What is communication? It kind of schmoozes into marketing and public relations. It creeps around the fringe of management. It haunts sales. It can be private, public, inward, outward. It’s a science, but wait it’s an art. Communication is everywhere and often nowhere. It’s well-defined and ill-defined. It’s ignored when all is good yet mourned and eulogized after the crisis strikes.
I can communicate with you by the way I play with my hands. Are they resting on the table? Am I tapping my finger compulsively? Stroking your arm? Or fidgeting with my bracelet?
I can communicate with my eye contact. Am I staring at you earnestly? Looking away? Glancing nervously at the people behind you? Or are my eyes shining with excitement?
Communication can take an infinite number of forms, and it can also be spliced and diced down into different sub-disciplines in very different ways. There’s no one ‘right’ way to break down the discipline. Yet for the purpose at hand, I’ll explain science communication through the lens of professions. If professional communication is a giant bubble that encompasses the entire professional world, science communication is a sphere within that sphere (my illustration to the right does not include all sub-disciplines).
All forms of professional communication require the same broad, cross-cutting skill set. Yet each sub-discipline requires an orientation and focus on different pieces. The broader base required in all sub-disciplines is: active listening, environmental scanning, writing, interpersonal attention, awareness of technological developments and organization. All professional communicators need to have a solid handle on those (and I would strongly assert that all professionals hoping for success need to have, at the very least, a keen awareness of those as well).
Science communication is transferring critical scientific findings to various audiences with the intention of informing decision-making processes. When I say science, I am not simply referring to engineering or medicine or the traditional ‘hard sciences.’ I refer to the scientific pursuit of knowledge across all disciplines. Google ‘college majors’ to get a sense for the extraordinary breadth of scientific research.
The audiences of science communication can range dramatically, from individuals, groups, policymakers to government or the world. The goal of informing these parties is to provide them with relevant information for whatever pressing issue is on the horizon. The individual, group or institution will choose the decision he, she or it deems best for himself, herself or itself.
One of the major differentiating characteristics of science communication from all other forms of communication is that it attempts to communicate the complicated, complex and nuanced without diluting or adulterating its meaning in any way. Science communication is about passing along knowledge. It is not about influencing choice.