I am asked quite a number of questions when I’m on the road and as you might expect, most deal with germs. But every now and then, someone wonders exactly how to come up with inventive ways to communicate science.
One answer I like to give is…
Dr. Asimov opened the door to widespread scientific communication through his wonderful writings. He also sparked imaginations worldwide bringing science closer to the individual.
During his tenure on this Earth, he wrote numerous essays on the topic of writing and creativity yet one of his most important for anyone interested in communicating science was written in 1959. It was for the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, better known as DARPA. It was simply titled…
The essay itself wasn’t released until 2014 and so I read it partly as an after thought as I was already well into my tenure as a science communicator. But as I read it, I found some parallels between his words and the work I was doing. Some of these passages included:
“A person willing to fly in the face of reason, authority, and common sense must be a person of considerable self-assurance. Since he occurs only rarely, he must seem eccentric (in at least that respect) to the rest of us. A person eccentric in one respect is often eccentric in others.
Consequently, the person who is most likely to get new ideas is a person of good background in the field of interest and one who is unconventional in his habits. (To be a crackpot is not, however, enough in itself.)”
This represents the base for anyone interested in science communication. Rather than following standard routes, taking an unconventional – or, as my blog’s name suggests, mercurial – route can bring about both awareness and in some cases action on the part of the audience.
“My feeling is that as far as creativity is concerned, isolation is required. The creative person is, in any case, continually working at it. His mind is shuffling his information at all times, even when he is not conscious of it.”
When I am in the process of developing those parallels, I do it alone. I have tried numerous times to work with others but as Asimov says,
“The presence of others can only inhibit this process, since creation is embarrassing. For every new good idea you have, there are a hundred, ten thousand foolish ones, which you naturally do not care to display.”
It’s absolutely true. Most of my ideas simply do not fit the goal and are tossed aside. Though this may seem unproductive, as a researcher, it’s all part of the process. In the lab, the same trial and error is used to find the right hypothesis, the best experimental design, the most telling band or fluorescence marker, and of course, the most appropriate journal to publish the results.
All scientists go through these motions though I find few seem to realize how the actions of their vocation form the foundation for creativity. By giving oneself the chance to explore, that ability to find what works can arise.
I’ve only quoted a few passages from Asimov’s essay. I would truly recommend reading the entirety as it is a gripping read especially for anyone who has wanted to make a move towards the creative. He also uses the word sinecure in the most fascinating context.
You can find Dr. Asimov’s essay by clicking the link below:
If you happen to be a science communicator, or are interested in giving it a try, let me know if the words in the essay ring true.