Richard Green’s Adventures in Science Communication

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Birds

The inaugural essay for our Adventures in Science Communication project is from Richard Green, a guest writer and one of the curators for our facebook pages. He speaks to what he learned during some short on-line conversations. Sometimes it is little things that leave a lasting impression.

A reminder to check out our project and group directory if you’d like to get involved with some of our communities such as Science Media Skepti-Forum on Facebook.


When I was working in the pharmaceutical industry, I often gave presentations and conducted training courses. That style of communication works well when everyone shares a common purpose and goal. It is quite different when you engage in the wilds of the Internet.

It took me a long time to interact on facebook beyond my circle of friends, but when I did there were some early interactions that really shaped my approach. These are not big or flashy examples, but some of the small things that have stuck with me.

I was fortunate enough to find GMO Skepti-Forum in the later part of 2013. One of the first exchanges I remember was participating in this Mark Lynas thread on labeling. I learned some great lessons in that discussion. First, that it is possible for people who disagree on aspects of an issue to have a civil discussion. And then, even if the arguments are not enough to change ones views, such discussions are a crucible for refining your ideas. What I’m trying to say is that participating, instead of only following, really helped me clarify my own position.

The next lesson that really stuck with me was about making assumptions. My memory on this is a bit hazy, but what I learned made an impression. I was on a vaccine page, when a comment was made. I wish I could remember the specifics, but as I recall, it came off a bit aggressive and might have been open to interpretation as anti-vaccine. While I was drafting a neutral response with some vaccine data, a couple of other people chimed in with anti-vax accusations. As I was posting my response, I could see that the commenter had taken umbrage at being labeled an anti-vaxer and indicated that they were just looking for information. That appeared to be the case. We had a couple of exchanges. They then left the discussion saying they appreciated what I had shared and were going think a bit more about their stance on vaccines. I felt like I’d made a difference, and I learned not to jump to conclusions, but to give someone the benefit of the doubt.

My final small adventure was in the Vaccine Information Awareness group. I had made a post wondering about people who support vaccines but would skip the flu shot. A comment came in that directly addressed my post with a list of reasons for why they were not getting the flu shot. I decided to take a chance and present those reasons back to them using a hypothetical scenario with a different perspective. It is a bit long to include but you can find the whole exchange here. Essentially, I stated that I couldn’t really imagine a case where not getting the recommended flu shot makes sense because:

  • Who can afford to miss work?
  • You never know if you are going to be the person who is going to develop serious complications (from the flu), so why take the chance?
  • Who would want to transmit the virus to a loved one or someone else in their community when there is at least a chance to prevent it?

The tactic was successful. That change in perspective and the other data provided in the thread was enough for them to change their mind on the flu shot. Sometimes coming at the topic from a different angle can open new ways of thinking.

These small interactions have made a big impact on me. I try to keep these lessons in mind as I participate in discussions across the interwebs, engage on topics that catch my interest, reserve judgment as first impressions might be wrong, and to change up the approach. It is not just about providing links to facts and data, it is also how you present them.

If you would like to share your experience in science communication or your views on GMOs with us at Skepti-Forum please see our prior posts: here for Adventures in Science Communication and here for GMO Perspectives.
Photo Credit: Richard Green