SciXchange is leading the way in improving science literacy

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By Aaliyah Dasoo

Launched in 2017, SciXchange is the centre for science communication, outreach and public engagement within Ryerson’s Faculty of Science. 

For the folks at SciXchange, building a network between professionals in STEM and in communication is the priority. In fact, according to its website, it’s “essential to developing a healthy and vibrant science culture in Canada.” The development of that culture is the push behind SciXchange’s first-ever SCICommTO conference.  

Emily Agard is the director of SciXchange and an associate professor at Ryerson. “We’re all about making science accessible and engaging to a wide range of people,” said Agard at the conference. 

 Science Communication, more commonly referred to as “scicomm” is a discipline that involves sharing scientific findings in an accessible way to audiences­—which leads to increased public engagement and more support of research.  

The conference highlighted science communication as implementing accessible language. It named scientific jargon—complex wording used by experts in a field that’s usually meaningless to outsiders—as one of the larger perpetrators of academic gatekeeping and misinformation. A slideshow presentation filled with technical terms is no help to audiences outside of the field.

According to a study from Ohio State University, jargon can disrupt an individual’s ability to understand a given scientific issue, even if the term is defined to the reader shortly after. 

Additionally, it made individuals participating in the study feel like they were less qualified to engage in scientific conversations, or unable to see themselves as a person who takes part in science.

“[Scicomm] really points out how extravagant we are in the science community with all these hard words”

“It really points out how extravagant we are in the science community with all these hard words,” she said.

Kamyar Razavi is a journalist and PhD student at Simon Fraser University who studies the best ways to communicate about climate change. On Global News’ podcast “Wait There’s More,” Razavi outlines the loss of interest jargon can cause for important issues, such as the climate crisis. Razavi points out that scientists need more of a strategy to grab an audience’s attention than just shovelling out facts. He adds that climate activist Greta Thunberg is a good example of this strategy. “She makes the climate crisis feel personal, she tells stories, she creates this clear villain…that to me is what really mobilizes her audience,” says Razavi.

A large part of SciXchange’s mission statement is the sharing of knowledge. To do so, knowing who makes up your audience is essential, and part of this means valuing their cultural background. They also acknowledge that the field of science has been largely and historically dominated by Western thought. 

Amber Sandy is a coordinator of Indigenous knowledge and outreach at SciXchange. She says her motivation for working with SciXchange is “to bridge the gap between Indigenous knowledge and western science and show that there are two ways of looking at the same thing.”

“Indigenous people have been living on this land since time immemorial, so, forever. We’ve had a lot of ways of living that are just inherently scientific,” she added. “It’s really important to share those things.” 

Leigh Paulseth, the enrichment and outreach coordinator at SciXchange also helped organize the conference. “There’s lots of great reasons to be involved in science communication,” said Paulseth. “We all kind of share a fundamental goal of wanting to be able to include everyone that wants to be part of this community.”

“[Jargon can] make sense when we’re in the field but people outside of that don’t quite understand. My general rule is to keep things simple, because simple is sexy!”

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