Flu season, afternoon snacks, your evening workout. It’s easy to forget that science is everywhere. It’s no longer in the hands of a few people, either. Every blog, tumblr, and Twitter handle communicates about science. How are we all supposed to do that well?
As part of our mission to provide science-based information on food, the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation partnered with the Harvard School of Public Health to develop Improving Public Understanding Guidelines to communicate emerging science on nutrition, food safety, and health. These Guidelines created a list of recommendations for communicators to enhance public understanding of food and health. Though the Guidelines were written more than 15 years ago, but they’re as needed as ever, as science and communication progress at lightning speeds.
Nearly a quarter of the general population trusts health, food, and nutrition bloggers as a source to provide accurate information. In Millennials, this rate rises to 1 in 3. Here are a few takeaways on what the Guidelines mean for bloggers.
1. Check to make sure your story is accurate.
Sure, it sounds simple. Ensuring that your information is accurate makes you a reliable source for your audience. and will keep coming back to you as a trusted source of information. To be confident that you’re being accurate, review the original source or sources of the science, critically read the methods, results, and conclusions, and develop your story. Also, make sure to cite things properly- that means peer-reviewed studies! As many of us learn the hard way, just because you can find it on the internet does not mean it is true. Finally, when describing the findings, make sure you are using the appropriate terms. There’s a big burden of proof for words like ’cause.’ Cause and effect can only be shown directly in randomized clinical trials (RCTs) where the tested is the only difference between the experimental and control groups. Getting into the science is tough, but it’s essential.
2. Apply a healthy skepticism in your reporting.
Approaching a new topic with a healthy dose of skepticism can separate facts from fiction. Apply the same critical analysis to all sources of information to sift through the noise and find the important nuggets supported information. Also, removing bias and personal emotion is critical in maintaining a 3rd party stance. This can be a tough line to draw- after all, blogging depends on having an emotional connection to the reader. The trick is to bring your personal perspective into the real-world applications, not the information itself. Maintaining a nonbiased approach will ensure that your article is accurate and science-based.
3. Make sure your post provides real-world advice.
It’s no surprise that your readers are turning to you because of a personal connection. So, it’s critical that you can translate the science and make sure you’re connecting it back to the real world. It’s not always easy, and it’s a challenge we aim to take on each day here at FoodInsight! Being able to put the new science in perspective is also key. Aim to explain the big picture, rather than creating rash decisions when a new “sexy” study emerges. Believe me, no single study informs scientific advancement and understanding. Rather, it is the collective ‘totality’ of science that moves things ahead and generates knowledge.
4. Use experts.
It would be a pretty tall order to have to accomplish all these standards by yourself. Reaching out to experts can make sure that your reporting is accurate and rooted in science. Don’t have a network of independent experts and scientists? This is one place we can help you! Besides having expert RDs and nutrition-focused PhDs in-house, we also work with over 400 independent experts to ground-truth new stories about food and nutrition. If you have questions, feel free to ping us on social media.
5. Share your story together.
The best science communication is a 2-way conversation. Connect with other bloggers, reporters, and science communicators through groups and networks. Sharing on a personal level is another way to be a more effective communicator. For example, since I have a background in microbiology and immunology, I get excited to write about how to boost your immune system during cold and flu season. I am able to share better content on topics that I am interested in and have knowledge about.
I could go on and on about what it takes to be an effective science communicator, and it is something that I learn more about each day. As you write and communicate every day, use any of these takeaways to be a more credible, science-based writer. Happy writing!