How to Effect Societal Change: Working with the Media & Public
28
September

By Adem Lewis / in , , /


Good afternoon, everyone. I’m Diana Royce, Managing Director and CEO of AllerGen NCE inc, the Allergy Genes and Environment Network, which is hosted at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. I’m pleased to extend a very warm welcome to each of the 70 registrants participating in today’s webinar. So, welcome everyone! It’s now my pleasure to introduce today’s presenters, Brett Finlay and Marie-Claire Arrieta. Brett Finlay is Peter Wall Distinguished Professor and a professor in the Michael Smith Laboratories, in Microbiology and Immunology and in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of British Columbia. He’s co-founder of a number of biotech companies and founding director and senior fellow of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research’s program in Humans and the Microbiome. He’s a world leader in understanding how microbes cause disease, in understanding the role of the microbiota in human health, and in developing new tools for fighting infections. He’s been studying microbes for over 30 years and has published over 450 articles. He’s an officer of the Order of British Columbia and of the Order of Canada–the highest civilian recognition for Canadians. Marie-Claire Arrieta trained in the Finlay Lab at UBC and is now assistant professor in the Departments of Physiology and Pharmacology and of Pediatrics at the University of Calgary. She’s been studying intestinal microbiology and immunology for the past 10 years. Brett and Marie-Claire collaborated with others on a breakthrough study in the Finlay Lab in 2015, that connected asthma risk in infants to the absence of key intestinal bacterial species: a finding that attracted international media attention. They also co-authored the book “Let them Eat Dirt,” published in September 2016, in which they make cutting-edge science accessible to parents about the importance of exposing children to microbes in order to give them a healthier start in life. Brett and Marie- Claire kindly offered to share with us today what they’ve learned through their experiences in communicating their research to the media and in writing about science for the general public. We look forward to their insights and advice. Welcome, Brett and Marie-Claire, and take it away! Thank you. Welcome – it’s Brett. When we were asked to do this I think we thought it would be fun because Claire and I are in different points of our scientific career and we’ve been on this journey together. So what the plan is today: we don’t have a huge presentation; we thought we wanted to keep it simple, and really encourage questions. So initially I’ll start out and discuss the concept of developing your scientific message that you’d like to get across . One of the most common ways is dealing with the press, so we’ll talk about how you you work with the media on getting a message out, and then Claire will do social media and spearhead the discussion on “do you really want to write a book or not,” which has been a very interesting journey, and then we’ll close up with how we actually translate the message to affect change in society. I’m going to start with a scientific message, because that’s where it all begins, and this has to be a very compelling message; if you’re going to really try and broadcast it, it really does need to appeal to people, so you have to think a lot about how you’re going to craft it and what that message is going to be. It definitely needs to be a progression in our knowledge; ideally, a larger leap, and you need to think a lot about this: you know, “why should people want to know this?” Is there any reason? Can it improve their life eventually? etc., and how that might actually work. The other thing is that you don’t want to oversell yourself, and you see it many times: someone discovers a gene and the headlines are “a new cure for…” whatever that disease the gene caused is underway… The press do a magnificent job of extrapolating and it’s tricky to balance. They are going to do this, but I think you still need to put the design forward based on what it is and a big key is explaining why this message is really important to the world. Why should people care? Why does the person on the street need to know about this. You have to uncouple what you’re excited about scientifically, as a really neat little finding that is scientifically very fun, from something that actually might mean something to the average person, because you have to remember that most people are not scientists and if you’re going to try and convince them they should pay attention to this, you need a compelling message. Another thing you have to think about, and what you’re going to get asked about a lot, is that you may have a terrific idea but if its going to take millions of dollars to implement it’s just never going to happen. So you have to have seen the path forward, and sort of mapped that out to generally: “how this is actually going to come to the average person?” How could it affect your lives and what it’s going to take to get there? You spend a lot of time figuring, crafting this message out, and it’s not just about reading the title of the paper that you’ve published, it’s really crafting it to something that the average person can understand. Once you’ve got your message together, then you need to get that message out and one of the most obvious ways is to talk to the press. May we go to the next slide? Once you have a message, the most obvious way is you go to the press. This is by far the biggest way to disseminate information, or at least it used to be until social media came along, and this plays a major part in your message. I think Claire and I we’ve done several hundred– two, three hundred–interview. There’s least couple