Small step for scientists, large leap for science communication

It’s said that many hands make light work, but could that be true for science communication too? In an opinion piece in PNAS that came out last week (Kuehne and Olden 2015 ), we propose that lay summaries – published online alongside traditional abstracts – are an efficient and needed science communication option in a changing media landscape. Communication of research is undergoing radical and rapid change through ever-increasing reliance on the internet, resulting in a shift from traditional top-down knowledge transfers to a “media ecosystem” (see figure below). Within this ecosystem, widespread adoption of lay summaries could substantially bolster current science communication efforts by creating reliable and direct pathways between scientists and diverse audiences including journalists, policymakers, resource managers, and the general public. We argue that it wouldn’t hurt interdisciplinary communication between scientists either! PNAS 2015 Mar 112(12) 3585-6, Fig. 1

Although lay summaries should enhance science communication across all disciplines, the need for broadly accessible research results is paramount in ecology and the environment. So we are taking this opportunity to urge journal editors and publishers in these fields to provide the platform for publication and incorporate requirement of lay summaries into their peer-review process.  If you support the inclusion of online lay summaries we hope that you’ll join us in signing an open letter to major ecology and environmental journals which will be sent on April 10th.


Lauren Kuehne and Julian Olden

University of Washington School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences


2 thoughts on “Small step for scientists, large leap for science communication

  1. A lay summary would work better than handing over everything to the public relations department.

    As an example, my curation
    of a study
    from Harvard showed that the PR people who issued the press release included numerous speculations that weren’t in the study. The PR people needed to send their workup back to the researchers for fact checks before issuing it.

    The news media didn’t help clarify things in this particular instance. Printing the press release was the extent of the news coverage of this study that I saw.

    • Thanks for making a great point – and one which comes up for me against the argument that scientists don’t have the necessary skills in broad communication to write effectively for lay audiences. Lay summaries aren’t about grabbing attention, which is more the point of a press release, and (in my opinion) probably less prone to overstating significance of a single research study. Also, who can write more accurately (and efficiently) about their own research than authors themselves? I’ve written blogs and summaries of both my own and other’s research, and it takes far less time to write about research that I already know inside-and-out than to become familiar with another study, and then have to run it by the author for accuracy. Thanks for commenting!

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