More Communication Conundrums

 

The National Research Council inadvertently illustrated the bipolarity in how we talk about science and communicate ideas in general (especially on the internet.)

The NRC solicited ideas for the future of human space flight in one of two ways: white papers and tweets.  That seems to be the no-win trap that most communication falls into – the choice between long, dry, technical artifacts of the 19th century that no non-specialist wants to read and a bite sized blurb with zero substance.

Luckily, the establishment seems to be snapping out of the false dichotomy between ideas that are too long and too short. The internet has lowered the transaction costs for ideas, but we’re still figuring out how to take advantage of that.

Although blogging is becoming passé in many circles, I think it will continue to be valuable in technical fields. Blog posts allow more nuance than a tweet but (if done well) are short enough to prevent eye-glazing. They are also a much more effective two-way channel than formal papers.

It’s unclear if it will ever happen, but I think it would be wonderful if proposal reviewers could use their time differently. Instead of spending all their time slogging through terribly written, long-winded proposals, they could read short proposals of a few hundred words and actually provide feedback and questions to the proposers before accepting or rejecting them. Everybody would win: the reviewers wouldn’t be subjected to as many pages of horrific writing, the proposers would get a chance to refine and defend their ideas, and hopefully the rest of us would be the beneficiaries of the resulting research.

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