Monday, February 20, 2006

An attempt at communicating science to lay audience on a blog

Last night I wrote a long post on Circadiana about a new study linking Lithium, Circadian Clocks and Bipolar Disorder. I wrote that post while having fresh in my mind the recent discussions about the strategies that scientists can use to communicate their findings to the lay audience.

Thus, I tried to write that post, although it is about a paper that describes yet another little detail in the complexity of nitty-gritty details of the circadian clock, with lay audience in mind. This is what I tried to do, and you tell me if I succeeded or not, and if not, what I could have done better:

First, with the title and the first paragraph or two, I tried to hook the audience. People love diseases, so I put Bipolar Disorder right up front.

Then, I provided a little bit of historical background which also highlights some aspects of scientific method, specifically the differences in approach between the time when a new discipline just begins and later when the discipline is mature.

Next, I showed how two seemingly distant areas of research got connected to each other and briefly highlighted a couple of studies provoked by the realization of that connection.

Then, in order to be able to explain the new paper, I went all the way back to BIO101 and explained briefly how transcription and translation work. I covered only those aspects of it that are relevant to the main story, leaving much detail out. I tried to leave the specialized terminology out as well. Actually, those few terms that I used I tried to slyly slide in without drawing attention to the fact that those words are specialized scientific terms. First time I use a term, I use it in a colloquial manner (though correctly), and the second time I use it in a more conventional way, but with no fuss (and no italics or bold either). Do not scare people with language!

I then moved on to the description of the molecular mechanism of the mammalian circadian clock. Again, I only cover aspects of it that are essential for understanding the new research, leaving a lot of details out. I use the terminology I just explained in the preceeding paragraphs exactly in the way I used them there.

At the end of that portion of the post, I feel that the reader naturally comes to the correct question that needs to be asked (I am leading the reader there all along) and then show that the new paper addresses exactly that question. The paper itself is full of difficult detail. I omit all that and describe, in simplest possible terms, the main gist of the paper, and how it connects lithium to circadian clocks to Bipolar Disorder.

I placed a lot of pictures in the post that should help the reader visualize and understand what I am saying. I also provide links for people who want to learn more.

Let me know how YOU felt when reading that and if you think some aspects of the presentation can be improved and in what way.

Cross-posted on Science And Politics

Technorati Tag: teaching-carnival


Blogger gingerivers said...

I'm going to take some time and read it, the other one left me in the dark.

It sounds interesting, I'll let you know.

4:20 PM  
Blogger Sandra Porter said...

Overall, I liked the story.

Here's the (hopefully constructive) critique. One thing that always drove me crazy as a student (and still does) was the feeling that we always started everything over again from the beginning. No matter what we're learning we reset the clock (sorry bad joke!).

After awhile you start to wonder if the first two weeks in any undergraduate biology course are completely interchangeable.

I think there are quite a few people who get bored when they come somewhere to read about an interesting idea, but, before they get to it, they have to conquer a few dragons and wade through an endless swamp of introductory paragraphs on the very basics of DNA.

Okay, some people do need and want the beginner version. But others will simply leave.

My suggestion is for you to use anchors and links so that your readers have the option of skipping ahead in the text and bypassing all the intro stuff without having to scroll to find the part where things get interesting.

I'm not always good at this, but here's an example so you can see how it works.

Head, SHoulders, Knees, and Toes

Keep up with the interesting stories! I enjoyed learning about the biopolar connection.

4:46 PM  
Blogger gingerivers said...

I read this and it makes more sense than some of the articles that you have written. Thanks for taking the time to explain this.

10:18 AM  

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