hundred on on our hasthma work and then similar numbers on the book; so, you are going to be busy when you do this. So you take that message: it has got to be concise; it can’t you can’t take 15 minutes to explain to the average person what it means. Ideally, one liner, one sentence type thing. What is the message. So that necessitates… it has to be fairly simple. You can’t be complex; you can’t use complex scientific jargon. We all realize as scientists it’s coming from a very complex finding, but somehow that has to be distilled into analogies and language that everyone knows. Ideally you can provide examples the average person can comprehend and you can use language that doesn’t require a specialist and that’s really important. You see many scientists, they call a big press release, and then they read the title of paper and the abstract that they published and people are sort of “huh?” and that just doesn’t go anywhere with the press. You should be very enthusiastic about this; if you’re not enthusiastic about your work no one else is going to be. But the trick is of course (and one of my biggest problems) you get too excited and you start to speak fast and nerves play a role if you’re in front of national TV, etc, so you want to pace yourself and moderate that. I’ve always thought it’s good to be on good terms with the reporter. They will smile and nod at you as you’re talking, whether they understand you or not is another story, but try and develop a rapport with them and that’s actually important because they will come back to you if you are a good interviewee, and they will use you, and that’s important in the future. Sometimes you’re absolutely gobsmacked by how silly a question might actually seem if this is supposedly a science reporter but remember that these people are covering many different things and they come from many different backgrounds; many from the arts, and so they’re not scientists. A good way to handle that is to twist that around and actually bring it back to your message and get you back on track. Some interviewers will have their own agenda and you need to push back on that politely but really try and get it central to the message you’re trying to get across. What you can’t do is ask to see everything before it always goes out for accuracy but I find that most reporters are quite willing to send you a draft as long as you say you’re going to check it for accuracy; you’re not going to edit; it you can’t change much of the wording. You have to realize they’re going to go with what they’ve written, but I think as a scientist it’s always good to check for the accuracy and make sure that what they’re saying is scientifically accurate, because we certainly found that things can get really twisted and they can say things that aren’t scientifically accurate and it’s your job to then to ideally catch that before before it goes out. The other thing to realize is that it’s always an adventure, and they see things differently and sometimes they they will call a headline; they’ll talk about a “killer virus” when they’re talking about a bacterium, and so you have to realize this is part of dealing with them. But another thing that isn’t on the slide, just a helpful hint, is that each University has a public affairs office; these people are terrific for getting the word out and if you are thinking of getting a message out there certainly a terrific people to to line things up. They can line up interviews on TV, radio, etc and do all that. Then the final thing is that if it is a big press release you need to book some time off. It’s going to be absolutely crazily busy and these reporters are on tight time deadlines and you’re going to be talking to them at all hours of the day and night. Claire and I have done I’m interviews anywhere from 4 am to midnight because there’re different time zones in the world and its going to come fast and furious if the word gets out and you’re going to kept very busy doing that. So that’s generally talking to the press. I think i’ll turn it over to Claire; she can take over with social media. Thanks, Brett and welcome everyone. Like Brett was saying, I think the neat thing about pairing me and Brett here is the fact that I bring a very different perspective as someone a lot more junior that than he is, and someone just starting to get used to the the activities of knowledge translation to the public. I wanted to talk about just talking to the people. Brett was saying the importance of sending different messages around talking to the press, but that may not happen for the different studies that people are involved in simply because not all studies make it to that level, and also because talking to people in general helps you polish that message that you want to carry. We should definitely do it; I think scientists carry an important message and society in general maybe lacking that message that we carry and our point of view on on different issues. I think the first thing is to practice and I cannot stress enough how important it is to practice your concept especially when when you’re like me and you’re just starting and itmay be your first few times carrying your message with the general public and outside of our comfort zone which is conferences and talking to our peers at work. So how do you do that? I mean you can definitely do it with your peers at work, but many of them are not going to tell you that you’re using jargon simply because that just becomes part of your lexicon. But practice with with non-scientists. This is really important. In my case I am married to a non-scientist, so I try to do that but I definitely encourage people to deal with people that are non-scientists. Now public talks, if you can arrange for one, are a great avenue. There’s museums, there’s science centers, even schools, that would literally