Have you been hearing about sci comm, scientific literacy and accessibility to scientific information, but aren't exactly sure what these terms are referring to? In this article, Caitlin from cmlovesscience explains these terms and why they are important.
First of all... What is Sci-Comm?
Sci-comm, or science communication is a field that is working to make science more accessible to non-scientists. Science communicators, myself included, are focused on bringing science to the public, encouraging scientists to write and publish in accessible ways, and raising awareness of scientific discovery. Additionally, many of us are concerned about fair wages for science authors, garnering political involvement and support for objective science, combating environmental racism and injustice, and increasing scientific literacy. To engage the public successfully, science communicators rely heavily on many of the techniques used by entertainers, including humor, and informal storytelling.
“To engage the public successfully, science communicators rely heavily on many of the techniques used by entertainers, including humor, and informal storytelling."
Why is Sci-Comm Important?
Science communicators are tackling difficult issues that have been ignored for far too long. Without equal access to science, the public is at an unfair disadvantage when it comes to making informed decisions, which has in-part contributed to the upsetting prevalence of environmental racism and inequality. Scientific discovery should be something that we can all share and marvel in, but unfortunately, due to limited accessibility and low scientific literacy (particularly in marginalized groups and underserved communities) that's just not possible right now. That's what science communicators are combatting on a daily basis.
What is accessibility? Why is it an issue? And how is Sci-Comm increasing accessibility?
Accessibility simply refers to how easy it would be for an individual to view and read scientific literature. It certainly varies from country to country, and even community to community. Unfortunately, accessibility is rather low for most people, especially those who are already in underserved communities. Unequal access to scientific discovery can contribute to growing inequality in other areas too, particularly voting access (and the right to an informed vote) and opportunities for higher education. The science communication movement is attempting to increase accessibility by bringing science to the people and meeting them where they’re at. We simply cannot expect that everyone will be able to learn to read scientific literature critically, and that’s ok because our mission is adaptable to fit the needs of an individual or community. By working to understand what a person or group needs, we can use our skills to empower that group and expand their knowledge of science (or scientific literacy) in a fun, meaningful, and engaging way.
"The science communication movement is attempting to increase accessibility by bringing science to the people and meeting them where they’re at."
What is scientific literacy? And how is Sci-Comm increasing scientific literacy?
Scientific literacy is the ability of an individual to critically read and understand scientific literature, which is not always written with the public in mind. Issues with scientific literacy are two-fold in that students are not usually taught how to read scientific literature, and scientists are not always taught (or allowed) to write in accessible ways. The sci-comm movement and its allies are working to increase scientific literacy by spreading the word about what it is and offering free resources that help individuals (young and old) begin the journey towards skillful scientific reading without any formal training. In doing so, we're trying to open the floor for discussion about unequal access and the issues it can cause.
How can I get involved in the Sci-Comm movement?
Start by talking to some science communicators. My email is always open (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I'm happy to chat on social media as well (@cmlovesscience). Then, begin working on your communication and presentation skills. Also remember that you don't have to be on the front lines of this movement, simply supporting the cause (whether it's through sharing articles, participating in protests, writing to your government to ask for increased access or scientific funding, talking to your school about adding scientific reading or writing into the curriculum, or just talking to people about the movement to raise awareness) is enough.
To learn more about environmental inequality, check out my series that starts here.
To learn more about the sci-comm movement across the world, click here.
This article was written by Caitlin Noelle McCormick from cmlovesscience.com and @cmlovesscience on instagram.
She is an Avian reproductive ecologist and master's student turned high school Biology teacher and science communicator living in beautiful Louisiana and working to #MakeScienceAccessibleAgain!