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Four scientists make creativity a key to communicating their research

Posted on 28 May 2019 by greenman3610

This is a re-post from Yale Climate Connections

This month’s “This is Not Cool” original video, produced by independent videographer and YCC regular contributor Peter Sinclair, explores the creative science communication initiatives of four different scientists.

Ecohydrologist, researcher, and science storyteller Emily Fairfax of the University of Colorado studies the intersection of water and ecosystems. “It’s very important that my science has an impact in the world,” Fairfax says. “I take all my data and try to send it out to the public in very compelling ways.” She recalls being “so scared of all the jargon” earlier in her career: “I didn’t want to say a lot of different words, because what if I say them wrong? What if I use them wrong?”

Working on beavers and their forest environment, she decided to shorten her story to one sentence: “And that was that ‘beaver ponds persist through wildfires.'” If nothing else, she wanted her audience to leave with at least that message firmly in mind. With her infectious enthusiasm, the video shows a toy beaver persisting through a wildfire and then boosting an “I’m Okay!!” flag to assure fearful viewers that the beaver survives.

The Sinclair video also delves into the creative painting of glaciologist and artist Jill Pelto in remote glacial environments. Her scientist-father long encouraged her to include data in her art work after a field season in the North Cascades in Washington.

One-time cartoonist and founder of the Skeptical Science website John Cook, now at George Mason University in Virginia, describes how he uses cartoons to make climate change information more accessible. “I could be the first scientist to ever calculate the P value of a cartoon’s funniness,” Cook says, adding that the cartoons are “statistically significant and funny.”

Cook ran an experiment to test whether logic-based or humor-based corrections to climate misinformation were more effective, and “more importantly, do either of them work.” Cook says both “significantly neutralize misinformation, but the cartoons get an order of magnitude more shares than the logic-based.”

The fourth interviewee in the video, software engineer Kevin Pluck of Manchester, United Kingdom, relates how he “one day” came across complex sea ice data and wondered “what would it look like” if he treated it visually. “I spent an evening doing that, and I put it on my Twitter feed, and it just blew up,” going viral.

“If you have an idea, just try it,” Fairfax encourages fellow scientists. “This should be fun. This should be exciting to try to portray your research outside of the standard manuscript or conference presentation. It should all be fun, the whole time. It never felt like a high-stakes thing.

“Science already can feel high-stakes, so don’t try to make communicating your science quite so high-stakes. You should be having fun. It should be creative, it should be an outlet for you to communicate, not another hoop to jump through.”

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