This post is inspired by a conversation I had with my friend Emily, a science illustrator and blogger over at Walkabout Em. Unlike me, Emily is an extrovert and has a very different perspective on how to educate and inspire people to behave more responsibly.
Saving the Planet, Emily-Style
Emily: I got home the other day and had a choice between tuning out to the latest episode of Desperate Housewives or watching a new documentary on national parks. The documentary had great footage, a pretty illustrated cover.
Jennifer: You watch Desperate Housewives? Really? Really?
Emily: [ignoring my outburst] You know me, I’m science-y and care about climate change. But I was tired and really just wanted something that my brain could flat line to, and I’ve been watching Desperate Housewives and following the stories of these women for four years. It’s a social thing — it has a narrative, character development, good storytelling. People are drawn to stories about characters they care about, not straight science.
Jennifer: Uh…I must be a sucky human. I don’t need stories or people with my facts. I read mostly non-fiction. I’m OK reading straight science.
Emily: Right, but most people respond to stories. And that’s where we’ve missed a huge opportunity to educate people about climate change and sustainability: by integrating it into the narratives and characters they already care about. Instead of product placement, we could do science placement, and use narrative storytelling to promote positive, doable choices.
Jennifer: So, kind of like brainwashing?
Emily: Well, the media already has a major effect on how we behave as a society. I read this study during a media studies class about a town with a huge gun problem that was tied to the idea of masculinity. Instead of banning or finger wagging or anything, the town started a program that offered money for guns that were turned in. It also produced a soap opera in which guns were for weak men, men who couldn’t defend themselves in any other way. Positive reinforcement plus monetary reward…they collected a lot of guns. It’s also pretty exciting when a bestseller takes a stand. In The Hunger Games, one of the traits of the antagonist is overconsumption.
Jennifer: Wonder how that will affect the teens who read it?
Emily: Right. We need people to be emotionally invested in these ideas. It’s not enough just to tell them, or to guilt trip or attempt to scare into action — if I have to watch another documentary about cute polar bears that we’re in the process of destroying, I’m going to scream. The problem is that there’s no budget for science communication, and without the money, the quality of the work just isn’t there. We can’t fund major projects or attract top stars. That’s my beef — there’s just no funding.
Jennifer: Whoa. I think you should guest blog about this.
Emily is actively canvassing, heckling, and cold-calling in the name of funding science communication, and I think she’s totally on to something about the social aspect of effecting change and educating the masses. (Surprised this never occurred to me? Don’t be. I don’t even watch TV, that’s how far out of the loop I am.) I hate to admit it, but maybe peer pressure works better than rationality.
If you’re interested in supporting science communication, Emily offers you these links to check out:
- Guild of Natural Science Illustrators
- COPUS Project
- National Association of Science Writers
- Society of Environmental Journalists
And in the meantime, I’m busy thinking about how I can be a better science communicator (without being a scientist myself). Is science communication through media something you could get behind? What do you think of effecting change through storytelling?
Photo credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center