An Interactive Exploration to Encourage Scientific Awareness

Elizabeth Somers
May 12, 2015

Scientific Communication is a major that I designed order to learn how to solve problems from different perspectives. Having started my college education as a ‘hard science’ major, I learned how important it is for science to be communicated efficiently and appropriately. Scientific communication is the way science-related information is presented to those less experienced in science fields, and how that information is perceived among diverse audiences.  The methods used to communicate scientific information to an audience are crucial in assuming the message is understood. Improper understanding of science can be dangerous, while proper understanding leads to more informed and adequate members of society. As we progress through an era that is highly dependent on science and technology, it is vital for everyone to have an equal understanding when it comes to the facts.

The demand for scientific professionals is increasing every year as science is being incorporated more and more into our culture. The only way we can progress as a scientific culture is if we have people interested in medical research or space exploration, for example. This interest in science can start at a very young age, but it can also be deterred at a very young age. If a child has a bad experience in a science class where his or her teacher did not use effective communication in their teaching, they might never be interested in science again. This is also true for adults, and as a result they will not be able to form educated opinions on politics or tax-related funding without an understanding of science and its importance. Scientific Communication is an integral field to cultural progress because without using effective communication techniques, the science will not be absorbed properly. By itself, science is just that awful class you slept through in high school, but with communication it is an interdisciplinary effort to further important understanding.

Me teaching science to a first grade class
My goal with this project was to not only put together an easy understanding of basic scientific topics, but to pave a road for others to follow with the communication of science. My interactive scientific exploration website called Earth, Wind & Water aims to revolutionize the way we look at science. It takes the scientific genres of geology, meteorology, physics, and oceanography and puts them into the perspective of my personal three favorite sports; rock climbing, sailing, and scuba diving. With this method of teaching, the viewer will absorb information in a relatable and exciting way. My hope is that people will be able to relate to science in a different way than usual and take something away from it that they can apply to their own lives. Maybe next time someone hears that a thunderstorm might develop, they will be able to look at the sky and recognize the elements of its formation. Maybe next time someone goes swimming in the ocean they will take a closer look at how the waves are forming around them. This appreciation of science in the world around you is what will lead to an even greater scientific society. 


When planning out the initial stages of the project, I decided to target a younger audience, perhaps around eleven-years-old. I figured that not only this is a very impressionable age, but if an eleven-year-old could understand the information then everyone else could as well. I was able to confirm this concept when I came across an interview with scientist Alan Alda. Alda is the founder of the Flame Challenge, which puts scientists to the test of explaining a simple question such as “what is time?” or “what is flame?” The catch is that kids are given the opportunity to judge the explanations and chose a winner based on which one resonated with them the most. This is an activity geared towards encouraging scientists to explain science more simplistically and create and open dialog of science with the public. Alda says “Eleven is an age where you can formulate tough questions… if it makes sense to kids, it makes sense to everyone” (Pappas 1).

Click here to check out this year's contestants!

Knowing this, I had to find a way to target a younger audience but appeal to every other audience as well. It all came down to one thing—simplicity; young or old, someone looking for information is not looking for anything too complicated or time consuming. One reason that the general public has a hard time identifying with scientists is due to their scientific nature. Megan Gannon from Live Science discusses in her article Americans Respect (But Don’t Always Trust) Scientists a case study done to prove the lack of relationship between scientists and the public (Gannon 1). The first study showed that many people believe scientists exaggerate statistics, make facts too complicated to understand, act superior, and drive persuasion directly towards government funding (2). Susan Fiske, professor of public affairs and psychology at Princeton University, says “Just like other communication, science communication needs to continue to convey warmth and trustworthiness, along with competence and expertise” (Gannon 3). This study suggests that not only should science be conveyed in a more understandable way, but scientists themselves should strive to be more relatable; this is the conflict between the disciplines of science, education, and communication. The suggestions I took away from this study highlight the fact that good intentions and proper communication are necessary to structure credibility.



