Saturday, July 31, 2010

Unscientific America - Thoughts about communication

In their book, Unscientific America: How scientific illiteracy threatens our future, Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum make the point that it is not so much that Americans are not knowledgeable about science but that there is a lack of communication between scientists and the general public. The book examines many of the reasons for this but in reading the book, it brought to mind the "Curse of Knowledge" from Made to Stick.

As scientists and engineers, we address all sides of a problem, considering the advantages and disadvantages and weighing their relative merits. This is vital, but once a decision has been made, one should consider simplifying things in order to more effectively communicate. To what extent one simplifies depends on the audience. In Chapter 5, Mooney and Kirshenbaum write about Preston Manning who distinguishes between "source-oriented communicators" and "receiver-oriented communicators". Don't communicate from your perspective but "think about the audience and how to reach it". Are you talking to other engineers, to engineering managers, to business leaders, to the general public? Each of these audiences will need a different presentation tailored to their perspective.

There is a difference between transmitting information and communication information.

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