Remove The Layers Between Scientists And The Public

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“Disintermediation” is a phrase you typically here in business. It’s when you want to reduce the number of layers between producers and consumers of a product or service. The goal is to increase efficiencies, reduce cost, and open up to more markets. And that’s all fine and dandy, but what is that term doing in a discussion about science and science communication?

Most science communication has a lot of intermediaries. There are a lot of steps between what a scientist does and what the public understands scientist to do. The scientist might present their work at a conference or write it up to slap it in a journal article, and then university press offices will get word of it, doctor it up and make it a little bit more presentable to media outlets. From there, reporters and editors will, if they see that the topic is juicy enough, get some quotes from the researchers and maybe their competitors, look for a fancy graphic to put at the top of the page, and call it a day.

This isn’t necessarily a bad model of science communication, but it doesn’t have to be the only one. With every step and every layer, there are more filters in the lens through which the public views scientists. Everything gets more and more opaque. Is a 20-word sound bite and a fancy graphic enough to convey the true results and implications of a particular work in science? Sometimes yes, but I think mostly no.

So let’s try some disintermediation.

It’s not ridiculous to propose that scientists directly communicate to the public. After all, there’s not a lack of avenues and vehicles for talking to people. Social media, blogs, video sites, you name it. If there’s a way for humans to interact, there’s a good chance it’s represented in the digital world.

Scientists interact directly with the public all the time. In the most limited cases they have friends and family (at least, I hope) and I’m sure the topic of their work comes up in everyday conversation, just like the topic of anybody’s job would. And scientists do engage in local events, like talking to kids or high schoolers or even families during, say, a telescope night or a science festival.

But to reach a broader audience the typical scientist needs to go through a lot of intermediaries. Or at least, did. Now in thee digital age the barriers are down, the filters are gone, and the lens can be as clear as we want it to be. Scientists can show their latest results and describe it in the way they best see fit. And knowing the internet, there will be some audience, somewhere, that will eat it up with relish, begging for more.

What could be clearer than that?

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