It occurs to me that a blog about "STEM communication" ought to provide something of a rundown of what STEM actually is, so here goes:
“STEM” is something of a buzzword (buzz acronym?) in the educational milieu. It stands for “Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.” STEM communication, then, is the presentation (via articles, videoclips, press releases, podcasts, TED Talks, etc.) of the research, findings, histories, and understandings making up each of these expansive and ever-developing fields.
STEM communication usually refers to efforts and techniques to communicate technical, dense, scientific material produced by experts in STEM fields to non-experts. That is the intention of this very blog, though some of the research we look forward to featuring here may well focus on STEM communication by and for experts in the fields of science and communication (and the juncture at which they meet); that is why much of what we will feature here will take the form of peer-reviewed journal articles—a gold standard of science communication among experts, but not designed to be perused by a general audience.
Even though STEM communication is largely understood as the communication of science to non-science audiences, a more holistic understanding is that STEM communication is the circulation of scientific information through the whole body of the system: it's scientists speaking to other scientists, scientists publishing in journals, foundations collaborating with scientists, journals disseminating science to members of the public (and those passing it along to other public arenas), scientists communicating with the media, and the media passing science along to the public—and all the other combinations of these stakeholders imaginable. As with any complex system, breakdowns can and do occur.
STEM and communication can go rather cheerfully hand-in-hand, though the gulf that may rise up between them has been the source of myriad problems in recent years. Perhaps the most concerning of these is the burgeoning scourge of misinformation (rapidly and widely—if ignorantly—disseminated falsehoods) and disinformation (a more sinisterly intentional spreading of false information). Misinformation and disinformation are hardly unique to scientific communication, but they do pose unique challenges to this field. Speculations and rank falsities about COVID-19’s origins, transmissibility, severity, and treatment have been even more rampant than the virus, resulting in widespread distrust of experts, disregarding of public health guidelines, and distortion of perceptions about science and its practitioners around the world. Other scientific fields—notably environmental sciences—have similar stories. These stories are a particularly poignant reminder that STEM communication is vital to a society that depends, for so much, on the developments arising from the science, technology, engineering, and math fields around the world.
Natasha (Strydhorst) Unsworth
is a first-year doctoral student at Texas Tech University’s College of Media & Communication. Her research is focused on science communication—specifically the factors contributing to and consequences associated with science illiteracy.