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Communicating science definitely has its good practices. But it's also an art. Once you get past the obvious top tips and start trying to apply them to your science, suddenly there's all sorts of nuances, and that's before you start adapting it for different audiences. Sometimes it can take years to hone your science communication to be clear and effective in eliciting whatever outcome you're aiming for.

BUT what if some of the most common advice, particularly when tackling misinformation, distrust, and so on, could actually be holding you back from achieving your goals?

That's what this comment article from Nature from David Spiegelhalter (Cambridge Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk) and his group tackles. Particularly timely given much public interest and debate around just about everything to do with the current coronavirus pandemic, climate change, and more.

It's true that in many cases a good story can be far more memorable, engaging and often easier to build understanding from than simply reciting facts. But, in some cases our attempts to make simple, persuasive and memorable communications could be harming our efforts to build trust, inform and help people make decisions about their lives.

For those of you who are in the position of wanting to communicate the evidence for something, this article neatly explains five rules and provides some evidence from the group's research to support these rules, when they might go against your immediate intuitions.

This includes:

  1. write to inform, not persuade (be open about your motivations, conflicts and limitations);
  2. be as open as possible in providing a sense of balance (not false balance);
  3. be up front about what you do know AND what you don't know (including how you will find out);
  4. state the quality of the evidence (clearly);
  5. finally, do your research to pre-empt against attempts to sow doubt.

This seems like excellent advice - being open, honest and not patronising your audiences seems like a good thing. In practice, perhaps something that will take time perfect to make sure you find just the right balance. A different pallet to work with, perhaps.

Read the full article here

If you scroll to the bottom you can also access a fuller version of the guide.

What do you think? Is this how you normally approach communicating evidence? If not, will you give it a go?