectrum of a mercury discharge tube
with a home made spectroscope.
Photo Credit: Tom Gordon

  • Engagement and the public awareness of science (PAS)
  • Education and the public understanding of science (PUS)
  • Enrolment and the public involvement of science (PIS)

Each approach has relevance and to be honest most of the time all three have a part to play in any communication of science. Kind of like when we throw a ball in the air as an example of  Newton's first law, it’s actually an example of all three of Newton's laws, and more! The three E’s also apply to more than facts, they apply to Meta Science Communication1 and the scientific method as well. The skills of science like determining good and bad arguments, like understanding logical fallacies, like the ability to interpret graphs, and the discipline of staying with an argument.

Engagement is to wow an audience/group. It’s to hook them and show them the wonders of nature. Not to teach them, but to have them not afraid of the word Science, or to have warm fuzzy feelings when they remember the thing you showed them or talked to them about. As an example I love talking about Narwhals. I love to ask people why we need to believe in unicorns, when we have real life unicorns...real life aquatic unicorns! Or, we have put Robots on other planets! Facts like those bring a smile to my face, a smile that tells a story of someone who loves what he does, and wants to share it with others.

Education is to teach people about science formally or informally. We do this with facts. We learn things and we learn how to learn more things. The reason we teach people Science, is so they can apply what they have leant in order to do more science, or apply science and science understanding in their respective areas. Again, this can involved narratives and stories. There is a whole move in Science education towards SHE or Science a Human Endeavour. Where the objective is to find out what scientists do, who they are, why they do it etc. A human story.

Enrolment is to encourage people to find out more. It could be that they go and study a course at uni, or other place, it could be that they enrol in a MOOC, or read a book/blog listen to a science podcast, or just try and find out some more for themselves through other means.

This is mostly a joy, as a science communicator I get to talk to a lot of people who like to learn about science. I wouldn’t say this is preaching to the converted or tribalism. Most people do want to learn more, even people ‘on the inside’ I love to hear what others think, even from inside my field, there’s a chance I might learn something! And that excites me.