Scientists as story tellers: The lives of those who study life



To convey to the public what it means to be a field biologist, 18 Portuguese biologists came together to share a collection of 35 field stories that became career landmarks for those who experienced them.

The lack of interaction between scientists is contributing to a growing distrust of scientists by the public. The aim of this gathering was to illustrate the experiences of field biologists to the public through a format free from scientific jargon — and in a way that could compete with the many other interests presently faced by readers; and so began the project “BIOgraphies: The lives of those who study life” (in the original Portuguese “BIOgrafias: Vidas de quem estuda a vida”).

Telling the tale
The project’s goal was to provide both a channel to tackle the communication challenges described above and a mechanism to fundraise for future conservation outreach projects. It was determined that the best medium to fulfil these criteria was a book, a compilation of short field stories written by biologists and conservationists.

All stories were written in Portuguese. This decision was made because 1) this type of content is rarely available in Portuguese, and 2) because the target audience are residents of Portugal, a country where careers associated with the environment are seen as lacking professional growth opportunities.

The stories reflected experiences that took place over a broad geographic area —16 countries were represented, across all continents except Antarctica. Portugal was the most represented with 11 stories, while countries like Uganda, Spain, Italy, Seychelles, Costa Rica, Madagascar, and Mozambique were reflected in more than one story.

The funds required to print the first edition of the book (500 copies) were raised though an online crowdfunding campaign, which was managed by the book editors in cooperation with the publisher.

Lessons Learned

  1. Scientists are often not motivated to write for non-academic audiences and this led some professionals to refuse to be part of the project. Research and education institutions should provide more incentives and support in this arena.

  2. Transmitting science does not necessarily mean transmitting the scientific findings themselves. 

  3. Many readers felt compelled to research further into the work of each scientist after reading the short stories.

  4. Field biologists and conservationists have a wealth of stories to share. Harnessing this potential can be a powerful tool.

  5. Opting for a crowdfunding approach is a good vehicle to raise awareness for this type of project, though it should be noted that online crowdfunding requires a large investment of time and effort.

Note

This text is based on: Veríssimo and Pais (2014) Conservation beyond science: scientists as story tellers. Journal of Threatened Taxa in press.

About the Author

Diogo Verissimo applies social marketing concepts and techniques to conserve the diversity of life on Earth. He is currently an Oxford Martin Fellow at the University of Oxford, UK, where he works the design and impact evaluation of behaviour change interventions to reduce the demand for illegally traded wildlife products.

Learn more about Diogo Verissimo


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