Communicating Science To Scientists

If you haven’t discovered it yet, AGU hosts a bunch of blogs at the AGU Blogosphere.   There are some that are written a specific author and others that are by “AGU Staff and collaborators.” There is one in particular that I would like to point out to you, The Plainspoken Scientist. This blog has regular posts on how to talk to non-scientists and, in particular, the media.

As I sit here at the GEM Workshop in Snowmass Colorado, listening to talks, I am reminded of one recent post on this blog of special relevance to my present situation. It’s the May 28 post by Ilissa Ocko, entitled, “Scientists Should Speak Simply To Other Scientists, Too”. It makes the point that scientists at science conferences should be sure to keep it simple in their presentations. Her three main reasons:

  • The audience is usually hearing the result for the first time
  • The audience only has the short presentation interval to absorb the result
  • The audience is often distracted

I completely agree. She even drew a nice cartoon to go with that last bullet item.


I love this cartoon. Thanks Ilissa!

How does this relate to authors and readers of JGR Space Physics? It reminds me of a mantra that I pass on to all of my students: papers are completely different than presentations. Yes, they contain largely the same information, but in a paper, the reader is in control of the pace of consumption. The reader can take as long as necessary with each section, plot, or nuance of the result. In a presentation, the presenter is in control of the flow of information, which means that the pace cannot be too fast and the slides cannot be too busy. Concepts should be brought out one at a time in a clear format with large graphics and minimal text. I see too many presenters show the same figures that appear in their papers, and this is actually not a good practice. A stack of 10 line plots is fine in a paper, where the reader can spend as much time as needed to understand each panel. In a talk, it’s awful. One, maybe two, plots on a slide is about all you want, otherwise the audience is looking at something else on the screen rather than what the speaker is focusing on at that moment.

I have made this point before, every six months or so, but I am making it again. Please, take Dr. Ocko’s advice, and simplify your presentations. Save the complicated plots and descriptions for the paper or the one-on-one conversation.

Finally, to come full circle, check out the AGU blogosphere. There are lots of great posts there.

3 thoughts on “Communicating Science To Scientists

  1. Pingback: Carefully Plan Your Figures | Notes from the JGR-Space Physics Editor-in-Chief

  2. Pingback: AGU’s Blogosphere | Notes from the JGR-Space Physics Editor-in-Chief

  3. Pingback: My Top Posts of All Time | Notes from the JGR-Space Physics Editor-in-Chief

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