GSI Seminar Blog: Ayesha Tandon (Science Journalist at Carbon Brief)

Taken from GSI Seminar coordinator Daneen Cowling’s blog post 

Ayesha shared her insights and reflections from experience with climate change communication from a range of lenses. Her talk was interactive, thought provoking and was a great reflection exercise for academics to assess how we conduct our own communication.

As well as climate communication at Carbon Brief, Ayesha has also had science communication experience at governmental bodies (The Met Office), and in academia during her MSci Natural Science student at Exeter.

As lead science editor for the undergraduate STEM journal at Exeter University, Ayesha describe practices in academic models of communication, familiar to her academic audience. Highlighting how the audiences of scientific papers are confined to the same academic circles the authors are within. The specialist and technical language used in these papers to communicate ideas and arguments with accuracy, make them inaccessible to those without this knowledge – even if they have the want to be engaged.

Ayesha then went on to explain how the style, format and emphasis of science communication shifts outside of academia, in the cases of the Met Office and Carbon Brief. Both parallel in assumptions their readers do not get further than the first couple paragraphs of a piece. Ayesha explained the importance of “frontloading” – ensuring all key bits you want the reader to take in and go away with – are at the very start.

Also important to these communication outlets were use of graphics to explain the statistical results. In academia there is a responsibility to communicate results precisely, but as told by Ayesha’s experience at the Met Office and Carbon Brief; numbers are not well received by government and general public audiences. Instead, infographics are more engaging and accessible.

Ayesha shared some great examples of infographics, highlighting how informative they can be without the need for the full context. One example used were the ‘Climate Stripes’ by Ed Hawkins. This visualisation has been so impactful because it’s accessible – redundant of any text or numbers, the colours are universally understood.

 

Example of infographics used to communicate climate science. From l Met Office State of the UK climate 2019

Ayesha concluded her talk with key takeaways she’s gained from her climate communication experiences:

  • The pace and expectation of what’s achievable of these three institutes are different – media is rapid
  • Frontloading – pushing important information to the front with assumption reader will not get to the end of your piece
  • Social media can be useful for an accessible range of people – from academic to lay

“[Social media] will always be useful to invest in … to gain new audiences or inform your existing audience. It’s important as scientists we communicate our research .. if you don’t take any effort to try to communicate it to a lay audience you’ve missed out on the vast majority on the population.”

Ayesha Tandon, the importance of social media for science communication


This interesting talk was followed with an array of questions – keen to learn more from Ayeshas experiences to become better science communicators to non-academic audiences.

Questions from the audience:

  • How much interaction do you have with the scientist(s) who wrote the paper you’re doing a piece on?
  • It’s easier to get a lot of coverage on the bad news stories than the good news stories – we know what the problem is but we need to come together on the solutions, how can we push the positiveness?
  • What kind of papers were you covering for the government/what were they interested in for Met Office government briefing?
  • How do you communicate uncertainty in science to the public?
  • Do we really have to use emojis when communicating on twitter, if so which ones should we be using?
  • Is the increased speed of communication of climate the most effective way to communicate?

You can watch Ayesha’s Seminar and get her answers to the questions on the University of Exeter GSI YouTube playlist, here

If you would like to speak at a GSI seminar, please contact 

Date: 22/02/2021

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