Before I start on part 2 of my list, I have also been thinking about science communicators that other people seem to LOVE, but thoroughly get on my nerves! I won’t make that list, but I wanted to point out that I don’t think everyone can, or should be, everything to all people. Know YOUR audience, but also when listening to others understand that the content that they are producing may not be for you or people with similar tastes. What you find irksome another finds quirky and endearing. It’s okay. Think about what they’re doing well. Do they actively engage on social media? Do they create and encourage conversation? Are they having fun with their content? Are they not spreading pseudo-science and trash?! What techniques are they harnessing to great effect?
I also want to take a moment to shout out those of you who may spend time using your knowledge and experience to create or improve public policy, public health, academic institutions, and so much more. “Science communication is the practice of informing, educating, raising awareness of science-related topics…” and it is easy to forget that there are individuals doing that work in a multitude of important, critical, and transformative ways, and we never hear about them, but the impact of their efforts ripple through our daily lives. Thank you!
Here’s part 2 of my slightly unorthodox list of favorite “science communicators!” If you haven’t seen part 1, please feel free to click this link to catch up.
I’m starting part two of my faves with an icon!
6. Mr. Fred Rogers– Again, not a traditional science communicator, but I follow his rules, known as Freddish, when developing my bone lab and when creating content for younger participants in my bone labs, class visits, community events, etc. I read an article a few years ago in The Atlantic about Fred Roger’s rules for talking to children. This prompted me to re-watch a bunch of Mr. Rogers episodes. The article helped me to understand the power of language and being deliberate with our word choices and liberal with understanding. I definitely try to remember this in my own communication.
7. TikTok’r @Mndiaye_97– If you just rolled your eyes that I added a Tiktok’r to my list, get over yourself! LOL! During lockdown, like many people, I began scrolling through TikTok. What I found was incredible people, enthusiasts, experts from across the range of human interests sharing facts, techniques, and expertise in fun and creative ways. I give credit where credit is due and I absolutely love @Mndiaye_97’s videos. His animal insights, facts, personal commentary, humor, and flat delivery is just fun, informational, and buttah smooth! Clearly, I’m not alone in my fandom, as he has over 7 million followers on TikTok.
8. Carl Sagan- This is a person with who I have a strange relationship because I knew his voice and his words before I knew her name. I would watch re-runs of his show Cosmos when I was little. I didn’t always recognize his name, but I would sit attentively as he guided me through the stars and told me stories of humans and ideas. I don’t think I ever fully understood what he was talking about, but he had a way of presenting information that felt like he was having a conversation with me- Baby Myeashea. He made me want to be a deep thinker, to see patterns and make connections. I realize now that when I would play scientist, I was pretending to be Carl Sagan and Bill Nye. He told stories of culture and behavior in relation to scientific cosmic theory, but it was his storytelling style that I was enthralled with. Subsequently, that method of storytelling that feels like he’s speaking directly to me, for me is one of the techniques that I admire about Sagan’s student, celebrated astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson. Of course, I’ve never seen Sagan speak live, but I have seen Dr. Tyson speak live, and one of the things he does, especially when a kid asks him a question, is he gets low, sits on the edge of the stage, or bends. He speaks clearly, directly and steadily to the child although the answer is for everyone. He lowers his voice and invites the questioner into a moment. He paints the picture and sets the stage as he provides an answer and something to think about. I always watch as the child walks away looking like they grew several inches in that moment, and I remember how I felt watching and listening to Carl Sagan. The effects would last a while as I begged my mom to take me to the science museum or the book store because I felt like Carl Sagan, or “the PBS guy” as I most likely called him, charged me personally with learning more about the universe.
