Jul 192016
Comparison of safe sex with a condom and safe science communication with peer-reviewed journals

Science communication is a strange mistress. People like it done in different ways and most will be happy to tell you the way they prefer it. Here are the other ways that science communication (or as the cool kids are saying – SciComm) is like sex:

Don’t start doing it in public unless you are invited

This one should, hopefully, come as no surprise – at least in regards to the sex bit. In terms of science communication however, maybe it isn’t as obvious. As a young, and not so young, scientist I’d quite happily shout down anyone I encountered at social gathering who dare spout unscientific nonsense in my vicinity. I’d think to myself “how dare they not know everything that I know!” and proceed to unleash a barrage of, what I thought, was a very useful explanation of why the foot detox machine their Auntie sells is rubbish. Sometimes I’d squeeze an entire university module into about 10 minutes of explanation. This approach can leave the person you are trying to “communicate” with convinced that science is “preachy” and “thinks it has all the answers”. Of course, if asked a specific question about science, and I knew the answer, I’d happily whip it out for people to be in awe of.

Sometimes people do it better than you –  and that is OK

We all had a friend while growing up who loved to tell you that they were having frequent, wild sex which definitely did NOT include premature ejaculation. Your experience was, at best, tepid and scary.. But, just like science communication, practice makes perfect. Don’t let those awesome science communicators put you off, you can take inspiration from their best bits and apply them to your own performance. You can also find many talks and tips online that will help you hone your skills and impress the other people in the room.

You don’t need a partner – it’s just more fun if you have one

Both sex and science communication can be done a variety of ways – on your own, in a group, while thinking about other things and in the back seat of a car. Doing it solo means that it can be done anywhere and at anytime according to your work schedule. I have really enjoyed my solo activities since it is me, and me alone, who decides how it turns out. However, I am confident that we can all agree that when two or more people are involved it makes a huge difference to motivation levels. I have particularly enjoyed my interactions with The Science Nation and hanging out with good friends and producing Publish, Perish or Podcast. Including more people draws on different skills, which some people are better at than others. Collaborations also share the work load required to satisfy your audience – particularly if they are a little more fussy.

Start slow and build it up

The act of communicating science should follow a narrative in order to draw in your audience. In other words, tell a story. Don’t rush in, build a story that the audience is willing to invest time in. If you give away all of your best bits within two minutes you risk leaving people underwhelmed and bored. Work your way up to a satisfying end and, as I have said before, know who your audience is and adapt your performance for them.


What other ways do you think science communication is like sex?

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