Communicating complicated ideas to the public
On March 3, 2015, celebrated journalist and associate director of MIT’s Graduate Program in Science Writing Seth Mnookin joined Sanford-Burnham scientist Dr. Hudson Freeze, director of our Human Genetics Program, for a special lecture hosted at the Sanford Children’s Health Research Center.
Titled “Communicating Complicated Ideas to the Public: The Challenge of Conveying Accurate Information in a Hyper-Connected World,” the lecture was a rare opportunity for science communicators throughout San Diego’s research and biotech community to learn new strategies for communicating complicated and difficult-to-summarize scientific information to both the media as well as the public.
Mnookin, who featured Dr. Freeze’s research into a certain genetic mutation in a recent article for The New Yorker, is well versed in translating complicated scientific concepts into digestible, easy-to-follow stories. His book, The Panic Virus: The True Story Behind the Vaccine-Autism Controversy, was a major success in part because of his ability to take high-level science and share it in a clear, concise manner.
In his hour-long talk, Mnookin addressed the struggle many scientists feel when they try to properly represent research without sensationalizing claims to attract media and public interest as well as ways to combat misinformation. He gave useful tips on strategies to par down extremely complex scientific findings to match the audience they are speaking to, as well as how to gauge if your audience is successfully absorbing the material.
Mnookin’s unique insight into communications strategies for scientists drew a large crowd of attendees from all over the La Jolla Mesa and through videoconferencing from our Lake Nona campus who were eager to learn about better strategies for sharing their research with the public.