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 Communicate Your Science: Engaging Public Audiences with Acoustics
Allison B. Coffin
   Science without communication is silent. We study acoustics. Let’s make some noise!
Nothing generates excitement like sound! From the iconic guitar riffs in Led Zeppelin’s famous song “Stairway to Heaven” (see to birds energetically sing- ing (way too early in the morning) outside my bedroom window, nonscientists can relate to acoustics. Many of us entered the field because we love music, a passion evident at the jam sessions that accompany many meet- ings of the Acoustical Society of America (ASA). Science communication enables us to share that enthusiasm with nontechnical audiences.
The goal of this article is to introduce fundamental ideas in science communication and resources for further exploration. The National Academies of Science, Engi- neering, and Medicine (2017, pp. 1-2) define science communication as “the exchange of information or view- points to achieve a goal or objective such as fostering greater understanding of science and scientific methods or gaining greater insight into diverse public views and concerns about the science related to a contentious issue.” This article largely holds to this definition, with a focus on the exchange (communication is not one way) and the goals or objectives that can be as diverse as the com- munication medium and audiences.
I focus primarily on verbal communication, formal and informal presentations for nonexpert stakeholder groups. I draw from both published work around the science of science communication and my own expe- rience as a communicator and leader of Science Talk (see, a professional society for science communicators. However, the principles discussed here apply to many settings, including multimedia commu- nications. For more focused information on multimedia
communication, I highly recommend the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) multimedia toolkit (available at I also
recommend the website “Discovery of Sound in the Sea” (DOSITS; see The DOSITS site is one of the best examples I have seen of online acoustics commu- nication and serves as an excellent model for websites on other acoustics topics.
Why Communicate?
Scientists generally cite one or more common reasons for wanting to communicate (Burns et al., 2003; Simis et al., 2016). We communicate to stimulate public understand- ing of science, including the process and the end result, our data. We communicate to increase public support for science. We communicate so our findings can influence policy, such as testifying at a hearing about anthropo- genic sound regulations and whale migration. We also communicate for more deeply personal reasons: to excite future scientists and to see how our work can make a difference in society.
These latter reasons are particularly important for early-career scientists. Graduate school is often a lonely endeavor, and as students dive deeply into the minutiae of their thesis research, it can be easy to lose sight of why the research matters. Taking time for communication and outreach activities can reenergize students, helping them reignite their passion for research and reminding them why their work matters (Bartel et al., 2019).
Creating opportunities for science communication also directly aligns with the ASA goals to increase diversity in acoustics fields. More than 50% of STEM students of color say they want their work to advance positive social change (Block, 2020). Communicating research impacts is critical to enacting the social change that these students seek.
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    12 Acoustics Today • Winter 2021 | Volume 17, issue 4

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