Transforming Science Communication and Literacy

A new report from Wiley sheds light on one of our profession’s biggest challenges

By Cameron Kovach
TWS General Manager

We live in interesting times… I could stop there, link the report, and call it quits, but I’m not going to because I’m fascinated by the topic of science communication. In fact, nearly a decade ago I altered my career from studying wildlife to studying new frontiers in wildlife conservation. I say new frontiers because our profession is increasingly operating in uncharted territories. The world is changing, public attitudes are shifting, and skepticism towards science is increasing.

Gone are the days when we could produce a standalone scientific report, retreat to the field, and expect society to exhibit a heightened level of deference towards our research. Some may point to partisan politics or blame millennials because that seems to be a thing, but perhaps, we as a profession have failed to keep pace with the changing times. Our science may reach other scientists but is seemingly lost in the gluttony of information available to policy-makers and the public.

So, what’s the solution? Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer to that question, but Wiley’s report—To Know the World: Transforming Science Literacy and Communications to Improve Research Impact—touches on several timely and thought-provoking concepts including:

  • Recognizing the need for “translated” scientific information;
  • Fostering curiosity and improving scientific literacy by inspiring others to ask questions and seek science-based answers;
  • Making science relatable and the profession welcoming to all through providing diverse portrayals of scientists and by highlighting the personal stories of scientists;
  • Contextualizing science and the scientific process; and
  • Developing innovative ways to expand the audience and understanding of research.

This is not about becoming activists or about attacking the messaging of others. It’s about improving our own messaging, becoming better storytellers, and figuring out ways to enhance our communication while still preserving the depth and integrity of our work. How can we as individual wildlife professionals shape our own personal networks, touch the lives of those around us, and inspire the next generation? Not every aspect of Wiley’s report is relevant to wildlife professionals, but I hope the report sparks dialogue within your Section, Chapter, or Working Group while demonstrating that, while these are interesting times, we face boundless opportunity to forage new paths through the unknown.

What do you think? Is the increased skepticism towards science a good thing? What role should wildlife professionals play in communicating science? How do you share your science? Share your thoughts with us on social media @wildlifesociety or #wildlifesociety.

Wiley is the publisher of TWS’ three premier wildlife journals—The Journal of Wildlife Management, Wildlife Monographs and the Wildlife Society Bulletin.