Finding the right words: A study of how and why we communicate our science with non-peers

Lesley Knoll and Peter Levi want to know how their fellow ecological scientists share knowledge about science outside peer groups. So Knoll, a director of research and education at Lacawac Sanctuary in Pennsylvania, and Levi, a postdoc at UW-Madison’s Center for Limnology, have created a survey. In this guest post, they explain the genesis of the project and how you can get involved.


Who are scientists communicating their science with and why? How are scientists communicating and are certain scientists more likely to communicate than others? Questions like these kept popping up among newly minted PhD’s at the most recent Ecological Dissertations in the Aquatic Sciences, or better known as Eco-DAS.

Children learn what zooplankton are, how to collect them, and the role zooplankton play in lake food webs from Leslie Knoll, director of research and education at Lacawac Sanctuary in July 2014. Credit, Jacob Setser Photography.

Kids learn what zooplankton are (mostly tiny, drifting water animals), how to collect them, and the role zooplankton play in lake food webs from Leslie Knoll, director of research and education at Lacawac Sanctuary in July 2014. Credit, Jacob Setser Photography.

During our time at the symposium in Hawaii, we chatted about the patterns of science communication – or lack thereof – among ourselves and our colleagues.  A group of us had discussions that extended into the evening and, with the help of Mai Tai’s and the Pacific Ocean, we began to come up with a plan. Though we are all aquatic scientists, our interests span the salty divide between freshwater and saltwater and all of us are interested in science communication. However, some of us were experienced and well-trained in communicating science with non-peer groups, while others learned with no guidance. We wondered how well our experiences reflected that of other scientists. Rather than muse about it endlessly, we decided to create a survey to find out!

And here we are today with a survey and seeking help. Our scientific research project explores science communication patterns, styles, and expectations of ecologists in various positons, including government agencies, non-profits, academia, and industry. Whether you communicate your science with individuals or groups regularly, occasionally, or not at all, we would greatly appreciate 10 minutes of your time to assess how and why we as ecologists engage (or not) with others about science.

To take the survey and for additional information on our research, please click here:

go to survey


Our study is being conducted through the University of Hawai’i along with the following collaborators: Stacy Baez (Old Dominion University), Lauren Garske (UC-Davis), Jennifer Griffiths (Stockholm University), Emily Henry (Oregon State University), Lesley Knoll (Lacawac Sanctuary), Kevin Rose (UW-Madison), and Adrienne Sponberg (ASLO) with funding support from NSF (OCE08-12838). For more information, please contact one or both of the principal investigators: Drs. Paul Kemp (paulkemp @ or Peter Levi (plevi @

Our research and recruitment materials were approved by UH-IRB on 07-JUN-2014.

Survey icon designed by Icons8 from the Noun Project

Author: Liza Lester

ESA's Communications Officer came on board in the fall of 2011 after a Mass Media Science and Engineering fellowship with AAAS and a doctorate in Molecular and Cellular Biology at the University of Washington.

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1 Comment

  1. I would not qualify as a “scientist” in the frame of reference of your survey and therefore would not “pollute” your data via my participation, I have to observe that e.g. a lot of the current innovations in e.g. aquaponics found on the net are from individuals who may have had academic training but most certainly mostly not in marine or aquatic ecology etc. Nor are these projects in any way connected with universities’ extension departments. Nor do they often quote scientific studies. Nor can I find studies cited much. (To compare: if you look at something like e.g. “migraine” you will generally see every sick person, every sick person’s relative and a lot of general health bloggers discussing the latest news, from CDC to WHO to university studies etc. Not so in aquaculture in general and aquaponics in particular. Now I keep wondering: is this because aquaponics etc. is not (yet) studied at universities (to the extent I believe it deserves) or else, are these guys particularly “uncommunicative”?

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