Thursday, December 5, 2013

Relatedness in action in science practice

Although these days I spend a lot of time writing in a theoretical way about relationship-centered approaches to science and engagement (in short, explicitly recognizing the importance of relationships between people in science), I am, first and foremost, a practitioner and most interested in just doing good work every day. To that end, I am trying to spend time recognizing work that I think of as "relatedness in action" -- even though the people doing it might not primarily see it that way -- both to make the topic less abstract and to help myself continue to work pragmatically.

One great example of a related approach to science communication is one the best things I've read this year -- a piece called "Pregnant Pause," written by science journalist Hilary Rosner. In the article, she describes her experience of being inundated with, and often overwhelmed by, conflicting information about pregnancy, and how difficult it became to distinguish good information from bad. Then she says: "Suddenly, I began to understand something else: exactly how — and why — so many people opt to ignore the looming threat of climate change." The thing I love about this piece of work is that it is truly, from my perspective, an example of compassion in action. Rosner takes her own experience and uses it to gain insight into a group of people that she might not otherwise identify with.

Another example of relatedness in action that I came across recently is a blog post by marine biologist Ayana Elizabeth Johnson called "Ask: What do you want your ocean to look like? Then listen" in the NatGeo blogs. I am really interested in listening as a science communication and engagement practice, and her description of her work in a community-based process with fishermen is an inspiring example of how a curiosity-driven listening practice can lead to pragmatic science-based outcomes.

Both of these pieces of work speak to me about the potential of more explicitly recognizing the role of relationships between people in science and communication. In each case, through connections made with others, whether internally or externally, insights emerge in unexpected ways.

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  1. Thank you Faith. You touch on exactly the issues that I experience with climate change and with science communication more broadly: this crucial need for us scientists to examine our own humanness and to use that to understand each other and other humans. It's so easy for a scientist to think that the scientific method is the *only* model s/he needs to pay homage to when moving through his/her professional life (or even his/her entire life), but models for relating to the world that are more holistic, including those with loving-kindness or mindfulness practices, seem much more useful toward both goals (good science, good life). Thank you for yet another thought-provoking post!

  2. Thank you for reading - I'm always really glad to hear that what I've written resonates with other scientists and practitioners. As you say, there are so many "ways of knowing" about the world, science is obviously one key way that those of us that pursued this work are interested in, but so many others become important as you move through your life and career. Thank you for taking the time to comment - much appreciated.