Communicating science is difficult. We were told to tell exciting stories around our scientific discoveries – and it is certainly true that a good story can be far more memorable and engaging than simply reciting facts. But we should keep in mind that in some cases our attempts to make simple and persuasive communications cannot harm our efforts to build trust, inform and support people in making decisions based on the data generated or the research results obtained.
In a comment article from Nature, Michael Blastland and colleagues tackled this issue. Here, the authors provide guidance how to design communications that do not lead people to a particular decision, but help them to understand what is known about a topic and how to make up their own minds on the basis of that evidence. In their view, it is important to be clear about motivations, present experiments and data sets transparently and clearly, and share sources.
This article neatly explains five rules for evidence communication and provides some validation from the group’s research to support these recommendations. The five rules are:
1. Inform, not persuade
2. Offer balance, not false balance
3. Disclose uncertainties
4. State evidence quality
5. Inoculate against misinformation
The authors conclude that trust is crucial. Always aiming to ‘sell the science’ doesn’t help the scientific process or the scientific community in the long run, just as it doesn’t help people (patients, the public or policymakers) to make informed decisions in the short term.