FILE – This undated file photo shows legendary physicist Dr. Albert Einstein, author of the theory of Relativity. Einstein was a father who worried his son wasn’t taking his geometry studies seriously enough, and that he was indebted to a favorite uncle for giving him a toy steam engine when he was a boy, launching a lifelong interest in science. He also believed the infidelity of a friend’s spouse was no big deal. These and other reflections, including personal opinions on God and politics, are contained in 27 letters being offered by a private collector at auction this week. (AP Photo/File) (Credit: AP)
Recently, Narendra Modi, the prime minister of India, urged scientists to share their problem-solving innovations with the public in more accessible ways, including by using vernacular languages. This kind of openness and accessibility is important and needed. While most scientists publish their work in academic journals, only 10 people, on average, read a given article in its entirety; so clearly, the general public is not being reached that way.
Translating complicated concepts that are jargon-heavy into terms and ideas the public can understand is not always easy. But, increasingly, scientists, university and research institutions, government institutions and others are trying to find ways to do it. Professional societies like the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Entomological Society of America offer a wide array of tools and programs like science communication courses and science policy fellowships to help scientists with dissemination. The National Academy of Sciences even recently released a report, “Communicating Science Effectively: A Research Agenda,” to help scientists effectively communicate their research. An example of an international effort is the Imagine Project initiative, through which scientists take their research out of the laboratory and share it with rural and indigenous communities in Africa and Latin America.
These are great initiatives, but many young scientists, including PhD students, post-doctoral scholars and early career scientists, need more guidance in maneuvering the art of effectively disseminating their science to the public. I witnessed this need first-hand when I recently spoke at Emory University about my research on beneficial soil microbes and their use in agriculture; I mentioned how ever since I learning the art of writing opinion pieces through participating in a training offered through the Aspen Institute New Voices fellowship, I had written more than 60 opinion pieces that have reached millions of people. The audience of PhD students and post-doctoral fellows clamored to know how they could similarly write about their research for newspapers and reach the kinds of audiences their journal articles never do. I know they are not alone in that desire.
While there are other ways to disseminate academic research to the public, including writing research and policy briefs, sharing it on university and research institutions websites and blogs, my experience of this has been through