JUST THE FACTS, MA'AM: REFLECTIONS ON COMMUNICATING SCIENCE AS AN AAAS FELLOW ENGAGED IN A POLITICAL HOT POTATO
If the facts were enough, actions would be simpler, policy debates shorter. But initial research often leads to more questions, research is never finished, and we never have enough facts.
As an AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow, I have been observing how the EPA is researching the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water: the process of defining the questions to ask, the process of designing research to answer a national-scope question, and the engagement of audiences, technical and non-technical.
From SkyTruth to USGS podcasts, from participating on the boards of NGOs to participating on peer review panels formally announced through the Federal Register, scientists are shaping the debate on issues such as hydraulic fracturing and large-scale mining. At the intersection of Science and Policy, decisions are being made whether you engage or not. Scientists can provide clear pictures in an atmosphere of uncertainty, pertinent research questions emerge in relief against the background noise, the lines defining scientifically known risks from societal values become more distinct.
How do you explain research on a sensitive topic where science is needed to inform policy? What forums are out there beyond traditional journal articles and conference presentations? Who needs to hear about your research? The people who fund it, cite it, benefit from it, and can collaborate on it are among them. We seek, absorb, and digest facts to inform our research, to prioritize funding, to make policy decisions, to understand topics outside our area of expertise. Effective communication is a central part of our role as scientists.
This talk will cover the process EPA is using in their hydraulic fracturing study, reasons why and ways to engage formally outside your institution, tips for presenting to communities, Science Tweets to follow, and how Science Social Media is changing who is participating and driving science discussions.