What a wonderful whirlwind of a meeting! I feel as though I’ve met a hundred people in person, finally, after all the new connections made over the past few years of virtual life. This re-entry into the real world has been exceptionally satisfying as a SciComm junkie. On Wednesday, March 30, during the 2022 SOT Annual Meeting, I had the pleasure of attending the Workshop Session “Communicating Science in an Age of Misinformation and Mistrust,” chaired by Drs. Courtney Sulentic and Barbara Kaplan. This session was well attended, both in person and online.
We were pleasantly guided along several personal journeys through science where the importance of senior researchers engaging with trainees was repeatedly highlighted. Some background on the audience: less than a quarter of us had taken a toxicology course during our undergraduate careers and only about a third of us had even discovered the eponymous field during that same period. I’ll use this opportunity to extend Dr. Antonio Baines’s invitation to connect with him directly if you are interested in undergraduate toxicology outreach.
The recent commitment to boost SciComm skills among the SOT membership will help counter the barrage of misinformation that plagues modern society as we transition into a post-COVID era. Arguably, scientists are primarily responsible for the disconnect with and suspicion of scientific findings. Consequently, it is our obligation to act as the bridge between our research and our communities.
The scientific method is its own reality show where we are faced with no shortage of findings that are unexpected—and at times, inexplicable. Negative results are still important data, as many of us discover during our training, along with the frustration of disproportional publication of this dark matter of research. We have both the right and the responsibility to share our data and are reminded that a project is not completed until it has been communicated. We should discuss all components of our work, including the continuous cycle of refining a hypothesis. Science is a rapidly evolving process, a journey and not a destination.
Progressing efforts in science communication must include collaborations that are both interdisciplinary and communal. Toxicologists are familiar with integrative work and excel at the former; therefore, it is the latter where we ought to concentrate our efforts. When communicating with non-experts, we should set audience-specific goals and put effort into building relationships. Establishing trust and credibility in this manner will spare us from “screaming into the void,” as Dr. Alison Bernstein so eloquently stated. For those engrossed in SciComm online, keep in mind that attempting to debunk myths can lead to bots flagging your post via keyword searches, or even reinforce flawed perceptions. Also, as reiterated here and in other sessions at #2022SOT, ignoring negative feedback is imperative . . . do not feed the trolls!
The call to action is clear and the time to get involved with SciComm is now. Don’t hesitate because of a lack of formal education; simply start where you feel comfortable. Network with other SciComm junkies and use their approach as a model. And remember: just as with our technical expertise, repetition builds mastery.
Resources shared throughout the Workshop Session:
- AAAS: “Does Science Communication Still Work?”
- Inoculation theory applied to misinformation
- Communicating Science Effectively: A Research Agenda
- SOT-NCABR (North Carolina Association for Biomedical Research) partnership
- SciMoms: nonprofit educational organization to promote evidence-based parenting and policy
- MommyPhd: Dr. Alison Bernstein
- ChaChaScientist: Dr. Lauren Walker
This blog was prepared by an SOT Reporter and represents the views of the author. SOT Reporters are SOT members who volunteer to write about sessions and events in which they participate during the SOT Annual Meeting and ToxExpo. SOT does not propose or endorse any position by posting this article. If you are interested in participating in the SOT Reporter program in the future, please email Giuliana Macaluso.
On-demand recordings of all Featured and Scientific Sessions delivered during the 2022 SOT Annual Meeting and ToxExpo will be available to meeting registrants in the SOT Event App and Online Planner after their conclusion, through July 31, 2022.