jump at the opportunity for you to go and talk about something that you think would be of interest and it would be a great opportunity for you as well to really bring down the language. It’s actually terribly hard at the beginning, when one is used to speaking at a very scientific level, so so I think this is a great way of doing that. But I think nowadays nothing works better than using social media and I plug here Twitter, Facebook and Reddit, but there’s definitely more avenues of doing that and it can be done with your personal account, just to encourage a discussion with with contacts that you already have, but I definitely encourage, if you have a topic that you think would be of interest to the public in your work, or someone else’s work (it is important to include there), to generate a topic-specific page, if it’s Facebook or Twitter or a topic in Reddit, to engage people that way. It’s super useful; you get points of view that you were not counting on and right now it is the best and most efficient way to get your message around. Some of the points that Brett was making earlier about being careful with your message and not to extrapolate it and not necessarily to get terribly excited there, are equally important here, as well. Another way that that you can transmit your message is to write a book. Should you write a book? I remember these were some of the things that Brett and I talked about when we looked at the possibility. We thought, first of all, we have an interesting message. At that point I knew a lot of moms and dads of young children, and I had practiced my message with them and most of them said “You know what? Yeah, Ithink there’s interest, so, yeah, write a book.” Maybe. Talk about it. Do you have an audience? And make sure that you think there’s enough people that would be interested this. The second huge one is: Do you have the time? Writing a book, and I will explain a little bit in the next slide about the process of writing a book, but this is an extremely consuming process. In the case of Brett, he took a sabbatical pretty much to write this, just because of how long it took. In my case, I pretty much didn’t sleep for four or five months to do that, so it’s an extremely time-consuming process. Will you make money? The short answer is “no,” unless you’re extremely lucky; even people that write marvelous, brilliant books do not make money out of it; I think it’s more of a lottery than anything else. So you shouldn’t be doing it for the economic benefit. But importantly, if you are thinking about writing a book– because we just went through this process, we thought it would be useful to explain how publishing happens. We didn’t know from the very beginning. So you start with an idea. Again, do you think it’s good? Have you tried it out and have you exposed other people to your idea? Do they think that it is a great idea? And importantly you should practice this message with someone that has written a book before, which is something that we did. Not necessarily a science book, but it was a law professor that had written a successful book before and he explained how this works. The first thing that you do when you think “okay, I have a good enough message” is that you write a chapter; you write your best chapter, usually an introductory chapter; something that is going to summarize your main message, and you do it in the most eloquent way possible, and you take the time to do this right, because it is with this first summary or chapter that you’re going to try and get a literary agent. We didn’t know that these people existed before until we tried this, but the way this works– in most cases, good literary agents do not receive unreferenced, or do not receive proposals or a chapter from anyone; usually they have to be recommended by either another agent or by someone that has written a book before, so it’s kind of tricky. And that’s why you should contact someone that has written a book before. After that, this agent or group of agents is really going to to coach you through the process of writing a book proposal, and a book proposal needs to be really really polished, and it’s pretty much a document where you’re asking different publishing companies to do that: to publish you. You have to be very compelling. It will not only include the chapter that you wrote, that of course the agent would have helped you to improve, but everything from a small market study, just to convince them that you think this book would be popular enough to be published. It’s really important to dedicate the time to write a really good proposal. Then it’s where the waiting game starts. You wait for the literary agents to do their job, and literally this process actually happens in a very similar way that it has happened for decades. Many of these agents would actually travel to literary houses, like in New York and London, to talk with other agents from publishing companies, to try and sell your idea. So this takes weeks or months or, if you’re lucky, maybe less than that, and then hopefully you get one or more publishing companies that are interested in you. After that you you sign a publishing contract and this process takes a few months, from from start to finish. And then that is when you start writing your book. I mean, this is the classic way of publishing a book in the current publishing environment. There’s other people that self-publish. We were strongly encouraged not to do that, because it’s hard enough to be successful when you have a professional publishing company behind you; it would be almost impossible to become successful when when you self- publish, although it has happened in very rare occasions. So this is A to Z how to publish a book, and after you’re done, after months of doing the writing, then the book becomes public and you hope that its well