Publishing a science-based website, I knew that my facts had to be credible and there had to be a persuasion to learn. I looked to Aristotle’s ethos, pathos, and logos to guide these aspects of the presentation part of my project. Ethos is the credibility; I needed to find a way to convince my audience that I know what I am talking about, make them respect and like me, and be able to have my information make an impression on them. I did this by basing the science off of my favorite sports so the audience could get a sense of my personality to further identify with the information given. Pathos is the emotional piece; I needed to appeal to my audience’s emotions by making my website a comfortable place to learn science. I did this by using friendly and engaging colors, fonts, layouts, interactive elements, and images. Logos uses reasoning or logic; the clarity and effectiveness of the information was demonstrated by forcing the science to be looked at in a way that was applicable to real life (Ramage & Bean 1).

Each discipline represented in this project – science, communication and education, holds important value to my purpose. The education of any field is worthless without appropriate communication techniques; the goal is to have the audience absorb information and understand it. Communication is complex, so the goal when teaching is to aim for effectiveness and clarity while taking into consideration barriers such as noise and misunderstanding (Prozesky 1). In order to educate my audience in a communicatively suitable way, I used the following guidelines:

  • Use understandable language
  • Emphasize important information
  • Use a logical flow for information
  • Only use relevant information
  • Use appealing colors and formatting 
  • Use accurate information
  • Keep the language simple
  • Keep the information interesting
  • Use short sentences (Prozesky 1)



 The education and communication of science is what will pervade our modern lives as a society. Science affects everyone and everything, so people need to have at least a basic line of knowledge. Any decision making, whether it be on national, local, managerial level, or anything in between, requires scientific awareness (Coren 1). Understanding the need for this awareness at such a basic level is what drove me to the topics I educate with Earth, Wind & Water. Some of the basic topics covered are: how waves are formed, why tides happen, how a thunderstorm develops, and how GPS works. Fundamentals can go a long way when it comes to the education of science.

Click here to view website!








Looking at this issue from an interdisciplinary standpoint in such depth has expanded how I look at many other issues I encounter. Having a combination of knowledgeable resources when working towards solving a problem is ideal in every situation I can think of. Adding communication to my repertoire of understanding has not only broadened my understanding of the world around me, but has also broadened my understanding of how we learn and communicate with each other. When I had to choose a college major, I was resigned to the fact that science and exclusively science was going to be my focus for the remainder of my life. I became very biased against other disciplines and my outlook on solving problems was very narrow. I was turning into similar to the scientists mentioned previously from the mistrust studies.

After three years of this mindset I knew I must expand my horizons into something more. I enjoyed trying to explain science to my friends and family when they asked what I was studying so I added a Communication major onto my Meteorology major and began an interdisciplinary journey into Scientific Communication. This project helped me summarize the experience I have gained combining these two disciplines. I now believe that working collaboratively with other disciplines is much more efficient than working alone. This project allowed me to demonstrate not only my interdisciplinary knowledge, but also my appreciation for what is created from combining different fields.

Along with mathematics, science is a very difficult subject to teach, and I believe the link between the two is adequate communication. My hope is that this idea catches on and we are able to delve further into our modern scientific society with open minds of scientific awareness.
           
           


 







References
Coren, Emily. Why We Need Science Communication. Nature.com, 2013. Web. 1 May 2015.
Gannon, Megan. "Americans Respect (But Don't Always Trust) Scientists." Live Science.Purch, 2014.        Web. 2 May 2015.
Pappas, Stephanie. Alan Alda: Scientists Should Learn to Talk to Kids. Live Science, 2012. Web. 2 May      2015.
Prozesky, Detlef R. Communication and Effective Teaching.Community Eye and Health Journal, 2000.     Web. 23 March 2015.
Ramage, J.D., & Bean, J.C. Writing Arguments, 4ed. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon, 1998. Print.


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Earth Wind & Water by Elizabeth Somers is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

1 comment:

  1. While there may be room here for slightly more specialized and advanced expertise from each discipline that you mine, what you do so well is integrate your fields...and all to a really magnificent end, which is the website. The site completely embodies the principles that you build based on your interdisciplinary approach, and I really think you will be able to interest all sorts of people in what you are doing here. I can't wait to see where the website goes, and what you end up doing with the combination of your creativity and your competence!

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