The art of communicating science


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Jaume Vilalta (Director of the Quequicom TV program in the TVC) and Xavier Kirchner (Director of the IMAE program in the FCRI) explain what's the key to Communicate Science.

Published in: Technology, Education
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The art of communicating science

  1. 1. The science of communicating science Xavier Kirchner FCRI – IMAE Program, Director June 2008 art Jaume Vilalta TVC – QuèQuiCom Program , Director
  2. 2. Showing our cards The three simple messages <ul><li>Not appearing in the press should not be an option for a scientist </li></ul><ul><li>Journalist play their part but they play on the scientists’ side </li></ul><ul><li>TV has its own rules You may as well follow them </li></ul>3 2 1
  3. 3. Why are we here? Scientists – journalists a love-hate story <ul><li>What is our role in the game? </li></ul><ul><li>What are we looking for? </li></ul>
  4. 4. The hate story <ul><li>Why is there a gap between “news generators” and “news broadcasters”? </li></ul>
  5. 5. Scientist? <ul><li>We have very little social presence </li></ul><ul><li>Trivialities and banalities are news, why aren’t really important things? </li></ul><ul><li>Journalists have no idea about science </li></ul><ul><li>… they don’t really make the effort to understand our explanations and they usually make mistakes </li></ul>
  6. 6. Journalists? <ul><li>We get worried about audience … … who cares about science and scientists? </li></ul><ul><li>In any case, when something really important happens, we publish it </li></ul><ul><li>Small achievements are not news items </li></ul><ul><li>They are always late when reporting news </li></ul><ul><li>It is too complicated … … let’s leave it for the specialized press </li></ul>
  7. 7. … the world from the other angle <ul><li>There are architects, doctors and lawyers who are “media stars”; Being in science is really important but why aren’t there any media scientists? </li></ul><ul><li>Scientists are difficult to get, they are always “too busy” to talk to journalists </li></ul>
  8. 8. Love story (of convenience) <ul><li>Two players that need each other? </li></ul>
  9. 9. The interdependence diagram (cynical view) Science Media Research $ Audience Advertising $ Votes Politicians (Society, Decision makers, …) ? This is what we are talking about
  10. 10. <ul><li>Media is us (today) </li></ul><ul><li>Science is our future </li></ul>
  11. 11. Surviving and evolving is a matter of adapting Have scientists and scientific institutions adapted to the Information Society?
  12. 12. Why? (adapt – to appear in the media) <ul><li>To get known, to get recognition </li></ul><ul><li>To get more money </li></ul><ul><li>To be able to defend ourselves … … to be able to attack others </li></ul><ul><li>To “pay tax” and be able to keep working </li></ul><ul><li>To give back to society </li></ul><ul><ul><li>… helping to make it more intelligent and more perceptive </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Somebody (a boss) asked me to do it … </li></ul>?
  13. 13. How? (to adapt) A matter of understanding <ul><li>US </li></ul><ul><li>&quot;Gnothi seauton“ (Know yourself – Socrates) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>S trengths </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>W eaknesses </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Objectives: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>What to explain? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Why? </li></ul></ul><ul><li>THE OTHER </li></ul><ul><li>Know the context </li></ul><ul><ul><li>O pportunities </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>T hreats </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Know the rules </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Riding a bicycle is not the same as riding a horse </li></ul></ul>?
  14. 14. Knowing the rules What do journalists need? <ul><li>To fill a newscast or a program </li></ul><ul><ul><li>To do it cheaply and quickly </li></ul></ul><ul><li>To give the news and get attention </li></ul><ul><li>Not to be left behind </li></ul><ul><ul><li>To be able to repeat what others say </li></ul></ul><ul><li>To get celebrities or charismatic characters who communicate well </li></ul>
  15. 15. Knowing the rules Is what I did a piece of news? <ul><li>A piece of news is … </li></ul><ul><ul><li>… a novel breach </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>in the order of things </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>susceptible to becoming </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>a reference point </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>for a community </li></ul></ul>News  “new” News  change “ permanent” & important Target context
  16. 16. “ ...reference point for a community” <ul><li>Clearly define the target community … … and do not lose focus </li></ul><ul><li>The wider the community, the larger the step </li></ul><ul><ul><li>If the step is large enough it is understandable </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>If it is not understandable it is not large enough </li></ul></ul><ul><li>The shorter “the distance”, the larger the impact and the significance </li></ul>
  17. 17. Could what I did / have done / do be a piece of news? <ul><li>Don’t let the lack of communication skills spoil a good news item </li></ul><ul><li>Scientists are and may be shown as interesting people </li></ul><ul><li>There is life beyond the news reports … </li></ul><ul><li>… but it needs a context </li></ul><ul><li>Not everything scientists do is a piece of news … </li></ul><ul><li>… but … </li></ul><ul><li>… most of the things that scientists achieve have a great impact on people’s lives … </li></ul>! It's a matter of communication
  18. 18. Moving on <ul><li>Zooming into the 3Ws: What , HoW and Who </li></ul>
  19. 19. What <ul><li>New </li></ul><ul><li>Close </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Subject </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Character </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Unique </li></ul>? Or it could be shown like that It's a matter of communication
  20. 20. How Sex, lies & videotapes <ul><li>Conflict  Situation </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Dialectics – Disagreement – Fight </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Protagonist – Antagonist </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Discovery  Process </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Exploring with new eyes </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Participation </li></ul></ul>? Envelope Story Boost Two ways of engaging the audience It's a matter of communication
  21. 21. Who Two ways to get attention <ul><li>You are the news </li></ul><ul><li>You are the character </li></ul><ul><ul><li>If you are the character you have the right to generate news “per se” </li></ul></ul>?
