Science communication and outreach are crucial, especially in ecological and evolutionary research. This research helps people understand the world around them, how it is changing, and how this impacts them. Without effective communication and dissemination of information, many of these critical discoveries would go under the radar.
Why Science Communication and Outreach Is Essential
Last August, in Nature Ecology & Evolution, Zhang et al published an article about the mathematical tipping point of certain types of ecosystems. Although the general public often does not process mathematical model articles with ease, there is one science communication publication that attempts to make mathematical models easier for people to understand: Quanta. On Monday, Quanta published about this 2022 article, breaking down the benefits and limitations of the work, as well as providing an update as to what the researchers are working on now.
In another August 2022 article in Nature Ecology & Evolution, Lemanski and colleagues demonstrated that as time increased, the necessity for biodiversity of bee species to provide crop output also may increase. The science of this article was communicated to a niche audience through a recent publication in Entomology Today. While the general public may not read Entomology Today, people interested in hiking and identifying species in the natural world might. They can then tell their friends in a way that is easy to understand that a top journal recently published about a well-known yet understudied topic in ecology, the insurance hypothesis, and communicate clearly and concisely about the benefits of long-term ecological studies.
Even this blog, the Nature Eco-Evo Community blog, makes valuable contributions to science communication. Just last week, a new study from Knapp et al about pesticide risk in three different bee species was shared in the Behind the Paper series. In addition to describing the results of the study, they mapped out future plans for additional work, which will most certainly be of interest to working journalists covering ecology for major outlets.
How This Translates to Action
Overall, communicating science to the public in a way that is easy to understand and share with others benefits science.
The more one begins to learn about plant-pollinator interactions, for example, the more interested one may become in planting their own garden. Then, when planting a garden, one may conduct research into which plants are native to their area, rather than buying the prettiest flowers that draw their eye at the floral shop. The more people know and want to learn about ecological sciences, the more will be done in terms of concrete action.
Best Practices in Science Communication and Outreach
The best practices in science communication include clear and concise communication, engaging visuals, and storytelling.
One of my favorite pieces that I’ve written while covering the ecology beat for major science outlets was this one for Discover Magazine about how pollinators prefer a dash of salt in their nectar. Quotes, photos, and creative language were all must-haves for the piece, and my followers got a kick out of the fact that they could potentially add a little saltwater solution to their flowers to attract more bees and butterflies in the summer. This is yet another example of taking something complex and breaking it down into simpler terms that the average person can understand and relate to.
Identifying the target audience is another essential tool in science communication.
Whether you are talking to the general public, policymakers, or educators, you always want to follow the rules of best practices (clear and concise communication, engaging visuals, and storytelling.) Humans, at their core, are storytellers. They enjoy hearing new stories and learning new things; however, the nuanced language may vary based on which audience you are targeting.
You may also vary the kinds of things you cover. Writing for policymakers might warrant more research-based policy suggestions, and it may require thinking about the topic in a new light, such as the economic benefits of ecological restoration. Still, talking to the general public and educators may also warrant communications about policy suggestions and economic benefits, as these people have the power to elect officials that may make a marked change.
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