received after that. It is of course a great way to carry a message because you know that people will contact you to do interviews, to talk about your topic. if you have a book, you’ll be able to say “I want to talk about this book,” and then book a public talk, but of course it all depends on whether you have a pretty strong message and that you can convince a company to be behind you for publishing. So with that I’m going to turn it back to Brett, who is going to wrap this up. Thanks, Claire, that’s a nice summary of the various ways you can start to get your message out, but the question is why are you getting message out? Well, the idea is you actually want to cause a change in how society functions, ideally, and you want to improve society. This is where, I think, over the years I’ve found this remarkably difficult and extremely complex. Yes, you may have the best invention since whatever, but getting it adopted to use is actually very very difficult, and I think as a scientist it’s what we we find all the time. We may have what we feel is the solution, but even if you have the solution getting it into practice is extremely difficult. Something I was involved in many years ago was developing a cow vaccine for e coli o157; cows carry it; they contaminate the environment through hamburger and water and then kids get sick, and we’d basically developed a successful vaccine that worked very nicely in cows. “There’s no such thing out there.” I thought we were done, and little did I realize that no, indeed. For example, thefarmers wanted nothing to do with it because they say “Well, o157 doesn’t cause disease in cows; it’s a kid’s disease,” and then the FDA and the USDA for three years fought over who should actually regulate it, because it was an animal vaccine for a human disease; they couldn’t figure that out. And the food irradiators said, “Well, we already have a solution: we can radiate food,” and ironically it was about a 20 year process and, I hate to say it, but at the end of it, it was unsuccessful–even though we showed that if you vaccinated every cow in Canada you would save 200 million dollars in in health care costs, not counting deaths and everything. So it’s very complex, and there’s many things you never even dream up as a scientist being involved in it. Another trick is that you’re going to have to enlist a lot of help, from policy people, for example, and governments etc. etc. Just to give you one example, the CIFAR program I’m involved in: what has happened is medical schools have now taken microbiology out of the medical school curriculum in North America and so we’re trying to say, well, can we actually change this, because we now realize how important microbiology is, the microbiome, etc., and so we’re meeting with all the Deans and Medical Schools; we’re looking at all sorts of different ways of enacting this change and it’s taking a phenomenal amount of work and I honestly don’t know if it will be successful or not, but we think it’s important. So often you need a policy change, and the trick with getting a policy change, whether a change in government policy or a change in corporate policy, is you have got to find the people that actually make these changes, and that’s your foot in the door to actually get convincing them this actually needs to be done. You will need to work with government at all levels, and agencies at all levels, so municipal, provincial and federal governments all need to be in the loop. And what you rapidly realize is that each of these don’t talk to each other and even within the government Health Canada doesn’t talk to Agriculture Canada, etcetera, and there’s these different silos. You have to somehow get them all united and working together. Now a major reason why you’ve done all this “get your message out” work previously is that it really helps if people have already heard this message, and this really resonates; if they hear it again they realize this is actually “oh yeah, I heard something on the news the other day about this” and I think that all the news that’s going on with microbiome these dayshas certainly increased the willingness of various people to actually sit down and think about it and listen about potential changes in there. You’ve got to know what this is going to cost. Like I said, it maybe a great idea but it may cost a fortune: it will never get adopted. We knew with the cow vaccine, it had to be less than five dollars a dose or this just was a no-go. So you’ve got to do the cost-benefit analysis owhat you’re asking them to do and ideally show how some government or company or whatever would save a lot of money doing it. You’ve got to know the competition;food radiation vs cow vaccine as an example. You have to know the competing areas, you really have to put forward a very compelling case, and it has to be really compelling–even more compelling than you initially might think it needs to be–to to push it over the edge; to actually get things happening. Finally, to finish it up, you’ve got to be in it for the long haul. Thi is going to take a long time and there’s going to be setbacks but you have to try and get over them. And it can often take 10 plus years from when it’s so obvious it should be implemented to when it is, and much like drug development etc, it takes a long time. So with that I think we’re just on time to close this off and I think I’ll turn it over to Diana or whoever it is whose going to handle the questions. Terrific; thank you very much, Brett and Marie-Claire for that introduction to the fine art of celebrity science! You’ve offered us some valuable tips and cautionary tales about representing science in the media limelight and writing a research-based bestseller. It’s now time to open the floor to questions from our attendees. I’m going to kick off with a question that’s on my mind. It’s