How to Communicate Complex Science to the PublicRead More
Scientific research is moving faster than ever before, leading to ground-breaking discoveries moving from the lab to our everyday lives quicker with each new breakthrough. Innovative science is now such an important part of the world we live in, that it is crucial for the public to be able to understand the science behind these discoveries. For example, the cutting-edge of science is often surrounded by debates due to ethical implications, complex benefits and risks. Therefore, to take an active role in these discussions and make informed decisions, consumers need to be educated in a way they can understand.
However, until recently, scientists were not trained to communicate their science effectively to the public. Published papers communicating the latest in scientific research focus heavily on accuracy of information and high levels of detail, so much so that in some cases they would require a translator to make sense of.
So how do you go about communicating these complex subjects to the public when they are hard enough to convey to a trained scientist?
1. Know your audience
Number one and by far the most important. Know and define whom you are talking to. How old are they? What is their previous education? What are their interests or life experiences? These are all important factors to consider when communicating science and when applying the next seven pieces of advice. A 10 year old at school, a college-educated 50-year-old and a high-school educated 30-year-old are all very different audiences and will require a different tactic to reach them. Use the first person – talk to them as a human not as a ‘scientist’, because what you are talking about affects everyone.
2. Talk to them as an individual
Once you know who your audience is, talk to them. I recommend using the first person as much as possible when communicating to the public in general, but especially when trying to educate. Half the battle with communicating complex subjects is engaging the audience, and the first person lends itself to this well.
3. Tell the story
When conveying anything, not just science, it is most engaging to do this as a story. Have a clear beginning, middle and end. Think about how to set the scene, get into the ‘whys’ before the ‘hows’. This way you will engage the reader and keep them interested as one point clearly and simply leads on to the next. Don’t delve into the nitty-gritty too early (or at all if it isn’t relevant), as you will defeat the whole point of trying to tell the story.
4. Make it relevant
The truth is, as interesting as you might find this area of science, the public won’t care about the story unless it has a relevant impact. The good thing is that science will inevitably have an impact on everyone in some way; you just have to find it. Start your story with an experience/event/feeling that they can identify with and go from there. I find it useful to start with the big picture, what is the end goal of this research?
5. Show and tell
We all know that a picture is worth 1000 words, but what is important is that those 1000 words are in a language everyone on the planet can understand. Whether your audience has previous knowledge of science or none at all, illustrating your point with an image/diagram will always help.
If you cannot find a suitable image, or you are trying to explain a concept, then you can paint a picture in the imagination of your audience. Analogies and examples go a long way to making a complex concept easy to understand. Talking about a nucleus doesn’t mean a lot to many but the “brain of a cell” explains it well. Even if it is not 100% accurate it gets across your point without confusing the reader. Which leads me on to…
7. Let the little things go
The process of simplifying a complex scientific concept can be a painful process to those that have deep and detailed knowledge of the subject. The nucleus is not the brain of the cell. It’s just not and I understand why that annoys cell biologists and neuroscientists alike. A nucleus has no conscience, can’t think and isn’t structurally comparable to a central nervous system in any way. But it’s a good enough comparison if you are trying to convey that it controls the cell.
My advice (that may be easier said than done) is to let the little things slide and resist the urge to explain too much too soon. No analogy will be perfect, but try not to criticise one that gets across the point. Who knows, if you really engage a reader they may go on to learn more about the subject and discover the details themselves.
8. Leave the politics aside
Science is very often the subject of political, ethical and religious debates. For a lay audience, it can be even more difficult to isolate fact from opinion. So it is up to scientists to either make the differentiation clear or to remove opinion from it altogether. My opinion is that it is up to science communicators to convey the facts and discuss the amazing job that science has done to achieve these breakthroughs. It is the job of political commentators, ethical debaters and even the philosophers to argue whether it is right or wrong. By all means give an opinion, but make sure your audience know that is what it is.
So that is it for my top tips on how to communicate your science. Let me know if you found this helpful, and if you have any tips that you would add Tweet me @GabyAtNotch.
Notch Communications unveils refreshed branding as it expands into the creative spaces of Neo, ManchesterRead More
Manchester, UK – 3rd May 2017 – Notch Communications, the creative marketing agency for science and technology companies, today announced that it has relocated to join the collaborative workspaces and community of Neo in Manchester. Notch has also just undertaken a complete brand refresh as part of the agency’s leading position in bringing together art and science.
The UK Notch office has moved into a new creative workspace and a new phase of its own brand to allow for expansion, following the addition of several new clients to its growing portfolio. The company is based on a flexible business model that is comprised of a team of trained scientists, marketing professionals, and an approved external network of specialists to support its clients’ changing needs. As a strategic partner, Notch ultimately enables companies to develop and establish a brand that showcases the creativity and innovation behind their science.
