If you’re at all interested in science communication (“scicomm”), you’ve probably seen references to the “scicomm community.” And if you also spend any time on social media sites, you’ve probably seen the term a lot recently.
Some people talk about building a better scicomm community (I’ve done that). Some people talk about its failings. Some people talk about leaving it, or even breaking up with it. But what is it?
I guess there are two ways to think about it. (Or at least these are the two ways that I think about it.)
On the one hand, a lot of people engage in science communication. Any scientist who publishes a journal article or presents research findings at a conference is engaging in science communication. Any reporter who covers science is also engaging in scicomm. So are science teachers, public information officers, bloggers, artists, musicians, or anyone else who is trying to convey information about science to other people.
They Might Be Giants recorded an album about science (ostensibly geared toward kids, though grownups are also allowed to dig it). Does that count as science communication? I think so.
So, if the scicomm community is everyone who engages in science communication, it’s a really big tent.
On the other hand, many (most?) of those people don’t think of themselves as being part of the scicomm community. They’re not science communicators, they’re scientists. And publishing papers is what scientists do. They’re not science communicators, they’re a rock band that records catchy songs. They’re not science communicators, they’re teachers. You get the idea.
But some people spend a lot of time thinking about science communication. They want to get better at it. They want other people to get better at it. They want other people to be involved. They want to find ways to get people excited about science.
These people do think of themselves as science communicators.
Now, they may also think of themselves as scientists, teachers, musicians, doctors, journalists, artists, etc., but they definitely think of themselves as science communicators. Those roles don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
I think this second group of folks, the self-identifying science communicators, make up a smaller “scicomm community.” Because of shared or overlapping interests, members of this community run into each other pretty often. Often online, sometimes in person. We can (and do) learn a lot from each other. Sometimes we disappoint and/or anger each other. And, perhaps because of those shared interests, the disappointments can be that much more disappointing. (There is more on some such disappointments and dealing with them in this post from Jacquelyn Gill.)
But I don’t think it’s a community that you formally join or leave, like a country club or a motorcycle gang. There are no dues to be paid or rites of initiation. You’re either really interested in talking about science (outside of the lab or classroom) or you’re not.
If you are, then I guess you’re part of the community, regardless of whether you choose to actively engage with others. But I kind of hope you do decide to take at least a somewhat active role in the community. Everyone has something to teach, I think. And not to be a goody-goody or anything, but I’d hate to miss out on learning whatever you have to offer.
This is, perhaps, a bit of a rambling, imprecise post. But it’s a rambling, somewhat imprecise sort of subject.