2022 Annual Meeting Report: Communicating Science in an Age of Misinformation and Mistrust

By Lauren Walker posted 07-21-2022 11:27


How do we communicate our science and toxicology to an ever-alienated public that seems to put more trust in social media posts rather than in science? A trio of sessions at the 2022 SOT Annual Meeting and ToxExpo aimed to answer this question by offering three possible solutions:

  • address current challenges in science communication
  • improve stakeholder engagement
  • build communication skills

Chaired by Drs. Courtney Sulentic and Barbara Kaplan, the session titled “Communicating Science in an Age of Misinformation and Mistrust” addressed the first solution by discussing strategies for addressing today’s unique challenges of interacting with various audiences. Collectively, the session speakers’ perspectives wove a tapestry of strategies for effective science communication that can be summarized into a few key recommendations.

Leverage Social Media to Build Community

In her presentation, Dr. Alison Bernstein emphasized that communication is a relationship. While social media contributes to challenges in science communication, it also is an opportunity for scientists to engage with people directly. Through direct engagement, scientists can reach their audiences while building trust and responding to questions and feedback.

Clearly Communicate Toxicology Concepts Early and by Focusing on the Process

Drs. Antonio T. Baines and Barbara Kaplan highlighted the role that timely and transparent communication plays in effectively communicating science. In highlighting the North Carolina Higher Education Faculty and Mentor Network, Dr. Baines showed that key toxicology principles and resources can be readily disseminated by leveraging academic connections to both build a robust network of science educators and introduce toxicology to students earlier in their education and training years. In discussing the principles of science and toxicology, Dr. Kaplan noted it also is important that scientists acknowledge uncertainty in research and how that translates into risk by using accessible examples (for instance, a 40% forecast of rain does not guarantee the actual weather outcome). By actively incorporating transparent discussions of the scientific process and research limitations, we can help improve science literacy and the toxicology career pipeline through science communication efforts.

Remember Your Audience

Drs. Charles Lee and Lauren Walker underscored the importance of considering the audience in any form of science communication. Dr. Lee shared several historical events that contributed to current environmental inequities. To effectively communicate complex and often controversial science issues, scientists must first research and understand the associated social context. Dr. Walker showcased the variety of avenues that scientists may take to communicate with target audiences and provided a detailed overview of important considerations for written science communication. By first seeking to understand your audience’s perspective, scientists can more successfully tailor their messages for effective engagement.

In sum, the session’s presentations highlighted current challenges for effective science communication while proposing a variety of solutions. The ultimate goal of this session was to provide attendees with concrete, real-world examples of where they can start or enhance their science communication journey.

A recorded version of this session is available to 2022 Annual Meeting registrants until July 31, 2022, through the 2022 SOT Event App and Online Planner.