Phatic Sci-Comm

“Hello, how are you?”

“Not too bad. And yourself?”

“Oh, mustn’t grumble”

This, and countless variations like it, is a common exchange between two people. The enquiries about health and welfare are not really requests to get access to medical information, nor are the responses attempts to give proper answers.

Very occasionally this opening exchange might be taken as an opportunity to talk about an especially dramatic or important event (recent wedding, holiday, death etc) but most times it simply renews the bond between the speakers.

Much (maybe even most) everyday conversation is built upon these kinds of “phatic” statements i.e. their role in the conversation is social rather than information transfer. Often they are not even verbalised but stay as nods, grunts, smiles etc.

But these phatic nods, grunts, and hellos are the very thing that build a relationship over time. Especially important pieces of information might deepen a relationship (e.g. intimate personal details) but the relationship is built and maintained from smaller, simpler pieces.

And if “trust” is currently a key concern in science communication then we need to build and maintain relationships. We need to pay more attention to these phatic elements.

Maybe there should be less science in sci-comm.

“OK. Right.”

“Yeah. OK.”

“See you”

“Bye.”

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