In the past decade, I’ve seen more and more scientists step outside their labs—or invite people in—to share how science affects our daily lives and why basic and translational research is important. Spreading the science love isn’t just the purview of reporters and PR people anymore, and interest is high.
Groups like the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) have included plenty of sessions on science communication in past years, including workshops to help researchers hone their “elevator pitches” and find compelling stories in their data. In 2017, both the International Neuroethics Society and the Society for Neuroscience (SfN) included scicomm sessions during their annual meetings. I couldn’t even get into one of the workshops at SfN because it was so popular the room was already packed before the session started, with a standby line down the hall! (See also video of SfN’s 2017 “Dialogues” chat, with Pulitzer Prize-winning author and physician Siddartha Mukherjee chatting with SfN President Eric Nestler about “the excitement and importance of communicating the promise of scientific inquiry to the public.”)
Since part of the Dana Foundation’s mission is educating the public in a responsible manner about brain science and the potential of research, we’re glad to see this trend. Here are a few of our resources to help you reach out.
You’ve Got Some Explaining to Do (free PDF in English and Spanish). Jane Nevins, the first editor in chief of the Dana Press, brings more than 20 years of experience in translating neuroscience to general readers. This 100-page booklet goes from general to specific: Nevins first describes various venues, from newspaper opinion pages to blogs, and what readers of each expect and respond to best. In the second section, she shows how jargon, hackneyed expressions, and “cross-over words” (like problematic, localize, positive effect) can confuse non-scientists and alternative words that can help them. In the last section, she discusses what to put first, how to quote and paraphrase in lay copy, and what to leave out. She wrote this a few years ago, so there’s not much on social media, but her reminder that this kind of writing is for the reader, not the writer, remains timely and helpful.
Q&A: Answering Your Questions about the Brain (PDF). This 20-page booklet is our most popular handout and download. It’s written at a high-school reading level, with roughly 500-word answers to questions like “What does technology do to the brain?” and “How can I keep my brain healthy?”
Successful Aging and the Brain (PDF). This 35-page booklet is targeted to older people with a ninth-grade reading level, and describes how aging alters the brain, debunks some brain myths, and offers research-based tips for staying sharp. Like all our materials, the science presented has been reviewed by scientists, usually those in the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives.
Brain Terms Glossary (PDF). Find definitions for common brain terms, from adrenal glands to white matter, in our 17-page glossary.
In the Brain Awareness Week section of the website, you’ll find tips for planning events and getting people to come to them. BAW’s Outreach page has advice for building an audience and communicating with mainstream media and social media. Become a BAW partner! Partners in the US can order free materials from us, and partners around the world share tips and best practices to help your events run smoothly. (Brain Awareness Week this year is March 12-18).
In the Educators section on our website, you can find lesson plans as well as collections of neuroscience primers and briefing papers on topics like the senses, memory, alcohol and the brain, and the effects of screen time on the brain. This year we’ll be updating our primer on how imaging technologies are used in brain science, so stay tuned for that.
In the Kids section of our website, you’ll see links to fun projects and experiments on our site and elsewhere.
– Nicky Penttila