really quite remarkable to see the tenacity and the perseverance and the learnings that you have shared with us toda,y and to think that you had 300 or so press interviews around the scientific paper and almost as many around the book, and you were working midnights and and not sleeping too much, by the sound of it. This must be stressful, and how do you manage that stress? Because you said you want to come across very confident and calm. What is the secret? Is it the preparation? Did you have speaking notes that you all shared with each other and referred to as a foundation? How did you deal with that part of it? Well, I think you can answer that first… you should answer that, Claire. You made some really good points, Diana. Practice–especially my case; Brett was a lot more experienced in talking to the general public before I started; so, practice: I knew that there were interviews coming; I didn’t have the questions, of course, they were going to ask me but I could guess which ones they were going to be, so especially for the first one I actually fleshed out my answers in written form and I practiced them before. And that became really useful, especially for for radio interviews where I had to be there and of course I couldn’t have my notes, and especially for TV interviews because I had done a little practice before. It is stressful, for sure, but it’s also thrilling and as a scientist I know, in my case, this was the first and it may be the last opportunity that I will have to to share my type of research with that kind of platform, so it was thrilling, it was so so exciting, and so I would say that I enjoyed parts of that stress. Maybe I can add a little bit to that. It gets easier the more you do it. Of course, the first on,e you’re quite nervous for, but you actually get quite a bit better at it as you go along. And the other thing is that once you’ve done two or three, you realize the questions are going to be pretty similar and you sort of start to develop ..if you’re doing a lot of them you try and remember what you said to each one because they kind of blend into each other. With the book, “Let Them Eat Dirt,” nine out of ten will start off to say: “so, should our kids eat dirt?” You know this is going to come and it comes a lot and that was not the point of the book; the point of the book, of course, was allow kids to get early microbial exposure to a help in all sorts of things. So you get better than that. Time management is huge, and like I say you are going to be busy and I think Claire would not argue any which way about that; but on the other hand, I think Claire agrees too that it’s a really important service that scientists should do; I mean, we get paid by the taxpayers to actually, you know, play in the lab, really, and I think it’s our duty to translate things as they come along and let people know what their taxpayer dollars are actually funding. I think it’s a very important part of being a scientist. Well, thank you very much; so I’m just going to summarize the key messages here: Do some brainstorming to prepare for the potential questions you might be asked in advance, and think about the answers. Practice makes perfect; the more you do it the better you get at it. Maybe keep a list of the kind of questions you have been asked as a strategy for preparing to be asked those same questions in the future. And then, managing your time well, so that you are ready and relaxed and focused when you can do that. So those are terrific tips and Marshall now indicates to me that we do have some questions from our web listeners. Marshall. Thank you. They’re all written so I’ll read them out, and the first person to ask is Kriti Chanchanda and the question is “Could you provide a specific example of how one might redirect an irrelevant question during a media interview back to the topic?” I think that the example was “let them eat dirt.” So an interviewer will ask you, “so your books says a kid should eat dirt.” They obviously hadn’t read the book as nowhere in the book do we actually say that; so you say, “well… no,” you sort of jokingly say, “well, you know, a good title would not be “let them eat the microbes that happen to be within the dirt in the playground,” you say that, “you know, the main message of the book is that there’s microbes in the environment, including dirt, and it’s really important for them be exposed to these types of microbes,” and so that’s how you bend it around. They will often say rather audacious things and that’s okay because you can use that as a stepping platform to bring it back around. As Claire said, you really have to know what your key message is and you have to treat each question as an opportunity to put it to what your message is. Politicians are absolute masters at this; well, they’re actually masters are avoiding answering the question, but they have a good way of… you’ll hear the question being answered and you will realize that they have taken it way away from what the actual question was. You say “well, that’s a really good question,” and then you go far from it. So it happens, but usually it’s not too intentional; usually it’s really, to be honest, the naivety of the reporter on the subject matter, and they’re just trying to get their foot in the door. So you can help them by educating a bit about what you’re talking about and then steer back to message. I would only add to that, like Brett is saying, it’s really important to set that message straight, so in a way those questions that are not necessarily well directed or not well framed are a great opportunity to do that, and you could just say, in the case of “let them eat dirt,” we get asked that question quite a bit we have to encourage people to go beyond the title of the book; that is not the message of the book, and then continue. So you can actually