The Curse of Knowledge – and Experience

Scientists often express frustration over their attempts to communicate with public audiences. Through my work training scientists in science communication with Schoodic Institute and Second Century Stewardship, I’ve come to believe that one root of this frustration is the difference in nature-related knowledge and experiences between scientists and their audiences. Unaware of this difference, scientists present their work or share their story using scientific language, concepts, and perspective, without realizing that the audience has no idea what they are talking about. In a way, their knowledge becomes a “curse” that prevents effective communication.

The curse of knowledge: When you know something very well it becomes hard to remember what it was like not to know it. Conservation scientists spend their days surrounded by nature and other scientists. They tend to forget that most people live in a very different world.

Last week, I wrote about the curse of knowledge and science communication. This week, organizers and supporters of #BlackBirdersWeek and @BlackAFinSTEM have highlighted the challenges of being Black in nature. Their stories of not feeling welcome or safe in the outdoors may seem unfamiliar, even hard to believe, for many conservation scientists. Their stories show that experience, too, can be a curse, making it hard to relate to others who have different realities and perspectives on parks, oceans, rivers, woods, and fields. Now is the time to acknowledge these other realities, and listen to these other stories.

Now is also the time to acknowledge what we share. This week, organizers and supporters of #BlackBirdersWeek  and @BlackAFinSTEM have also highlighted the joy of being Black in nature. There is power in these moments of joy, shared experiences that foster the love and fury needed to act on behalf of nature and each other.