It is my firm belief that it is a duty and obligation of scientists to directly communicate their work with the public, with no middleman and no translators. Of course this is easier said than done. Scientists themselves are busy being…scientists. They have very little incentive to communicate science to the public or share their work. There is simply no rewards system in place in academia to lead to more science communication.
So as I travel around to visit universities, giving talks to departments about the importance of science communication, naturally a lot of questions come up. What’s the best way to communicate science to the public? How can I possibly find time to do it when I have so many other high-priority urgent tasks that need to be done in way less time than I have to do them? How can I know that I’m saying the right things and communicating science in the right way? Will anyone even listen to me?
These are all very valid questions, and the exact kind of questions I expect from a curious mind like that of a scientist.
So yes, there are obstacles to scientists communicating their work directly to the public. Hence the temptation to rely on press officers and journalists and other folks who may or may not be qualified to understand what they’re really talking about.
But scientists are also collaborators. Maybe not natural-born collaborators, but collaboration is a part and parcel of the everyday scientific workflow. We’re always working with other people! Whether it’s junior or senior colleagues, or massive teams spanning the globe, or just a close partnership between folks down the hall from each other, science is done by collaboration.
If a scientist is struggling to find a way to communicate their work to the public, why not collaborate with someone who’s good at, I don’t know, communicating?
And who better than an artist?
It’s the job of an artist, whether visual artist are performing artist or any other kind of artist, to communicate. That’s what they do. They share and share and share with as many audiences as possible. What’s more, artists are unceasingly hungry for sources of inspiration. For new stories to tell. For new lenses to look at the world.
Artists want ideas. And scientists are really good at generating ideas. It’s kind of their job.
There’s tremendous power in collaborating with artists. Even if it’s at the level of just a few conversations to spark their interest for the further exploration, or something deeper like a co-production on a dance performance, collaborations lead to surprising results. Scientists need to communicate with the public, and they especially need to communicate with audiences that wouldn’t typically show up to a science lecture. Artists want new stories. And they already reach audiences that, believe it or not, probably don’t typically show up to a science lecture.
Is there any way that partnering science with the arts can’t win?