Don’t let those who muzzle scientists have the last word

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This op-ed was published in the Press Democrat newspaper on Sunday, February 12, 2017.

Don’t let those who muzzle scientists have the last word

By   DENNIS F. MANGAN

The federal government intends to make it difficult for the public to learn about the evidence that supports the connection between climate change and fossil fuels. Spearheaded by gas, oil and coal moguls, a recent presidential executive order deleted website information about our changing atmosphere and silenced government scientists from talking to the public about this topic. Scientists working for the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Agriculture and other federal agencies fear the permanent deletion of data.

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Getting a scientific message across means taking human nature into account

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Overcoming cognitive biases is difficult. In this article, Rose Hendricks (UCSD) discusses some of the psych and socio behind rejection of science facts.

NeuWrite San Diego

We humans have collectively accumulated a lot of science knowledge. We’ve developed vaccines that can eradicate some of the most devastating diseases. We’ve engineered bridges and cities and the internet. We’ve created massive metal vehicles that rise tens of thousands of feet and then safely set down on the other side of the globe. And this is just the tip of the iceberg (which, by the way, we’ve discovered is melting). While this shared knowledge is impressive, it’s not distributed evenly. Not even close. There are too many important issues that science has reached a consensus on that the public has not.

Scientists and the media need to communicate more science and communicate it better. Good communication ensures that scientific progress benefits society, bolsters democracy, weakens the potency of fake news and misinformation and fulfills researchers’ responsibility to engage with the public. Such beliefs have motivated training…

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The hardest folks to help

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Senior faculty who are introverts and have problems with communication skills are the hardest group to help. They don’t always see the necessity for improvement and are stubborn about making a change at this point in their career. The sad part is that these folks make themselves, and their lab, department and the whole university look bad to the outside world. The universities should see this as a branding issue and offer support.   Continue reading

As speech speeds up, information rate slows down!

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An article published in late 2016 from Brown University and recently reported in Science Daily indicates how talking fast correlates negatively with the amount of information transferred. We often tend to speak quickly when we get up in front of a group, hoping that we utter everything about our topic. Yet, if we slow down, we chose better words and use better syntax, allowing the listeners to understand what we’re trying to say.

Next time you give a talk, try slowing down…see if that makes for a better presentation for both you and your audience.

 

Hindsight

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I gave a talk today on the results of some impressive clinical studies showing the powerful effects of the placebo effect. My goal was to reduce highly technical information into something that could be digested and interesting to a nontechnical audience. After the talk I began to re-analyze my speech and do critical evaluation of its success.

I realized that I had committed the most egregious error in presenting science to the public. That is, I forgot to explain why the science was important to THEM! Continue reading

With failure, new knowledge is born

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– Mistakes are the portal of discovery! James Joyce

I gave a speech at a local Toastmasters club yesterday. My assignment was to give a demonstration talk, and I chose to talk about how much sugar we are consuming and its harm to us. I wanted this to be an awesome talk…I drafted what I thought was a good script about an important topic … practiced it … and assembled a nice array of sugar-containing items from my kitchen to serve as my demo props.

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The Fear of Practice

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I wonder why I’m so reluctant to practice my speeches. As a member of two Toastmaster clubs, I get a chance to give a few talks each month. We all know that practicing the talk greatly improves it. Yet, with an upcoming talk, I find myself avoiding opportunities to give it to my wife (critical feedback), dog (totally accepting) or a mirror (doesn’t give a damn.)

Turns out I get frustrated when I practice. Continue reading