The Tedification of Science Communication

Spring is here and I have been trying to channel the  new energy of the longer days, warmer air, and bursting life.  Still, I can help feeling some nagging curmudgeonly negativity whenever someone sends me a link to a Ted talk.  I think these glib, over practiced, designed to wow talks do very little to transmit knowledge.  Under the guise of transmitting information the talks are really intended to transmit the “coolness” of science – and of course make rock-stars out of geeks.  Only kidding about that last part — I have never bought into the stereotype that scientists are geeks completely lacking in communicative ability.  I have friends and colleagues who are remarkably good communicators.  Of course I know lots of scientists who are NOT good communicators but I think this fact is also reflective of any population of individuals who work in specialized areas where a jargon develops.

But TED talks turn me off — they have become so stylized and lacking in any true human authenticity as to almost seem like parodies of themselves.  But the really serious reason I dislike them is because the TED style is beginning to permeate throughout ALL scientific communication.  Every talk, even if just to your lab group or your department, has to be a slam-wham – banished are the pesky details (like methods) or the way data is analyzed – heck, gone is the data!  Let’s just get perform a masterly summary of the bottom line of my interpretations, why the results are so incredibly cool, why the whole world needs to act on what I have done –  let the hype flow unchecked.  It is unfortunate that a good idea can so quickly become corrupted because our need to entertain is so much more powerful than merely sharing what in many cases is the mundane, daily effort of seriously trying to understand something.