I think the task performed by someone specializing in science communication has become more complex. Why is that?

One factor is the rise of digital communication platforms and social media – not as a cause, but as an amplifier of certain developments. This is not new and certainly not a surprise, as new media started to become accessible to a broader public around 20 years ago. However, the changes this has triggered remain dynamic and multi-faceted:

The concept of expertise has been questioned and redefined. Self-proclaimed experts who base their opinion leadership solely on the quantity of the followers they can mobilize (and sometimes on the size of their ego) are often perceived as trustworthy, without the audience questioning their experience or knowledge. In contrast, some knowledgeable and experienced researchers tend to be overlooked.

This is, of course, not a recent development, but the broad accessibility of online media has enlarged the potential audience and accelerated dissemination. Communities gathering around the proclaimers of sometimes harmless, sometimes very dangerous, “alternate realities” have grown and are connecting at an unprecedented speed.

While more and more people have stopped believing in religious systems, humans’ thirst for certainty has not diminished, and the misconception that science can offer certainties has caused many to be disappointed and search for truth elsewhere, for example in conspiracy theories. Yes, it may be uncomfortable to accept that science will never offer “off-the-shelf truths”. But science is still the only thing that can get us closer to deciphering the unknown.

And finally, developments such as the climate crisis and the corona pandemic have shifted science communication closer to policy making, making it more urgent and more complex at the same time.

All of this calls for science communicators who are not only equipped to communicate scientific findings in a coherent way and without oversimplifying, but who also know how to get the attention of their target groups, and who have a broad understanding of global and local backgrounds.


I originally published this post on my LinkedIn profile in November 2020.