“This move, into one of the most creative environments in Manchester, comes at a time when Notch is enjoying unprecedented growth. Our new offices will inspire our wonderful team to create even greater ideas for our global clients,” said Peter Brown, Chief Executive Officer, Notch Communications.
“This is another major step forwards in our development plan that will lead to exciting new partnerships for our company, as well as providing a fantastic environment for our staff,” said Kate Whelan, Chief Operating Officer, Notch Communications.
Notch’s Swedish office in Uppsala has most recently appointed Dr Frida Johnson as Scientific Copywriter. Frida has the joined the company from the KTH Royal Institute of Technology, where she was the Communications Officer for the Human Protein Atlas.
About Notch Communications
Notch Communications is a creative marketing & PR agency with great ambition to establish a successful new model for advertising agencies that is more appropriate to today’s world. Notch provides the full range of marketing services to global and local clients, with particular expertise in the life sciences, advanced materials and new technologies. Notch is headquartered in Manchester, UK, and has an office at Uppsala Science Park in Sweden.
For more information, please contact:
+44 (0) 161 457 7230
Asthma, what is it and how do we treat it?Read More
Today, 2nd May 2017, is World Asthma Day, a day dedicated to asthma prevention, diagnosis and treatment.
What is asthma?
Asthma is a heterogeneous disease characterised by chronic airway inflammation and variable airway obstruction that is reversible, either spontaneously or after treatment. It affects people of all ages and often starts in childhood, although it can also appear for the first time in adults. The disease is long-term or chronic and the prevalence in different countries varies widely, but the disparity is narrowing due to rising prevalence in low and middle income countries and plateauing in high- income countries.
An estimated 300 million people worldwide suffer from asthma, with 250,000 annual deaths attributed to the disease. It is estimated that the number of people with asthma will grow by more than 100 million by 2025. Approximately 250,000 people die prematurely each year from asthma. Almost all of these deaths are avoidable.
There’s currently no cure for asthma, but there are simple treatments that can help keep the symptoms under control so it doesn’t have a significant impact on the patient´s life. Some people, particularly children, may eventually grow out of asthma, but for many it is a lifelong condition.
Treatment with inhaled corticosteroids is the dominating anti-inflammatory treatment during asthma and is recommended at all stages of the disease, except for the mildest. The inhaled corticosteroids can be combined with long-acting beta-2 agonists, these are symptom-controllers that are helpful in opening the airways. (Reference: http://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/asthma)
In addition, leukotriene modifiers can further relieve symptoms for some patients, as leukotrienes are important mediators in asthma. Produced by eosinophils, mast cells and macrophages they contribute to chronic inflammation during asthma.
New drug treatments
In addition to traditional treatments, new drugs are being developed to relieve the different symptoms of asthma. One of them, anti-IL-5 (Mepolizumab) has recently been approved both in Sweden and the UK.
This drug is used to help patients with severe, difficult to treat asthma. Approximately five per cent of asthma patients fall within this category, but since asthma is such a prevalent disease, this proportion adds up to quite a few people.
Mepolizumab targets severe eosinophilic asthma – where the inflammation of the airways is linked to a particular type of white blood cell (eosinophils). It is a humanised monoclonal antibody that binds to interleukin-5 (IL-5) and hinders IL-5 from binding to its receptor on eosinophils, leading to a decrease of eosinophils in blood, tissue and sputum. It is believed that around 40% of people with severe asthma will have an eosinophilic phenotype – meaning that they may be able to benefit from the new treatment.
Mepolizumab is administered through sub-cutaneous injection every two to four weeks. Despite the high cost of the drug doctors are positive.
“A very badly affected group of patients can get help and if a few of these individuals can get a better control over their asthma, their need for healthcare would decrease and their ability to work would increase. This could mean economic benefits for both healthcare and the society,” says Christer Jansson, professor and consultant at the lung and allergy clinic at Akademiska sjukhuset, Uppsala, Sweden.
Benralizumab is another drug targeting eosinophilic asthma, that is undergoing testing right now. Unlike mepolizumab it uses a different pathway; targeting the IL-5 receptor, causing eosinophil apoptosis (cell death). One potential advantage of benralizumab is that it can be given less often, every two months instead of every two weeks, which may lower the cost of the treatment.
Into the future
Hopefully these drugs are just the first of a new line of treatments available targeted at severe asthma. Research is needed to help patients with other types of severe asthma and better diagnostic tests are needed to help ensure that people can have a confirmed diagnosis quickly. This will mean appropriate treatments can be offered, freeing people to go to work, school, raise families and live unrestricted lives that are not overshadowed by asthma.
What are your thoughts on future treatments and diagnostics for asthma? Let me know @fraidifrida