Not My Job: Why Scientists Should Also Be Communicators

This post is an excerpt taken from my upcoming online training resource: Science Communication Best Practices. It is based on work I completed in a MITACS supported Canadian Science Policy Fellowship with Environment and Climate Change Canada.


Not My Job: Why Scientists Should Also be Communicators

As a scientist, you may feel as though you have your hands full conducting your science, and that it is other peoples’ jobs to communicate about it. After all, your department, university or lab already has communication personnel, so why can’t they do it?

We’ve heard this comment before, and even though professional communicators possess a lot of knowledge about communication, there are very good reasons why every scientist should learn to communicate about their work. For example, studies have shown that people are less likely to trust information they receive about climate science if that information is shared by politicians or professional communicators, however, people will be more likely to trust the same information if it is shared by scientists themselves.

This blog post by Scientific American gives some compelling reasons why scientists should talk directly with the public, rather than going through intermediaries. It highlights the ways that the passion that scientists have for their work can inspire others, and gives resources for those people interested in becoming better science communicators. Furthermore, most scientists, including government scientists, are in roles that are mandated to serve the public. Public service means communicating your findings to others in ways that are accessible to everyone.

Flame Challenge 3
“Flame Challenge 3” by KGA Team 6th Grade is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Nobody understands your topic better than you do. You have spent years devoted to every nuance of your area of study. This means that a professional communicator can not do your topic justice the way you can. If they get questions for additional details, they may not be able to provide the best answer. On the other hand, you are able to provide responses to many possible questions because you know your topic so well. By taking the time to communicate your science directly, you are ensuring that people get access to the best information possible, because it comes from you.

Not My Job: Why Scientists Should Also Be Communicators

#Elxn43: Welcome to the jungle

Canadian political parties have indicated that they intend to use new digital methods to reach potential voters in the upcoming election, including the use of text messaging campaigns.

“Jungle Cupcakes” by DixieBelleCupcakeCafe is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Great idea, I mean what could go wrong? New. Innovative Digital Campaigning – woo!

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#Elxn43: Welcome to the jungle

It’s Not You, Or Me!

Pop quiz: What do climate change and social media privacy have in common?

“Stop Global Warming” by Piera Zuliani is licensed under CC BY-ND 4.0

If you said, “a distracting and inaccurate focus on individual actions” you’re correct! Congratulations! Pat yourself on the back and pour yourself a congratulatory beer, glass of wine, coffee, or soda.

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It’s Not You, Or Me!

Hello Shadow

Note: This post is for Laura, by request – hi Laura!

Note 2: This post is far more philosophical than I normally go, but I thought, what the heck, why not have fun with it?

“shadow” by mandaloo is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Your online Shadow.

Everyone has one. Even if you take care to not use platforms like Facebook, it’s highly likely that you have a shadow profile following you around the internet.

Platforms like Facebook and Google do it best. They collect all the data you and your friends or colleagues give them when you use their free services (But Google maps is SO CONVENIENT!) and they combine that with collected data about the other sites you visit (even after you log out) or where you’re logging in from, or whether you’re on a mobile device or a computer. They combine all of this data, and start to make predictions about you, which are either confirmed or adjusted depending on your online habits, and the habits of those you are connected to. This is precisely why so many people think their phones are secretly listening to them – and then delivering ads based on something they said. Your phone is not listening to you. It’s more troubling than that. Your shadow profile has revealed your secrets (she’s not very discrete!).

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Hello Shadow

Unintended Consequences

Researchers at MIT, who are at the forefront of autonomous vehicle technology, have noticed that paradoxically when a little bit of assistive technology is added to a car, drivers become less safe. In other words, when people feel like technology is behind they wheel they are more likely to be more distracted drivers and thus many of the autonomous technologies that are intended to make people more safe actually do the opposite.

This is a classic unintended consequence of technology, like the ones described by Edward Tenner in his 1997 book Why Things Bite BackTo combat this issue, the smart folks at MIT decided to put a human facing camera in a vehicle, which would look for distracted driving and compensate accordingly, as seen in this YouTube video. Rather than asking, what are the social and psychological reasons that drive people to engage in distracted driving, so that these reasons might be minimized, instead the best solution was determined to be adding another layer of technological assistance to the issue. Technology to solve the problem created by technology.

A screen capture from the MIT Human-Centered Autonomous Vehicle demo video, available from



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Unintended Consequences

AI in the Canadian Government: The Immigration Edition

Over the last two years or so, the Canadian Government has been openly exploring the issue of how some government processes, such as the processing of lower risk or routine immigration files can be made more efficient through the use of AI (machine learning) algorithmic processes.

The good news is that the adoption of these systems has so far been guided by a digital framework which includes making the processes and software open by default whenever possible. These guidelines hint at a transparency that is necessary to mitigate algorithmic bias.

Input Creativity
“Input Creativity” by Row Zero – Simon Williamson is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0

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AI in the Canadian Government: The Immigration Edition

AI security hits a Canadian University: Proceed with Caution

I usually only post to this blog once per week, but a news story caught my eye today since it concerns my sector (higher education), my country (Canada) and my passion (technology critique).

Mount Royal University: Image from

Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta is going to be the first organization in Canada to install an AI system for the purposes of security. This system consists of a network of cameras and a machine learning algorithm that spends the first few weeks learning what “normal” movement looks like on campus, then uses that baseline to detect if there might be a security issue. Deviations from normal in this case, signal a potential “threat” or at least an event worth looking into. As described by the Vice-President, Securities management in a recent CBC article:

“when that pattern breaks, what it does, that screen comes to life and it shows the people in the security office where the pattern is now different and then it’s up to a human being to decide what to do about it,”

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AI security hits a Canadian University: Proceed with Caution

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing

The beginning of knowledge
“The beginning of knowledge” by dvidal.lorente is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

The Dunning-Kruger effect refers to a type of cognitive bias in which people assess their own knowledge of a topic or subject area as being greater than it actually is. Psychologists note that it tends to occur frequently in those people with a small amount of knowledge on a topic. In other words, it takes a certain amount of knowledge before we can actually know how little we know.

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A little knowledge is a dangerous thing

This Week In Tech News: Orwellian Doublethink

The last week has been filled with announcements from big tech firms:

Facebook tells us “the future is private“.

Google tells us they’re “here to help“.

Amazon tell us it’s a friend to small businesses.

"War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery Ignorance is Strength"  by Nney is licensed under  CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
“War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery Ignorance is Strength” by Nney is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

In developers’ conferences and earnings calls, the biggest of the big tech companies are trying to develop unique value propositions that paint them as friendly, responsive, and attuned to the needs of their customers. Then the mainstream technology media (often overworked, understaffed and reliant on the good graces of big tech for continued access to stories), generally reports these messages at face value. News in the last week focused on Facebook’s pivot toward community groups, Google’s exciting universal translator or Amazon’s claim that small and medium sized business partners made on average 90K last year through their platform.

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This Week In Tech News: Orwellian Doublethink