Echo Chambers in Science Communication: What To Do About Them

By Leah Crane
Reporting on the #SciCommCamp Echo Chamber session.

One of science communication’s central issues is scope: how can science communicators reach a target audience beyond their own community? The problem is a complex one; and, the solutions are multifaceted. At the 2015 West Coast Science Communication Retreat, attendees discussed this question while learning how to improve their science communication skills. That year’s conference agenda is archived and related #SciCommCamp Tweets captured in a Storify [Roca 2015].

Josh Silberg, Science Communications Coordinator for the Hakai Institute, led an unconference session on the “echo chamber” topic of science communication and how to avoid preaching to the choir [Brown Jarreau 2015]. Silberg proposed this topic because “as science communicators, we all want to reach an audience. But first we must identify our goals and who makes up our target audience. Then we can strategize ways to reach that audience and assess whether or not we are reaching them.”

The first question that science communicators must consider is whether their goal is truly to exit the echo chamber; and, if so, what target demographics they want to reach. Determining a target audience is a necessary first step for any type of communication or education activity. The target audience is dependent on the goals of the project. Promoting science literacy, topic-specific education, gaining exposure, and fundraising are all valid and common aims for science communicators; and, each carries with it a different ideal consumer.

The most basic way to target communication is through location. Science communication is traditionally confined to educational institutions and news outlets; but, science can be taught anywhere such as subway trains, street corners, farmer’s markets, religious institutions, etc. Also, as Silberg stated as one of the session takeaways, “incorporating science into storytelling, art, poetry, and other creative outlets can be a wonderful way to reach new audiences, if that is a goal.” If science communicators do not physically find specific audiences and bring the science to them in engaging terms, then those individuals may not seek out the information on their own. Audiences of traditional science communication — academic lectures, museum events, and the like — are self-selecting and tend to be limited to previously interested parties. In order to reach consumers beyond the echo chamber, one must first find them.

to reach consumers beyond the echo chamber, one must first find them

Once a science communicator has found the audience, it is crucial to find an area of demonstrated need. As conference organizer Cara Santa Maria pointed out, assuming that a need exists within a particular audience is not enough. Science communicators are not lecturers so they must interact with their audience. Session attendee Alberto Roca, executive director of DiverseScholar, suggested the strategy of involving spokespeople and influencers who already embedded within the community of interest.

Beyond that, it is crucial for information to be in terms that the target audience understands. This may mean using different languages or visual aids; but, it can also be as simple as avoiding jargon. Santa Maria’s advice, often repeated at the West Coast retreat, was “never underestimate your audience’s intelligence; always underestimate their vocabulary.” When stripped down to the bare bones, the only way for a science communicator to reach an intended audience is by respecting their needs.

References

P. Brown Jarreau (2015) Science Communication Echo Chambers - Now What?, From The Lab Bench, November 17

A.I. Roca (2015) #SciCommCamp, Storify, November 15

Photos

(top) Echo chamber discussion leader, Josh Silberg. (Credit: J. Silberg)
(bottom) Group photo of some SciCommCamp attendees. (Credit: Mike Bergstrom)

The citation for this article is:
L. Crane (2016) Echo Chambers in Science Communication: What To Do About Them.
DiverseScholar 7:2

Leah Crane is a freelance science writer/editor and graduate in Physics/Astronomy and European Studies from Carleton College. She is interested in science communication, science education, and space. She can be found on Twitter at @DownHereonEarth. Any opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.


Editor’s note: Diana Crow assisted in editing this article. DiverseScholar is now publishing original written works. Submit article ideas by contacting us at . This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.

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Published 29-Dec-2016