Did you ever participate in a science fair? If you did, then you probably made a poster outlining what you did for your project and how your project turned out. Scientists often share their research in the same way. The picture above shows a poster session at a scientific conference. Posters are a quick and graphic way to communicate about research.
Importance of Communication in Science
The last step of most scientific investigations is reporting the results. When scientists communicate their findings, they add to the body of scientific knowledge, and that’s how science advances. Science generally builds on previous knowledge, sometimes advancing in giant steps but more often in baby steps. The brick building analogy in the Figure below may help you better understand why communication is important in science.
You can think of scientific knowledge as a brick building, and the work of a single scientist as an individual brick. Considered by itself, the work of a single scientist may not seem that important, yet it may be an important piece of the overall structure. But unless a scientist communicates research results, that single brick may never be added to the building.
When scientists communicate about their research, they may also get useful feedback from other scientists. For example, comments from other scientists might help them improve their research design or interpret their findings in a different way. Other scientists can also repeat the research to see if they get the same results.
Q: Why might it be important for other scientists to repeat an investigation?
A: If an investigation is repeated and different results are obtained, then it throws doubt on the original research. On the other hand, if the same results are obtained, scientists can place more confidence in them.
How Scientists Communicate
The posters shown above are just one of several ways that scientists may communicate about their research. Some of the most common ways scientists communicate are listed below.
- Scientists may present papers about their research at scientific conferences. This is a good way to quickly reach an audience of other scientists who are most interested in the research topic.
- Scientists may publish articles about their research in peer-reviewed science journals. Peer review means that the work is analyzed by peers, in other words, by other scientists. The articles are published only if the other scientists are convinced that the research is accurate and honest.
- Scientists may testify about their research before congress if their findings relate to matters of public policy, such as environmental pollution.
- Scientists may communicate about their research to the general public. For example, they might create a Web site about their research, blog about it, or write articles for newspapers or magazines.
Q: Why might it be important for scientists to communicate about their research to the general public? Give an example.
A: Communicating to the general public might be important if the research is directly related to people’s lives. For example, assume that a scientist has investigated how driving habits are related to car crashes. She might write a newspaper article to share the research results with the public so they can adopt driving habits that reduce the risk of crashes.
- The last step of most scientific investigations is communicating the results of the research. When scientists share their findings, they add to the body of scientific knowledge. They may also get useful feedback from other scientists.
- Scientists may communicate about their research in several ways, such as presenting posters or papers at scientific conferences and publishing articles in scientific journals.
Watch this video about scientific communication, and then answer the questions below.
- Why do some scientists have difficulty communicating about their research to nonscientists?
- What is the role of science writers in scientific communication?
- Why is communication important in science?
- Identify three different ways that scientists may communicate about their research.
- The graph below shows the results of a scientific investigation. Researchers measured the amount of force (in pounds) needed to penetrate hardwoods of different species. How would you communicate the results of the investigation in words?