use them and almost leverage those questions to set the message straight. Next question comes from Janet Bang, who asks: “Do you have advice on how to balance allocating time to knowledge translation activities and your own research and academic responsibilities?” As a senior person, I don’t have to be chained to the bench and doing an actual experiment, so it’s probably easier for me than a young investigator, and I see it as part of my job, but I’m sure the lab will admit that when these things are happening that they don’t see a lot of me; and the other thing is, they get really tired of TV cameras coming into the lab and setting up: “oh, we won’t be in the way, honest,” and they set up in the middle of the lab, turn the lights off, tell no one to come into the lab, and they want these frame shots… so it is disruptive on the lab, and I tell the lab: “well guys it’s important to do thi; you can see yourself on the National, and it’s also important to show that scientists just aren’t geeks who wear white coats; we’re actually doing something useful.” Balance is tricky, and it all gets back, just like everything in science, to time management. But on the other hand I think if you’re successful in getting the message out, you’re even actually helping other scientists; you know, improving the environment for realizing science funding is actually useful and you get good things out of it. And scientists, like everyone else, we watch the news and I know I quite enjoy watching the National, if there’s some some person explaining one of their interesting findings. I may not have seen that paper or found out about it. So I just see it as part of it, and you do have to balance it; but I think if you’re a younger person–I’ll let Claire handle that–I think it’s even trickier. I was going to address exactly that. I wish I could say that that it’s easy and that in an eight or nine or ten hour working day you’ll be able to do both, but if you’re on the bench or if you have to get your job done and on top of that you may have interviews, or you may have a speaking engagement, it usually never falls in your schedule in a way that you can you can easily divide your time up. You’re usually doing this on top of what your ongoing duties are. Papers also need to get published and work needs to get done, and you still need to attend your meetings if you want to pursue your career, but the way I see knowledge translation is something that, at least in my experience, I have done in addition to the work that is required. So it is busy, but it’s terribly necessary and it is very satisfactory as well. So I would do it all over again. Next question is from Michelle Harkness, who asks “which media outlets do you feel had the greatest impact on getting your message out to a large audience?” We were fortunate with the book; we had a very good press agent, so we actually were even on Good Morning America; but I think from the traditional press–and Claire can talk social media–with traditional press, it’s the big journals–BBC, The Times, The Guardian, The Wall Street Journa,l NPR, PBS… the sound bites on local radio stations I don’t think gets so much press; it’s the big ones. The NPR, for example, where you have an hour-long interview that goes nationally; those have major impacts; you actually see bumps in the sales; immediately following those things, there is major bump in sales. After I did The Current with Anna Maria Tremonti, there was huge interest. I think all of Canada listens to that program… It’s directly proportional to the size of the media outlet, how much the message gets out. Claire, you want to tackle social media? For social media, and it’s very linked to what you were saying, you have your social media accounts, or hopefully your topic-specific media accounts, you really want to work on any interview that has been done with you, and of course the bigger the better, and lin either their Facebook page, if it was CBC with Anna Maria Tremonti’s program, or BBC News, or The Guardian, or whatever, and link it to that everywhere, and share it as much as you can. The bigger the outlet the better. Next is a question from Josephine Lim, who asks “How would you suggest making basic neuroscience research interesting to media or a lay audience?” Maybe I’ll take a stab at that, Claire. First, if it was me standing in front of reporter and I had this basic neuroscience research, I would immediately say, “well, there’s X number neurons in your brain and these things are all firing as you’re interviewing me, and the brain is really this untapped… we really don’t understand how the brain works yet, and just like everything you need to understand how things work before you can do anything about it.” And then I would sort of twist a message around that: how important it is to understand to how basically the brain works, because that is then going to allow us to work with it and ideally repair it or fix it, and I would try and use an analogy, like a car: if you’re staring the outside of a car, and you have no idea how it works and itwon’t start, you’re done. Yet if you definitely understand how the engine works, and the drivetrain works and everything, you can then go in and start to probe it; but you can’t do that unless you understand it in the first place. So I think there there there still is a lot of room for convincing people that you need to understand things before you can actually do something with it, and I think as a society we tend to be in haste, and then we say “well, Alzheimer’s such a big problem; we have to fix it.” Well, we don’t quite understand it yet, so how are we going to do that–and the first step is, of course, understanding it. So I would twist it that way to convince them how important this really is. That was brilliant, just doing that in an improv fashion, Brett. But there’s