Rich Borschelt is the communication director for science at the Department of Energy, and recently attended a science communication workshop. He describes at some length his frustration at the failed model of science communication, in which every meeting hashes over the same futile set of assumptions: “Communication, Literacy, Policy: Thoughts on SciComm in a Democracy. After several other issues, he turns to the conferences’ attitude about scientists:
And for good measure, we whip the scientists a little too, lest we be accused of favoritism. Scientists don’t understand how to talk to normal people. Scientists put the stink eye on any of their fraternity who deign to popularize science. Scientists have to be dragged kicking and screaming away from the bench to talk to the unwashed masses. Scientists need to be taught how to tell a story rather than recite a thesis.
These conversations are about 90 percent of the discussion at conferences on science communication — usually all but the last 15 minutes of a two-day talk-fest. Granted, there’s usually one evidence-based outlier invited in to talk social science findings, but that’s usually sandwiched somewhere between lunch and the time the first folks start heading for the door for an early airplane flight.
The sad thing is that such workshops and conferences are funded again and again by organizations on the logic that they are going to do something about science literacy.