What attracts laypeople to science stories?

Yesterday, I attended series of talks about the state of public science in Canada organized by Scientists for the Right to Know. Among many other lessons in civic engagement in public science in Canada, we learned about the immense public support received by efforts to save government funding for the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) from Dr. Diane Orihel. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that vast numbers of people, often far removed the from bureaucratic realms and scientific institutions came out in support of sustaining the operations of the ELA. This is testament to the fact that given the right information and sense of agency, the public at large is more than willing to partake in citizen science initiatives and support outcomes that support public science in Canada. The role of effective science communication is critical here, and I am beginning to wonder what specifically can be used to target laypeople, to push forward scientific agendas to their governments. This is a basic question we tend to ask whenever there is conversation about evidence-based policy making in Canada, and was among the chief goals of the Evidence for Democracy meet-up in Toronto. 

Perhaps some of us science communicators can seek out our friends who are not formally trained in the sciences, or even do formalized surveys regarding what attracts public attention to science stories, that are not necessarily as politically charged as the ELA debacle or the debates regarding muzzling of government scientists. What are the fundamental components of effective public engagement in science through science communication?

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3 thoughts on “What attracts laypeople to science stories?”

  1. Something scientists often struggle with is very simply and clearly stating the importance of whatever it is they’re studying. It’s easy to get immersed in your research and forget that it’s not obvious why anyone should care about insect X, protein Y, or glacier Z. What is the big picture? How could your science affect people’s lives or futures? This is critically important to convincing the public why they should listen.

  2. I can speak for myself as a layperson… science is changing our world and what seemed boring before became interesting through scientific discovery.

  3. This may come as a surprise, but most of us ‘laypeople’ are intelligent and interested in science, but we don’t speak your language! If papers were written not to impress your colleagues and peer reviewers, but to impress the ‘laypeople’ – a whole new funding world just might open up to you!

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