a method to this, and I’ve been researching a little bit more on that; on how to make a message that is complicated relevant and this all falls into the realm of science communication. There’s great free available tutorials or information on science communication, but there’s also great resources in courses as well. “Beakerhead” is a great Canadian-based outlet that teaches some of these courses, and you can attend workshops on that, but it all all has to do with simplifying; learning ways and strategies to simplify the message and make it relevant to the person that is listening to it. Next we have a question from Valerie Grand-Maison, who asks: “What kind of visual material did you find the most useful in sharing your message with the public?” I would say the simpler the better. Definitely forget about science ways of communicating either data or messages in the form of graphs; that’s completely out of the question. Infographics are great; a single picture is great. I find that that people responded really well to the art design of our book cover. It’s super simple but the combination of the phrase, let them eat dirt, with the bacteria lead people to ask us questions just with that simple message. Trying to summarize the messages of the book into an infographic was a great effort, especially artistically, but it has been really well received. So I would say, avoid signs, avoid data and just keep it simple, and use a professional artist to do that if you can unless you’re very very artistically inclined. I would add to that: you’re right, Claire, simpler is better. Lose the power points; you’re not going to stand up and give show your facts plots or whatever, and frankly I think the most powerful thing I have is: I don’t use anything; I use my hands, and I try to think of analogies that I can actually explain in common sense terms that really don’t require any major images or any kind of complex graph. Presenting graphs and things to the public immediately turns them off. You want to keep it simple. You want to keep it so you can actually explain how something works, as Claire said, the simpler the better, because it makes comprehension of your message so much easier. That’s it for the current questions from the audience so, Diana, I’ll turn it back toyou. Terrific, thank you Brett and Marie-Claire. At AllerGen we work with a lot of scientists who aren’t that experienced necessarily, and also their trainees, and they’re not necessarily experienced writing for a lay audience or doing media interviews, and there’s some resistance to what they perceive to be “dumbing down” their results, and they don’t want to have to translate it into those lay concepts, those lay analogies, that you’ve identified. Did you experience that yourself: your first instinct to be completely true to the scientific evidence that you spent many many years discovering; how would you convince someone who is sitting across from you with those kinds of reservations about engaging in this kind of activity? How did you find that you kept the scientific integrity and yet came up with those lay messages that were memorable and portable and meaningful? If I can start first, I would say that’s a great question and I also think there’s an art, or even a method to that. Staying true to the science behind it is as important as carrying the message to everyone in a way that everyone can understand. If you if you start changing your message and moving it away from the truth that you just found through your research, that’s really going to affect your credibility as a researcher and, of course, any other possible opportunity to take it to to the public audience. So I think you can do both, and you have to be careful. One of the ways that you can do that is, of course, making it available, and then some of the techniques that Brett just showed in his example with with brain science would be applicable here, but at the end, it is really important to say we don’t know the whole story; we haven’t considered there’s another possibility also in a message that anyone can understand. I think that’s one of the things that we do in common practice as scientists: consider other possibilities in order to to disprove a hypothesis. So you can definitely use the same method with the general public, and in fact some people said of our book: “well, you guys kept saying that you don’t know the whole story; you guys kept saying that other things were possible,” and that’s part of the reality of, in this case, writing a book that is research-based. You have to take those into account. It’s a tough line to walk; it’s a very tough line to walk and I think initially is in graduate school you start out presenting your data at other scientists you stay very true to the science; you’re talking to the specialists. But when I took my job, I realized I didn’t have a clue how to talk to the media and I actually took training courses on exactly that; like, how do you do this, and then thought a lot about it. I think you start small. You can start with initial, smaller public talks; the little kids’ school, as Claire suggested, or there’s lots of local University and local radio stations that would love to just sit down and chat about your work. And you can start to figure this out. I strongly believe it’s an important part of being a scientist because if you only talk to specialists, that’s the only people who are going to hear about your work, and the average person does not read Science or Nature, let alone Journal of Neurosciences, for example. And you’re not going to get the messages out and I think that’s bad, because I think we have to convince the world that every day we we open up more in our knowledge, and this is what the scientific process is doing, and this is ideally improving our world. Otherwise I think that people say, “well why