Charles Basenga Kiyanda

Dissecting Scientific Communication

I’m trying to do this in a kind of scientific manner, writing my thoughts in a logical manner, formulating questions and actually trying to find answers. First, I need to mention that, for the purposes of this discussion, scientific communication is both communication between scientists as well as the dialogue between scientists and “lay-people” or non-scientists. I don’t quite know how to say this in a politically correct fashion. In the second category, I should really also include communication between scientists that have no idea what each other is doing. Already, we can identify one way to classify scientific communication. Let’s call this

  •  technical communication: between people who both know what’s going on
  • everyday communication: between someone who knows and someone who doesn’t

We could probably add another category, something like “third party communication” in which case all the people taking part in the discussion have no idea what’s going on and they’re discussing someone else’s science.

Another way to characterize communication could be by a mode of delivery:

  • synchronous communication: I have to listen while you’re talking (e.g. conference talk, tv program)
  • asynchronous communication: You speak and I listen whenever I want (e.g. journal paper, documentary on dvd)

We can also classify communication by the parties involved:

  • one-to-one communication:  like a meeting between a student and his supervisor
  • one-to-many: like many of the conference talks you see. We ask questions, but seriously, how much discussion takes place?
  • many-to-many: think of a group meeting.

and for completeness

  • many-to-one: really I can’t think of an example on the top of my head right now. I guess it’s not that useful.

One could also characterize communication based on how much information is being transmitted, information quantity. So different types of information have different characteristics.

Scientific (Peer-Reviewed) Journal papers = technical, asynchronous, one-to-many, large quantity communication

Conference Proceeding = technical, asynchronous, one-to-many, small quantity

Conference Talk = technical, synchronous, (mostly) one-to-many, (often ridiculously) small quantity

Large Public (Non Peer-Reviewed) Journal article (like national geographic or what is often referred to as vulgarization publications, although I hate the term vulgariztion) =  everyday, asynchronous, one-to-many, medium quantity

Group Meeting = technical, synchronous, many-to-many, small to medium quantity

Hallway discussion = ….

You get my drift. So at this point, we have different technologies that enable different mediums for communication (some listed above), we also have different communication intents. The question then becomes “What is the most appropriate medium for a particular content, given a particular intent?”

And with this, it’s too late for me and I’m going to bed.

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