A few weeks ago, in a course that I’m taking, we did some fantastic and thoroughly entertaining games to practice communication, and had an excellent discussion about why it is important to communicate science with the general public in addition to our fields through journals and conferences.
Communication with our field is vitally important. This is how ideas are shared and science grows.
Communication with the general public is vitally important. It helps the insights gained from our research reach and impact those who can actually do something with it. It also helps Mom understand what we do all the time. And Mom wants to know what we do all the time.
There is a 3rd community with whom we need to be constantly communicating and sharing our work: scientists in other disciplines. There was an article in Scientific American last year discussing just that: (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/communicating-science-to-the-publicand-to-other-scientists/) and another blog post for this course which inspired this blog post (http://blogs.lt.vt.edu/professpath/2015/11/02/communicating-science-to-two-different-audiences/)
In our focuses on the first two communities for communication, we need to remember this third community. One of the best methods for scientific advancement comes from applying techniques commonly used in one field to a problem in another discipline. The Lorenz attractor, a canonical problem in chaos and dynamical systems, came from attempts to model atmospheric convection in a meteorology department. There was an article last month entitled “Why mathematical biology is good for mathematics” (http://www.ams.org/notices/201510/rnoti-p1172.pdf) that discusses how science has stimulated many areas of growth in mathematics. By sharing our ideas with scientists in other disciplines, not only do we allow for more uses of our tools, we often find new problems to grow our own field. Interdisciplinary research is not just something that Universities are doing because it gets them funding. Interdisciplinary research is essential for the development of science.
Assume my research provides an interesting tool that you could use on yours. By sharing with you, I gain new applications for my research and you gain new tools to look at problems you’ve been thinking about for a long time. This is the obvious result of interdisciplinary research. However, there is another key impact at play here: by testing the limits of my tools on your research, it allows my research to grow. This is one aspect that Michael Reed’s article discusses: The problem of the planets created the discipline of dynamical systems. The heat, wave, and Maxwell’s equations drove the development of partial differential equations. By drawing the comparison to the way physics has impacted mathematics, he opens our eyes to the potential, and much of the past, of the ways that biology can impact the field of mathematics.
It is essential to share our science, and not just for the sake of getting it out there so that others may hear it. It is essential that we share our science so that, with new perspectives, our science itself may grow.