After many years of blogging, and consistent with my desire to move toward retirement, we have ended the Insights blog. Thanks to Doug Bedell for his years of blog support.

Scientists, Engineers Need to Relate Well

Posted on July 12, 2010
Filed Under Technology | Leave a Comment

Why do we neglect what’s common among us as a people, like the best ways of being understood? These thoughts arise on reading a news release by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences on the evident communication gap between science and technology and the rest of the public.

The Academy is apparently trying to nudge scientists and engineers to relate better, if they want to be understood, maybe even supported, by the rest of the us.

Why, otherwise, would scientists need to be reminded that “Scientific issues require an ‘anticipatory approach'”?

The Adademy continues: “A diverse group of stakeholders – research scientists, social scientists, public engagement experts, and skilled communicators – should collaborate early to identify potential scientific controversies and the best method to address resulting public concerns.”

“Gee, you mean we need to relate to the public?” we can hear white-coated researchers asking. Sure do, this is basic public relations – the techniques have been known for decades, maybe eons. How is it that many scientists, enough for the Academy to be holding workshops and issuing pointed recommendations, have missed the message?

Apparently, not all scientists and engineers understand that their work needs to be done in the context of their times, in the midst of other people. And that respecting context requires listening to, understanding and being responsive to concerns that might arise over their work.

Yet that’s more PR 101.

We’re pleased to see the independent, non-partisan American Academy of Arts & Sciences addressing these concerns in its 230th year (it was founded during the American Revolution by John Adams, John Hancock and others).  But we regret the necessity of  tutoring scientists in communication roles that should be well-settled by now.

This all gives new meaning to the stricture, “We always need to keep learning,” doesn’t it? Science and engineering can be highly demanding of those of practice their disciplines, but one of  those disciplines should be listening and relating to others. And that requires planning PR protocols as well as scientific ones. – Doug Bedell


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