should we fund science? They never talk to us; they sit in their ivory tower and they never actually- they don’t interface with our world,” and they will see you as strange and estranged, and they will have no desire to support funding for science. So I think it’s process you have to ease yourself into it. You can’t jump in the deep-end. And educate yourself. But I think if you would like other people, other than your peers, colleagues, to understand what you’re doing, you do need to think about branching out in terms of your public outreach. Thank you. So the takeaways there are: good science communicators are not born, they’re made through professional commitment to acquiring those skills, and a good strateg is start small and work your way up, and practice, practice, practice. Are there any additional questions? Yes, one more question has come in; I think to some extent you’ve addressed the core purpose of the question, but I’ll read it nonetheless, in case you have something to add. The question comes from Nina Lantinga who asks: “How would you recommend creating an incentive for scientists to contribute their knowledge and write research summaries and other types of content to be used on a website dedicated to parents and clinicians?” I would say in terms of incentives that I don’t know of any that are working right now that I can think of. I do know that the people that usually run and operate these sources, whether they’re blogs or magazines: they’re usually pretty open to well-intentioned email that outlines exactly what your messages is,, and many of them, especially blogs, the smaller ones, they are constantly looking for for people to contribute in the form of a small summary. So I know that they’re usually well-received, even if you just do it by yourself, not through an agent, and I’ve experienced that. I don’t know if you can think of anything else, Brett? One thing I would say is when we wrote “Let Them Eat Dirt,” Claire built a really excellent website and on there… one of the questions we always get is “what about probiotics?” and, as most people know, that’s a rather complex question, and there’s actually some really nice summary studies out evaluating all the clinical and efficacies of potential probiotics, and so now you can just refer them to that. And we’ve also posted all the lectures and the press that around this, and this is turning into actually a very useful public resource. So I don’t know if you need incentives to do it; I mean, the incentive should be “let’s get the word out.” We’re finding new things; people should know about this. I’m sure even AllerGen has a public face that could be used to promote work within AllerGen; they do it quite extensively. So I’m not sure you need incentives. I think as a scientist, why are you doing science? It’s not just so you can learn something and not tell anyone else. Most scientists are ideological; they would like to actually improve the world we live in, and this is a way of doing it. If you figure out a way to prove it, you might as well tell people; otherwise there’s no point in doing it. Are there any additional questions from our webinar audience? That covers it for the moment; there are some expressions of gratitude, I should let you know, but no other questions at the moment. Do we have time for one more short question? I would think so; we’ve got about nine minutes. Perfect. So, Brett and Marie-Claire, you alluded, in responding to some earlier questions, that just look at the politicians, they’re masters of redirecting questions to the messages that they want to get out, regardless of what is asked. When you were preparing yourself for the media onslaught that you experienced, were there particular people, whether they were scientists, or news figures, or public figures, that you watched with respect and learned from? All the good strategies that you’ve identified and developed yourself; were there people or were there particular models, whether you found them in books or whatever, that really helped you in terms of telling you what it should look like to be effective in this domain area, or showed you what it looked like to be effective? Well, the one that comes to mind, Diana, was actually a book that I read to prepare for a TEDx talk that I was invited to do; the book is called TED TALKS, and it’s of course applicable for a 20 or 30 minute talk, but it really is about how to spell your message out and that was a great resource and I would strongly recommend that book. I think that I learned a lot from that book. I read it too and I was a terrific book, and Claire’s right, that’s a great place to start and then, I mean, we all watch the news and we all pay attention. Next time you watch the news, figure out who’s presenting their point well and who isn’t, and look and what=they’re doing and why are they doing it. The web is full of resources on this, and you don’t have to be a Winston Churchill orator to get your message across, but i think if you see a scientist and they’re reading their abstract in front of the TV, you’re going to turn turn it off as well, and so that’s one lesson. So, it’s an acquired life of lessons; it’s the more you do it the better you get, and you also start to realize if there’s any tricks; or you’ll hear a really good speaker: “so why was that a good speaker? Oh, this is what they did,” for example, and so it’s it’s a skill that you keep honing and you will always keep honing as long as you’re in this business. But i think its a skill well worth developing. Well, it’s now approaching 2 p.m. and I would like to thank Brett and Marie-Claire for this extremely informative session. Thanks also to all of our webinar participants for attending and for your thoughtful questions and contributions to the discussion.


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