The Participation Blog

Scientists and Other Experts are Lousy Communicators

A recent Pew research study finds that Americans tend to have a positive image of the work of research scientists (which is great news), but don’t think much of the ability of those scientists to communicate (which is entirely fixable). Once again, it corroborates what we’ve seen for years. Some of the best, smartest scientists, engineers and other specialists focus their careers in the public sector because of their belief in public service – the public good, in spite of the fact that they can make a boatload more money in private industry.

Scientists and engineers tend to choose their occupations because they’re critical thinkers who relate to the logic and dynamics of observation, measurement, criticism and hypotheses. Notice there was no mention of people’s moods, feelings, perceptions, biases or politics.

For many folks in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, the rest of us are mostly indecipherable – sometimes even crazy, and many of them stopped trying to figure the rest of us out long ago. How can you blame them? But here’s the paradox: working in the public sector means occasionally having to deal with … the public! Our business is helping the scientists work with the indecipherables, and helping the indecipherables work with the scientists. Read More 

The research and empirical evidence is clear: people don’t trust big institutions. That poses a big challenge for a fragile democracy that relies on freedom of speech, which also means freedom to make crap up. The burden is on the consumer to discern right from wrong, fact from fiction and wisdom from BS. And, unfortunately, we’re not very smart about that; we have a long history of being taken in by con-artists, grifters, and confidence-men. Read More 

A client running a government regulatory agency that is dealing with credibility issues recently asked me whether or not she should just ask her stakeholders to trust the organization. Answer – no. Read More