9. Meeno Peluce- In that transition between 7th/ 8th grade and high school (I think), my mom sent me to live with my sister who was working in Los Angeles for a summer. My mom always wanted me to go to school during the summer, so at my mom’s request, my sister sent me for tutoring at a professional school. This is a kind of school where kids who act on television or parents are in the movie or entertainment or sports industry can attend school based on their working schedules. My sister was an actor on a popular TV show at the time and this school was in the neighborhood where she lived and could accommodate my summer classes. I had horrible math teachers and my mom wanted me to “get ahead,” so I went to geometry class every day. My tutor was Meeno Peluce. Meeno was to me, the quintessential hippie! A total throwback. He wore bellbottom cords and flowy floral vintage shirts. He had wild, curly hair and he told me he was Soleil Moon Frye‘s older brother. I knew who that was, Punky Brewster! But I wasn’t shocked because this was Hollywood, I was at a professional school, everyone was famous or related to someone famous. That’s how it worked. Anyway, wow, could he teach math! He spoke about numbers and lines with reverence. He was patient and very cool. He always checked for understanding before moving on to another lesson or concept by dreamily asking, “can you dig it?”
I dug it.
While he used the state-required textbook, he always infused the lessons with practical applications of geometry or stories of reflection of theorems and equations in art and architecture. We didn’t learn polygons. We investigated them. AB patterns turned into optical illusions. We paced through geometry like seasoned mathletes. When he asked, “Would you like to try some trig?” I remember that being the most exciting offer I had all summer. And I lived in Hollywood! Any time I would tutor other students later in high school and college, I always think of Meeno’s methods. Reflecting on this post, I decided to look him up and see what he’s doing today. I’m not surprised that he’s a very talented and sought-after photographer. He always had a camera in his red vintage convertible. I also had no idea that he was a child actor in the 70s!
10. Dr. Esther Ngumbi– A woman who I have the pleasure of calling “sister.” Esther and I met through the Clinton Global Initiative as students who proposed social impact projects in our communities. I was in undergrad and she was a graduate student at the time. 10 years later, she is one of the world’s most accomplished scientists (an entomologist) and science communicators. The thing about Esther is she is so intensely passionate about science and community. Her passion and enthusiasm are genuine and absolutely contagious. About 4 years ago (maybe 5), she went through a science communication program through the Aspen Institute. She threw herself into scicomm as a way to expand her audience and grow more science enthusiasts globally. Her efforts have not gone unnoticed. What makes her one of my favorite science communicators is her unfettered passion for her subject matter. Sometimes when she speaks, you can visually see the energy pumping through her body. She is fueled by discovery and wants her audiences to feel equally exhilarated by curiosity and discovery. There doesn’t seem to be a platform for communication that she won’t try should the opportunity arise. Her science communication and her work are rooted in social impact and community empowerment. Recently awarded the AAAS 2021 Mani Bhaumik Award for Public Engagement with Science, I don’t think there is a way I could be more proud of a person if tried.
That’s my list! As I read these individuals and characters back, I realize that what they all have in common is passion and joy for their subject matter. They are all generous with their knowledge and actively seek to share beyond their immediate peer group. They are also lifelong learners. They also all are rather unique in their delivery and approach to the sharing of information. I think it’s important to remember that we are influenced throughout our lives, and it doesn’t matter what we ultimately decide to do for a career. If you want to be a science communicator or improve your science communication, don’t just look at other science communicators. Think back to the moments that inspired you to get to where you are today. Who were the people who imparted life lessons, told great stories, passed down oral traditions, made you want to learn or get involved? What was it about the way they spoke or shared information that motivated you to do a thing? Think about the techniques and traditions that are a part of your culture that may now be an unconscious part of your practice. These strategies may not be from science communicators as we define them more broadly, but what can you draw from them that will make you more effective and confident? Inspiration is everywhere!
Think about times when you saw beautiful poster design! Video games that showed a mastery of archaeological methods! Movies or tv shows where a character gracefully and accurately explained a STEM concept (that does happen)! STEM artwork that you love and help to show off the pride in what you do!
Also, I have learned just as much if not more from bad scicomm. What don’t you want to do? What made you roll your eyes or a PowerPoint that made your head hurt? Many of us might immediately think of bad teachers we’ve had or even presentations we gave that went so wrong! I know I have a few moments that I still cringe at, especially as I think back on some of my PowerPoint presentations. Maybe my next list will be bad scicomm examples. Hmmm…
Who are your scicomm faves- traditional or not? And why?