4 Mistakes Scientists Make When They Communicate


This article was written in collaboration with Teresa Erickson and originally published in the Society for Conservation Biology News Blog,
Tim Ward and Teresa Erickson, speaking at a plenary session on science communication at ICCB 2013 in Baltimore, Maryland, USA.

2. If you don’t have a seat at the table, you won’t have a voice at the table.

We learned this principle from former SCB executive director, Dr. Alan Thornhill, who now works for the US Department of the Interior. He told us that at many meetings where policy decisions were being made, he was the only scientist in the meeting. There were many times others turned to him with scientific questions, only because he happened to be in the room. During other discussions he would interject with, “Hold on a minute, we have to look at the scientific research on that before we decide.”

Find where the gaps are, where science has no seat at the table. Get on committees, go to hearings. Show up, so science has a voice.

3. Assuming the facts will speak for themselves: they don’t. You must advocate for the facts.

Communicating for influence is a matter of survival of the fittest. It’s not enough to deliver your information. You are competing with other voices. For example, a Louisiana biologist we worked with shared this story with us: “I spoke in front of the metro council here in Baton Rouge… I knew the media was there, so I decided to try a quotable statement just to see if I could get one sticky enough to make the paper. There were more than 10 people who spoke in support of the ordinance, and my quote, as designed, was the only one that made it.”

Use memorable quotes and messages to make your facts stick.

4. Focusing —> Read More