Science Communication: Dana Resources

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.

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Do’s and Don’ts of Science Writing

Scientific research can be a lonely business. Labs and studies are collaborative, but the work is task driven, and results often take a year or two. For researchers, communication mostly means talking to like-minded lab partners or collaborators in pursuit of similar goals or outcomes.

But communicating brain research in compelling and creative ways to the tax-paying public and, even more importantly, to decision-makers, is viewed as crucial—especially in the ever-competitive grant and funding climate. That was a significant part of the message in a well-attended professional development workshop at this year’s Society for Neuroscience conference in Washington, D.C. The workshop featured four experienced science communicators: Elaine Snell, Tiffany Lohwater, Jane Nevins, and Stuart Firestein, Ph.D.

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Helping Scientists Translate Their Work for the Lay Public

Since the 1980s, the Dana Foundation has actively promoted and participated in communicating science to the lay public. Helping to lead those efforts was Jane Nevins, Dana Press editor-in-chief emerita, who edited scientist-written publications and books for nearly twenty-five years, tackling topics such as deep brain stimulation, mental illness, and stroke.

explaining_frontcoverIn her final year with the foundation, Nevins compiled her best practices into a handy reference book for scientists writing for the lay public, You’ve Got Some Explaining to do: Advice for Neuroscientists Writing for Lay Readers. The book is available for sale at Amazon for $2.99 or as a free PDF on our website.

From the chapter “What Readers Want”:

You want to write something for a particular reason, and your reader wants to read it for the same reason. It’s not about all the science you know, but about the science that fits your and the reader’s attraction to the story. Believe this, and it will lighten your task by orders of magnitude, because you can focus on choosing the appropriate scientific content and making it clear and interesting.

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