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The art of science communication

Bay Stephens

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Local glaciologist shares power of collaboration

By Bay Stephens EBS Staff Writer

BIG SKY – Science is traditionally not the setting of rich storytelling or moving artwork, yet a growing number of scientists are realizing that effectively communicating their work requires more than cold, hard facts. Cross-disciplinary collaboration and art are playing increasingly key roles in science communication.

Twila Moon, a glaciologist and Big Sky resident, has given significant focus to effectively relaying scientific findings. She has always had an interest in communication, but beyond mere interest, she has been deliberate about learning from communication experts how to better reach audiences, to speak their language. Her efforts will be on display at TEDxBigSky on Jan. 26 when she shares her story of witnessing dramatic changes in the cryosphere—the world of ice—as the climate warms.

“I think science communication as a broader field has also had a lot of important advances and people realizing more and more that it’s not about tossing facts at people or tossing numbers at people but it’s really about helping people understand how things connect to elements of their values and their day-to-day interests,” Moon said.

Relating the interconnectedness of our earth system is a common challenge the science community faces as people don’t realize how changes in the Arctic affect their lives. Moon said the science community has been learning to tell stories and be more personal, but it’s not exactly second nature.

“As scientists we’re not trained to bring ourselves into conversations,” she said. “We’re trained to do exactly the opposite and … effective science communication really requires that you discuss yourself as an individual and as a person too, which can be kind of uncomfortable for scientists.”

Art, and specifically a friendship with artist-activist Nina Elder of New Mexico, has benefitted Moon’s communication, she said, equipping her with new forms of storytelling and illustration that are often more powerful than graphs or statistics.

“They tend to be more effective for connecting with people’s values, which is so important,” Moon said.

Elder and Moon, who have known each other since childhood, founded the Wheelhouse Institute, which weds science, communication and art by bringing together women from these various disciplines for an annual cohort. The program provides collaborative and relational professional development for women, equipping them for increasingly available leadership opportunities.

This past year saw Wheelhouse Institute’s first group of women—a test run of sorts—and in 2019 a new “class” of eight women will be chosen, meeting twice in Big Sky for long weekend workshops and through long-distance mediums between individual members during the rest of the year.

The program forges greater understandings between fields, and furnishes a community that empowers women to lead, both of which are important in the current environmental and political moment to mobilize positive change.

Twila Moon will speak at the third annual TEDxBigSky as part of the Big Sky Ideas Festival from Jan. 24-27. Visit tedxbigsky.com for ticket information. Visit wheelhouseinstitute.com or changingice.com to learn more about Moon’s work.

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