DC – 2019 AAAS Meeting, Communicating Science Seminar

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March 22, 2019 by Dr. G

In February, I attended my first-ever AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) Meeting. The meeting was being held in Washington DC, just a short Amtrak ride away. In addition to the nearby location, I was aware this meeting has several science communication sessions, so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to attend and present some of my own work.

The first day of the meeting was a series of panels focusing on science communication, starting with:

I tried to post most of my notes from the session through Twitter (as you can see from the date of this post, I knew my blogging time was going to be limited!). Here’s what I captured:

Dr. Suhay really emphasized working on evidence-based science communication with policy makers, as we want evidence-based policy!

Dr. Brady reminded the scientists in the room that in a policy world, we need to deliver brief statements! We also need to keep mind that when scheduling to meet with policymakers, don’t be upset if we end up meeting with their staff, state if we are a constituent, be clear on whether we are advocating or providing advice (which is tricky to navigate), and prepare 1-3 main points. When serving on a panel, we need to stay on message and be prepared for the unexpected (especially if the panel is open to the public). For relationship building, we need to become a trusted adviser, and that reputation and independence is paramount!

Some additional pieces of information I picked up from this session includes:

  • Curiosity and empathy are part of our personal communications and can be part of the policy communications. Our emotional intelligence is so important – being calm, open to listening, etc.
  • A letter from a large group with shared priorities carries more weight.
  • If more research needs to be done, don’t say that! Frame it as what we currently know, and share additional questions to be addressed (for example, a regulation can be written without specific numbers, since the science changes).
  • CCST is able to do what they do because they partner with an academic institution.
  • What’s the line between advocacy and advice?
  • Tweet/tag after a meeting with a legislator, include the topic (works better at the state level than federal level).
  • To get involved with science policy, to the following: (a) write op-eds (then email to a staffer); (b) participate in radio talks; and (c) share research where it isn’t behind a paywall.

Next up was the second panel session of the morning!

Some additional items of note from these first two speakers:

  • Visuals are the best way to capture the public’s attention.
  • Deliver the results of your work back to the target audience – but you don’t need the details of the data for audiences outside the region.
  • Campaigns on social media are good to broaden the audience, such as #actuallivingscientist
  • Who can you amplify on social media?
  • Make sure images we use from the field are uplifting, be mindful of exploitation versus celebration.
  • Think of how far an apology will go for fixing mistakes (see National Geographic “For Decades, Our Coverage Was Racist. To Rise Above Our Past, We Must Acknowledge It“).
  • Have some fun doing non-academic podcasts.
  • The best communication can be none at all (be a scientist, but also be mindful of your mental health).

What Dr. Wynn-Grant shared really made me think and reflect… and then motivated me to blog over at my AGU blog on this topic:

Others started commenting on my blog post and about this very topic. I’m glad to see this conversation and the acknowledgments continue!

The final part of my day was attending the Building Engagement Capacity on Campus and in Communities Networking Fair. I picked up many great references and sources to look up – and yes, I even blogged over at my AGU blog about one of them!

It’s hard to believe this was just the first day of the meeting! I’ll post some more about specific sessions I attended, such as those on ocean plastics and battling microplastic pollution.


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