Lost in Translation: How Do We Communicate?

Cindy Yielding
Cindy Yielding

Say you’re in a local coffee emporium sporting an energy meeting ID tag.

The person next to you says:

“Tell me about this oil and gas business; I keep hearing all kinds of different, often conflicting things about it.”

What do you do?

Likely, you may be inclined to bolt through the doors ASAP.

This is such a complex, multi-faceted industry and profession that trying to explain it even within a whole day’s time wouldn’t make a dent.

The lack of knowledge overall for the layperson is understandable given the expertise and usually complex route it takes to go from an idea, an unusual geologic outcrop, a map or whatever to eventually arrive at even one economically productive well.

There’s been plenty of rhetoric about “getting our story out,” but getting the right message(s) into the public domain is an immense challenge.

You can think really big and suggest an over-the-top commercial during the annual Super Bowl game watched by millions of people worldwide.

But defining the energy industry is a whole different breed of cat than touting a hot new car.

“One thing we do is use a lot of jargon that (confuses) the non-scientist,” said AAPG member Cindy Yeilding, vice president of exploration and appraisal at BP and a moderator for the Communicating Our Science panel scheduled for this year’s ACE in Houston.

“We don’t have the really high-level story,” she said. “We all tell the story in different ways, and the press, regulators and general public hear different things from all of us.

“As an industry, we don’t coordinate our message,” she emphasized.

“One thing we want to do is send a common message to students that geoscience is great,” Yeilding said. “For instance, STEM is a fabulous direction to go.”

Searching for the Key (Message)

In fact, the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) Education Coalition is a big topic these days.

Perhaps more industry association meeting sessions focused just on the industry’s “message” issues can stir folks up enough to lead to formation of a group of experts to kick-start (and oversee) a dedicated thrust for this issue.

The ACE panel clearly is a step forward.

At press time, Yeilding said the tentatively defined objectives of the panel at ACE include:

  • Develop a picture of what GREAT scientific communication is like.
  • What role can AAPG play in this communication?
  • What can AAPG and other societies learn from other industries, disciplines, media?
  • What are the key messages geologists need to share with the world (STEM, industry)?

“We need to decide our key messages and how to show them in a memorable, impactful and empowering way,” Yeilding said. “We have so many audiences – yet other industries take really complicated messages and figure out how to communicate them simplistically and in an engaging way.

“What lessons,” she pondered aloud, “can we learn from them?”

Something to Talk About

It is anticipated that the erudite individuals set to participate in the Communicating Our Science effort at ACE likely will have some unique ideas and timely suggestions.

(See accompanying box for panelist information.)

“There will be discussions of what and how to communicate about sensitive topics in energy and science, and how new media are changing our communications with other scientists and the public,” Yeilding noted.

Yeilding and co-moderator Colin North, also an AAPG member, plan an “open discussion” of topics such as:

  • How to explain energy issues to friends, colleagues and environmental activists.
  • Where energy originates.
  • Pros and cons of potential energy sources for the future.
  • Hydraulic fracturing.
  • How 21st century media affect how we get scientific information.
  • Why industry members are, or aren’t, publishing scientific information that is important for those in the industry to do their jobs.

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