  22. 22. A character who wants to communicate, does communicate Branding It's a matter of communication
  23. 23. Rivalries reinforce characters Differences generate interest It's a matter of communication
  24. 24. You can be respected even if you talk about complex subjects
  25. 25. The power of overcoming difficulties <ul><li>Personal testimonies endorse messages and get attention </li></ul>
  26. 26. People identifies with challengers either “anonymous” …
  27. 27. People identifies with challengers … or with a well known name
  28. 28. The power of love <ul><li>A powerful Who can help any What&HoW </li></ul>
  29. 29. Facts are from Mars (or even Saturn) , people are from Venus <ul><li>COLD FACTS could be boring (and/or tough) </li></ul><ul><li>Specially if they are slow </li></ul><ul><li>or difficult to visualize </li></ul><ul><li>WARM PEOPLE are always interesting </li></ul><ul><li>Don’t commit the sin of modesty, … </li></ul><ul><li>get out of the closet, … </li></ul><ul><li>but with something to say </li></ul>* Much better if you are the news It's a matter of communication
  30. 30. Good casting Key factor for success <ul><li>Not the wisest, not the savviest …  The best communicator </li></ul><ul><li>Bosses can do well, … OR NOT </li></ul><ul><li>Being engaged with the subject  passion helps to transmit love </li></ul><ul><li>When you are the character  you have to perform </li></ul>
  31. 31. You know how to whistle, don’t you? Just put your lips together - and blow <ul><li>You are the character  you have to perform </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Get out of the lab, out of the office </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Make pictures </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Use your hands </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Use what you have on hand </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Film what you do and film yourself </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Make mock-ups / do experiments </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Don’t be shy … a “second take” is always an option </li></ul>
  32. 32. Passion for communicating <ul><li>Enter the heart to get into the brain </li></ul><ul><li>Be honest, be sincere, be yourself </li></ul><ul><li>Forget stereotypes, forget patterns </li></ul><ul><li>Don’t imitate </li></ul>
  33. 33. A scientist who communicates is not doing science Communication strategies go first <ul><li>Avoid “Pangea’s syndrome” </li></ul><ul><li>Lose your fear of making a fool of yourself </li></ul><ul><li>Simplifying does not mean devaluing </li></ul>
  34. 34. Love & Communication takes two Messages: Focused, clear and loud <ul><li>News  target audience </li></ul><ul><li>Audience  people </li></ul><ul><li>People  “level” </li></ul><ul><li>What is the “right level”? </li></ul><ul><li>Very intelligent 13 year-old student </li></ul><ul><li>How science impacts his/her life and his/her community? </li></ul>#
  35. 35. How to ride a horse Getting adapted to TV <ul><li>Some recipes for success </li></ul>
  36. 36. Knowing “the other” - 1 TV dumb box & magic lantern <ul><li>A picture is worth a thousand words. </li></ul><ul><li>(some of them not intentionally) </li></ul><ul><li>… but very few ideas </li></ul> Communicating Science  select & renounce  It's a matter of … TV
  37. 37. Knowing “the other” - 2 One team, one success <ul><li>Participating in a TV program means becoming a member of a team </li></ul><ul><li>Accept sharing your experience with the other team members knowledge </li></ul><ul><li>A common objective: to succeed </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Your success is their success </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Their success is your success </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Journalists play on your side </li></ul>
  38. 38. A concept is a concept, is a concept <ul><li>Tangible </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Human scale </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Sizable in € </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Intangible </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Too big, too little </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>“ Invisible” </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Hidden </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Abstract </li></ul><ul><li>Actions </li></ul><ul><li>Using words (and drawings, and analogies, but they are useless without words). </li></ul><ul><li>Metaphors, analogies </li></ul>From real situations  to general concepts Never the opposite It's a matter of … TV
