How To Get People Interested In Science

Ensuring that science is effectively communicated is an increasingly important part of the research process, whether in terms of securing grant funding or attracting the corporate interest required to further develop a concept.

The concept of raising awareness of academic work in the media was the subject of a recent paper from researchers at Griffith University, Australia.  The paper highlights how challenging it can be to communicate research effectively, and the authors suggest that a visual storytelling approach could be useful.  As such, universities should provide more support in developing such skills in their researchers.

They advocate a four-step approach for researchers to take:

  1. Scoping – this stage involves exploring what the researcher needs to ensure the message is as simple as possible.  This phase will include identifying the audience and determining the visual story to tell.
  2. Development – the next phase then sees the story written and created.
  3. Release – will involve the release of the story.
  4. Review – the final stage then reviews the success of the project after a suitable timeframe has elapsed to gauge its success.

“We believe that there is great potential to apply your model across various institutes and research studies. We were also impressed that the approach had already demonstrated its positive impact in generating research funding from new sources,” the authors say.

How we consume science

It’s an interesting approach, but perhaps a better one is to actually explore how we consume scientific content. A recent study from the Pew Research Center highlights the challenge faced when trying to ensure citizens get accurate information, especially about scientific topics.  The study found that most Americans rarely actively seek out scientific news, and instead get it by happenstance from more mainstream publications.

Interestingly, this is despite readers having a generally low opinion of those sources in terms of their accuracy and reliability.  For instance, they regard specialty sources such as museums, science magazines and scientific documentaries as having the highest likelihood of reporting science accurately, with just 28% of respondents believing the mainstream media are likely to.

The respondents reported a number of key problems with the way science is reported in the media, including:

  • Reporting findings that don’t hold up to scrutiny
  • Failing to discern between high and low quality research
  • Jumping to conclusions about how findings apply in real-life

Perhaps the issue is less one of the means of storytelling therefore, as the accuracy of message.  This was underlined by a recent study from the University of Sydney that highlighted the ‘spin’ many researchers put on their findings. It reveals that over 25% of biomedical scientific papers deliberately intend to mislead or distort their findings in some way.

The authors conducted a review of 35 already published papers on the topic of ‘spin’ in biomedical research papers. Their meta analysis revealed that over 25% of papers had some kind of spin in them, with the figure rising to a depressing 84% in studies reporting on non-randomized trials.