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Perspective: Science Could Use A Few Laughs


Last Friday, I did something terrifying.

Not only did I leave the house for the first time in 15 months, but I got up in front of a live audience at the Field Museum and tried something I have never done – stand-up comedy. It was all part of an NIU sponsored event with Science Riot, a non-profit that trains researcher in the art of comedy for the sake of accessible and more effective science communication. And I learned three things:

First, the most difficult part is not being funny; it is concision and brevity. Researchers like myself learn to write long, complicated explanations containing words like ‘concision’ and ‘brevity.’ There's no room for that in a short stand-up piece that has got to make its point from the first sentence.

Second, I talk to rooms full of students every day. But comedians live dangerously. They get up on stage without any of the emotional support objects -- notes, computers, PowerPoint slides or textbooks. Standing there -- feeling naked and vulnerable -- was definitely outside my comfort zone.

Finally, science needs comedy. With the rise in conspiracy theories and science denialism, it is clear that accessible, understandable, and even entertaining science communication is needed more than ever.

I do not know whether I will be repeating this any time soon. But I can tell you the experience has provided me with new ways to make my work accessible outside the 5 or 6 colleagues I typically get to talk to. And that's no joke.

I’m David Gunkel and that’s my perspective.

David Gunkel is an award-winning educator, scholar and author, specializing in the study of information and communication technology with a focus on ethics. He is a professor in the Department of Communication at Northern Illinois University and managing editor and co-founder of the International Journal of Žižek Studies and co-editor of the Indiana University Press series in Digital Game Studies.

Northern Illinois University professor and author