  39. 39. One idea per program Keeping focus  holding attention <ul><li>What matters is the result </li></ul><ul><ul><li>not the way </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>not the method </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Transmitting knowledge is not building knowledge </li></ul><ul><li>The path is full of traps, don’t fall into them </li></ul><ul><ul><li>experimental processes </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Amusing anecdotes… </li></ul></ul><ul><li>KEEP FOCUSED ! </li></ul>1 
  40. 40. From phenomena to explanations Don’t start by building the roof first <ul><li>Start near the ground, telling stories … </li></ul><ul><li>Don’t start formulating prouncements </li></ul><ul><li>Always go </li></ul><ul><ul><li>from the example to the concept </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>from what is particular to what is general </li></ul></ul>
  41. 41. You do not paint the final picture Putting the puzzle together is somebody else’s role <ul><li>Somebody will have to summarize,  it will be better if you do it  or better if you help with it </li></ul><ul><li>Make the editor’s job easier and your time & effort useful: speak clearly </li></ul><ul><ul><li>don’t use subordinates </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>don’t use long sentences </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>don’t use too technical words … … or explain them </li></ul></ul>
  42. 42. Working with journalists <ul><li>Journalists are human too… </li></ul>
  43. 43. Your team to get to “your fans” <ul><li>With a little help from your friends: Professionals who help you to communicate well </li></ul>
  44. 44. Circuit road blocks <ul><li>Bad communication between scientists and their press office </li></ul><ul><ul><li>no communication at all </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>delays </li></ul></ul><ul><li>The press office blocks direct communication between scientist and journalists </li></ul><ul><li>Scientist do not dedicate enough time </li></ul>
  45. 45. Preparing the work of the team <ul><li>Anticipate the news </li></ul><ul><li>Allow the journalists to follow the process </li></ul><ul><li>Document the steps </li></ul><ul><li>Get permission and image rights </li></ul><ul><li>Prepare a clear and understandable dossier </li></ul>
  46. 46. … and then, the audience opens the oven …
  47. 47. We have success when <ul><li>the audience is able to explain what they have seen </li></ul><ul><li>to their neighbors and friends </li></ul><ul><li>“ There is nothing true that </li></ul><ul><li>cannot be explained in simple words” </li></ul><ul><li>Cristian Ruiz i Altaba </li></ul>
  48. 48. Thank you! Now let’s talk Jaume Vilalta <> Xavier Kirchner <>
  49. 49. Backup slides
  50. 50. “ a novel breach of the order of things ” <ul><li>Alteration in the “status quo” of the community </li></ul><ul><li>The more novel and unexpected … … the more impacting / striking / effective </li></ul><ul><li>Accidents are sudden, progress is slow and sometimes predictable </li></ul>After 15
  51. 51. “ ...reference point for a community ” <ul><li>What has impact on people’s lives … </li></ul><ul><ul><li>… in material, emotional or intellectual aspects </li></ul></ul><ul><li>… or </li></ul><ul><li>What has significance … </li></ul><ul><ul><li>… helps to better understand the world in which we live </li></ul></ul>After 16
  52. 52. Some road blocks on the way … <ul><li>“ Science” as a subject has not yet a slot on the daily media programming on a permanent basis </li></ul><ul><li>There is no local “scientific star system” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Nobody to follow and imitate </li></ul></ul>After 17
  53. 53. One idea per program Keeping focus  keeping attention <ul><li>A single engine: one powerful and meaningful story </li></ul><ul><li>To widen the angle  risk of loosing focus </li></ul><ul><li>Sub-stories MUST be in line and to reinforce the main idea </li></ul>1 After 38
  54. 54. Communicate science doesn’t mean to follow the Scientific Method <ul><li>What matters is the result </li></ul><ul><ul><li>not the way </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>not the method </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Transmitting knowledge is not building knowledge </li></ul><ul><li>The way is plenty of traps, don’t fall in them </li></ul><ul><ul><li>experimental processes </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>funny side phenomena … </li></ul></ul><ul><li>KEEP FOCUSED ! </li></ul>1  After 33
  55. 55. The information circuit One of Dante’s circles? * <ul><li>* 2 golden rules </li></ul><ul><li>Be polite </li></ul><ul><li>Understand each other’s job </li></ul>After 43 Press office 1rst filter & “sale” Journalist Synthesizes, verifies, ... Journalist Negotiates with TV managers Audience interprets Scientist Generator