Science Communications in a Crisis: An Insider's Guide
Science Communications in a Crisis: An Insider's Guide by Christopher Reddy, marine chemist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), identifies the principal challenges that scientists face during an environmental disaster when communicating with different stakeholder groups, and offers advice on how to navigate the maze of competing interests and deliver actionable science when the clock is ticking. The book draws on Reddy’s decades of experience and offers his hard-won advice from the front lines of environmental disasters.
Through multiple high-profile case studies including the Deepwater Horizon and North Cape oil spills, and the 2021 Sri Lanka shipping disaster, Reddy unpacks ten specific challenges scientists face when interfacing with the public and the media. “My aim for writing this guide is not to explain how to ace an interview or craft a sound bite, but rather to offer a clear pathway to effective and collaborative communication when multiple groups are involved,” Reddy said. “There are the responders, people affected by the event, the media, policymakers, industry, concerned citizens, and organizations; each category has its own goals, needs, and challenges, which scientists must understand in order to navigate them.” As Reddy outlines, if a scientist’s goal is to deliver content and expertise to the people who need it, then other stakeholder groups—the media, the government, industry—need to be considered as partners to collaborate with to solve problems.
As the planet faces increasingly frequent and devastating climate disasters, with the ever-present risk of another pandemic, and as the spread of misinformation is turbocharged by Artificial Intelligence, it is imperative that experts deliver trustworthy and actionable information.
According to Reddy, “while you may not be an oceanographer or a chemist, the communication challenges that I’ve faced can be lessons to anyone called on to provide an expert perspective. In communicating science with the outside world, we can share our unique, often first-hand expertise in a way that resonates and helps people understand what has happened, and what is at stake. A crisis can be a disaster, but it can also be an opportunity to close a knowledge gap.” illustrations by Natalie Renier, Riley Orlando.
Book cover design: Natalie Renier, Riley Orlando / ®Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution