Public Health Post: What experiences encouraged your passion for science communication?
Raven Baxter: I think that it stems back to my love for weather reporters. They aren’t usually considered science communicators, but each day they explain what’s happening in the atmosphere and how it may affect us. I’ve always loved that they had such a powerful platform to speak about science.
PHP: How do your colleagues respond to seeing you as Raven the Science Maven, the rapper, versus Dr. Raven Baxter, the molecular biologist?
Raven Baxter: I don’t even have personal and private twitter accounts, because I am not one or the other: I am both, simultaneously. I’m about to start as the Director of Diversity Initiatives in the School of Biological Sciences at UC Irvine and I hope and believe that my colleagues will recognize all of my identities and respect my work.
PHP: What are your “rules” for social media science communication?
Raven Baxter: In my research, I developed a framework for culturally responsive science communication, and I believe that one of the biggest components of communication is community. Being a communicator means that you are not only talking, but you are also receiving feedback from the people around you. Then you interpret those feelings and work to build a community of trust, so that people feel comfortable learning and discussing science together.
PHP: Who is not being reached in traditional science communication?
Raven Baxter: Who does science communication largely serve right now? I’ve been invited to work on exciting projects with some great people, but sometimes when I present ideas that are unapologetically Black, like me, I’m asked to appeal to a more mainstream audience. That audience is largely white and male. There’s an assumption that they will not be interested in anything that does not cater to them, but that is not true. Besides our goal should be widening our audience.
PHP: What strategies could leaders in public health use to better explain widespread illness in the future?
Raven Baxter: It’s important to consistently remind the public of the scientific process, like at every press conference and every other public discussion of the pandemic. A quick one-minute rundown of the past decades of mRNA research could have boosted the confidence in the vaccine. We have to explain that the scientific process is one of trial and error and to acknowledge the historical inequities that have caused hesitation. That kind of transparency, paired with education and outreach, build a community of trust between scientist and the public.
PHP: How would you explain the discipline of public health to your audience?
Raven Baxter: I would reach out to Dr. Shenell Tolson. We co-host STEMbassy together, which is a web series where interdisciplinary professionals discuss socio-cultural issues that impact the STEM community. She would probably encourage us to remember that public health is broader than physical health. Public health is interdisciplinary, so when we discuss strategies to improve community outcomes, science and social factors work hand in hand.
Photo provided by Raven Baxter