Mike Morrison, aficionado of “making science user-friendly” and inventor of #betterposter, explains how increasing the accessibility and comprehensibility of publications can accelerate knowledge transfer.
Could you please introduce yourself?
I’m a PhD student in work psychology with a background (read: entire former life) in UX design and web development. I like trying to invent ways to help scientists share their knowledge with each other more efficiently.
What do you think about the way academic research findings are disseminated towards non-academic audiences?
Science is very good at discovering truth, but terrible at sharing it. It’s not even an issue with the public understanding science; right now they can’t even access it if they wanted to. Most science is paywalled and, worse, published in obscure PDF files that can’t be indexed well by search engines. When wonderful science translators make an effort to translate some science for the public (by creating pop press articles, blogs, videos, etc.), they’re doing an incredibly impactful thing. But we can’t manually translate every finding. Ultimately the primary publications themselves need to be more open and accessible by default. There are a lot of amazing people working on this problem, but progress is slow because of old traditions and biases.
Based on your experiences, and with the current younger researcher in mind, what would you wish you knew about research collaboration and dissemination of early research findings when you started your PhD?
I got disheartened early in graduate school when I learned how few readers most scientific publications have. Why spend 2 years writing a paper nobody will read? I wish I had known that while it’s maybe true that most science doesn’t have much of a reach by default, it is trivially easy to boost that reach with small additional efforts. A couple of tweets about a paper can dramatically boost its reach, and that just takes a few minutes! Add in a YouTube video summary or a guest blog article, and you’ve turned a paper that would have gotten 2 readers into one that reached thousands.
What’s your definition of scientific communication?
First, how discoverable a piece of science is. Second, how quickly it can be understood once discovered.