Post by Isaiah Spiegelberg
My fall 2021 semester at the University of Wyoming has gifted me with many enlightening classes but my scientific communication course has been an unexpected eye-opener. At first, I expected this class to instruct me on how to write and format scientific literature and it was a welcoming surprise to discover that it is nothing of the sort. Rather, this class is all about communicating science to non-scientists: most of the people who make decisions about the world.
Communicating science to people who don’t have a scientific background can be challenging. Scientists tend to argue their claims and persuade their peers using data and statistics, but quite frankly, the average person doesn’t respond well to numbers and can feel excluded from important conversations surrounding scientific topics. To be an effective scientific communicator one must step away from data and embrace communication tools that enable anyone to join in on scientific conversations.
To tie together the concepts and tools that we learn throughout the semester, SciComm students pick a local science-related issue and create a final project that communicates the issue to a target stakeholder group. Since Wyoming is blessed with a diverse abundance of wildlife, I choose to do my project on wildlife-vehicle collisions (WVCs). Wildlife vehicle collisions can have drastic impacts on wildlife populations, but more importantly for my audience, WVCs pose risks to the drivers involved. I choose this project because I want to help inform Wyomingites on the impacts WVCs have on wildlife while simultaneously addressing how this issue affects our personal lives. In the following paragraphs I highlight what I’ve learned throughout my project and how I plan to address my stakeholders using scicomm.
The most obvious impact WVCs have on wildlife is anthropogenic mortality (human-caused). Despite our relatively small population, roughly 6000 big game animals are killed on Wyoming roads annually (Wyoming Game and Fish Department, 0:0:17 – 0:0:22). However, WVCs do more than just kill wildlife, they turn our roads into barriers. Migration is an adaptive behavior that allows wildlife to maximize their resource availability during different times of the year. Highways can shut down migrations and trigger population decline in migratory species (Harris et al. 2009). In addition, this barrier affect can also have negative genetic impacts on populations. Highways have the potential to isolate wildlife populations and consequently cause rapid declines in genetic diversity (Epps et al. 2005).
The impacts WVCs have on humans can be broken down into two categories: safety and money. While drivers and passengers typically walk away from a WVC unscratched, these collisions can still be fatal. In the United States vehicle collisions involving wildlife kill around 200 people each year (Livitis and Tash 2008). However, WVCs pose an even grater risk to your wallet. In Wyoming you can expect to pay around $11,600 in medical costs and damages following a WVCs (Wyoming Game and Fish Department, 0:0:23 – 0:0:30).
WVCs also have financial impacts on the state with each mule deer killed serving as a $4000 economic loss (Wyoming Game and Fish Department, 0:0:23 – 0:0:30).
Ultimately, the goal of my project is to educate Wyoming drivers on both the risks of WVC and the solutions. This is where the SciComm skills I have learned throughout the semester come into play. The previous two paragraphs serve as a great example of what not to do when communicating to stakeholders. While quoting literature findings and statistics related to my project might be an effective way to communicate my issue to scientists, this form of communication is known as a deficit model. This approach ultimately means that I’m talking at my stakeholders but I’m not talking with them. For my final project I plan on creating a video presentation to reach my stakeholders. Rather than using a deficit approach I need to incorporate a dialogue model into my presentation. To achieve this, I need to acknowledge and address my stakeholders’ values and interests. I also need to utilize plain language by simplifying concepts and discipline-specific jargon that the average person is unfamiliar with. Thankfully, SciComm has provided me with the skills I need to communicate science to anyone and I’m looking forward to presenting a project that wasn’t made for a class but rather for a community.
Isaiah Spiegelberg is a Laramie native and plans to graduate the University of Wyoming with a bachelor’s degree in wildlife and fisheries management in the spring of 2022.
Epps, C. W., P. J. Palsbøll, J. D. Wehausen, G. K. Roderick, R. R. Ramey, and D. R. McCullough. 2005. Highways block gene flow and cause a rapid decline in genetic diversity of desert bighorn sheep. Ecology Letters 8: 1029-1038.
Harris, G., S. Thirgood, J. Hopcraft, J. P. Cromsigt, and J. Berger. 2009. Global decline in aggregated migrations of large terrestrial mammals. Endangered Species Research 7: 55-76.
Litvaitis, J. A., and J. P. Tash. 2008. An approach toward understanding wildlife-vehicle collisions. Environmental Management 42: 688-697.
Wyoming Game and Fish Department. (2019, June 17). Reducing Wildlife-Vehicle Collisions [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YyDFpkLgEOs