For many science communicators, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted an issue that communication scholars have known about for a while now: A fact never beats an emotion. Or more scientifically, different people interpret “facts” differently based on personal, social, emotional and cultural factors.
When it comes to scary and overwhelming problems and situations for people like a global pandemic or considering whether to get a vaccine that you don’t know much about, fear and other emotions and values often rule the day. Communicating science related to these topics requires a lot of empathy, or imagining what emotions, concerns or experiences people might have that could affect how they interpret the scientific “facts.”
But what does empathy look like in the practice of science communication? Why and how can science communicators put themselves in others’ shoes when communicating about controversial or scary things? Reyhaneh Maktoufi answers these questions in a new Lifeology course, Empathy in Science Communication! View the flashcard course and hear from the author and illustrator below!
Behind the Scenes
By Reyhaneh Maktoufi
When I was a teen, Niloofar (Farsi for Lotus) and I would watch Lord of the Rings for the millionth time, wear our fake, DIY elven jewelry, and take LOTR quizzes. I remember on one of them, the question was, “If you are encountered by an orc, how would you react?” I obviously chose to react with the bow and arrow, as that was my weapon of choice at the time. But Niloofar chose the option, “I would offer them flowers.” Because that’s the kind of person Niloo is.
So, when I think of “ham-deli” (Farsi for empathy, literally meaning sharing a heart), Niloo is a friend who always comes to mind. My kind hobbit friend, who would love for the world to be less judgemental, more open, more listening, more caring and more loving. If I were to give her a gift (sorry Niloo, I can’t afford the “one ring”!), it would be to make a Niloo-inspired “How to be more empathetic 101.” That is what I’ve tried to do with this Lifeology course on Empathy in Science Communication.
We’d love to know how you might envision bringing more empathy into the practice of communicating science. Reach out and let us know, or tag us on Instagram @Lifeologyapp! You can also flex your empathetic science communication muscles with our August 2021 Lifeology Science Communication Challenge!