Help us learn! Ten minutes for better science communication

I really don’t know that much about ducks. And what I know, I’ve learned in the past year from the faculty and student researchers on this project. So, why am I here? (And maybe more importantly: What do I want from you?)

***Spoiler alert: I’m interested in science communication and I want you to take a survey.***

I’m interested in how people acquire and use information, particularly in rural contexts. When I found out that this ongoing project was interested in doing more communication, I was eager to participate. It’s not exactly cutting edge to say that people are changing the way they get their information, but what goes less noticed is that these changes mean we need to understand new ways and methods about getting information out to people.

Science communication is a great example. In the past, the way a lot of science communication happened would be that a reporter would learn about a topic from researchers or a public relations agent. That reporter would do interviews and use her training and skills to try to present the information in a way that most of the public could understand. We could argue about how well this was done — scientists usually thought the info was too “dumbed-down” and the public often thought it was too hard to understand — but it was a system we had down pretty well.

But, the days of the reporter or media as a gatekeeper or translator in between scientists and the public are looking farther and farther away all the time. Why? Part of it is the change in media consumption habits — basically people like getting information from social media, not “the news.” Another part of it is the specialization trend in journalism — there aren’t as many local reporters covering science locally. Instead, they are often at science-only national or international media outlets.

So, I think we have two options: 1) Admit that we will have less information about science in the public; or 2) help scientists learn to better communicate with the public directly in the ways they get their information. I’m clearly for Option 2. I personally think people are interested in science, particularly when that science relates to them where they live and work. I think having access to information is essential for keeping our society healthy. And I think this is a great possibility: Scientists can completely control the information that gets out about their work, helping to make sure it is accurate and complete.

Last season, we made some efforts to see if we could start working on this with undergraduate science researchers. Beyond all the hard work of gathering reliable data, the students this year also took time to communicate about the project, science, ducks and conservation through the Real Duck Tails website (, a Facebook account (Real Duck Tails) and a Twitter account (@realducktails). Like all first efforts, it was a learning experience, but I think we made a lot of good progress and picked up an excellent collection of followers.

But just like we need to use the duck data to assess and measure the population and nesting. We need to gather data to assess and measure how the science communication is going. That’s where you come in: We need people to take a short survey about ducks, duck nesting and some related topics. We need both people who actively followed our efforts and people who have never heard of us. This data will help us assess how we’re doing and provide a starting benchmark for assessing our future efforts.

The survey is fairly short and you can be a duck novice like me and still provide us valuable insight. Please help us out and follow this link to the survey.

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