April 27, 2012 by Alex Hoekstra
I think that perhaps the most poorly-kept secret of the academic community is the problems that researchers, scientists and scholars face when trying to communicate. Whether to their peers and colleagues within or without their field of study, or to the general, non-scientific community, the processes of disseminating knowledge, asking questions, reaching out, collaborating, sharing discoveries and ultimately delivering meaningful, actionable information for the betterment of the human (and often non-human) condition are fraught with obstacles, blockaded by barriers, and bound by miles of red tape. The system through which scientists are accustomed to communicating the work has existed for over 100 years and has been obstinate in its opposition to adaptation to the digital, networked age. The scientific community should be at the forefront of thinking and acting progressively, not at the tail end. I find it to be a disgrace throughout the scholarly world that we’ve failed to systematically embrace the benefits of the networked age for bettering our work, independently (in our own labs) and as a community of researchers, investigators and explorers. We know the system at present to be flawed. We’re even mad about it. We have yet, though, as a community, been bold enough to take substantial action to replace it. That’s where I hope and believe that today’s project will help the world’s scientists and scholars to step away from the arcane, outdated and repressive communication routines of years gone by.
The National Science Communication Institute (nSCI) wants to help bring scientists together in ways that, while not technically impossible at present, are inconceivably nonstandard to most. To too many, really. They’re constructing a book – a series of tools and guidelines for scientists to begin to embrace the networked infrastructure that has the power to connect labs and minds and busy researchers together for the good of each and all.
This book will give scientists and others who need experienced science communication guidance their first ever comprehensive how-to guide—explaining not just how to write more clearly, but also how to improve their research collaboration, public outreach, study enrollment, fundraising and more.
Popping the bubbles that enclose scientists (half-voluntarily) is, I think, the biggest favor that could be done for the scientific community as a whole. My career in science has been short, relative to those I’ve worked with and admire, but even my brief exposure to the system of communicating science has left me jaded and disenchanted. Call it naïveté, call it idealism, but don’t call it untrue or unimportant. Clinging to the edifice of an esoteric and outdated institution is unbefitting of a community which proclaims to strive for the progress and fulfillment and betterment of humanity as a whole. Thinking outside the box is what we did as children – in the days when we decided to become children – in the days when we learned of and were inspired by great thinkers who changed the world – in the days before we had encountered the institutionalized publication systems and were bound by them. Let us rediscover our ability to think and act and explore outside the box. The nSCI is embarking on an incredible mission to help the world-changers return to the business of changing the world. Help them help all of us by backing them on Kickstarter before May 6.