The Flint water crisis has caused all sorts of reflections on citizen science practice; this blog, from Scientific American, examines the broad range of science communication that attempts to make dialogue between public and (professional) scientists a two-way street. –Chris
Comedian Lily Tomlin once asked, “Why is it when we talk to God we’re said to be praying, but when God talks to us, we’re schizophrenic?”
So I ask: Why is it when scientists talk to the public, they’re said to be communicating, but when the public talks to scientists, they are crazy to think scientists will listen?
Traditional lessons on science communication address only one half of the possible exchange between scientists and the public. Neil deGrasse Tyson, for example, advises young scientists to develop their writing skills if they want to be effective science communicators. Alan Alda, the actor who also has a passion for explaining science suggests that scientists should practice story-telling and bring in strong feelings and emotions, channeling their inner ordinary person rather than their hyper-rational mindset as a scientist.
Its excellent advice, but what about the crazy half? Scientists should also practice listening to the public. Communication is a two-way street, so why should scientists turn a deaf ear to the people they are communicating with?
Case in point. The Flint Water Study, a citizen science project run by faculty and their students at Virginia Tech. Residents in Flint can follow a simple protocol to collect tap water in their home, ship it to Virginia Tech, and receive results about the water chemistry, including the concentration of lead, if present.