I missed this excellent post by Dr. Vincent Racaniello when it appeared on his Zika Diaries blog last Friday: Communicating Zika. It should be required reading for every researcher. Excerpt:
Recently I was fortunate to interview David Quammen, author of Spillover, at Boston University’s National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL). On the way back to our hotel we noticed that the taxi driver had a podcast app on his car’s dashboard. We suggested that he might want to listen to This Week in Virology, to which he answered 'not today', a response that summarizes the difficulties in explaining science to individuals who are not interested in the subject.
Later that evening, Quammen delivered a talk at Boston University entitled 'Scary Viruses in a Globalized World: Telling the Story." All of us science-communicators have a great deal to learn from David’s approach to explaining our field. During his talk he gave some advice to those interested in communicating science to the general public.
People want to read about people. They want human stories, even if you are talking about scary viruses. Who is that poor man trying to escape from the Ebola treatment unit? Narrative is essential, and a mystery story is even better. Communicating about emerging infectious diseases fits this requirement perfectly, because every one is a mystery to be solved.
Dial down precision, and never compromise on accuracy. You can’t deliver high precision to the general public: they don’t have the attention or background, but you absolutely must be accurate.