Michelle Thaller

NASA/GSFC: Assistant Director of Science for Communications

Human are empathic animals (sure we have a few sociopaths out there, and they are welcome to sit this one out).  It was an evolutionary advantage to be able to respond to each other’s emotions.  When someone near us seems to be having an ecstatically good time, we are naturally intrigued.  What is going on?  Can I get in on some of this joy?  When someone is frightened or sad, we try to move closer, see if we can offer comfort, or at the very least, see if we can avoid what is causing them distress.  As a science communicator, for years I’ve watched audiences, large and small, respond to science talks. All too often, I’ve watched the most fascinating, awe-inspiring images and discoveries fail to even keep an audience awake.  Without an emotional connection to latch on to, most people do not respond to scientists, which in the past may have been innocuous –just perpetuating a stereotype of the blank, overly intellectual science personality.  But in today’s world of deniers, false news, and a desperate need to address climate change, emotional irrelevance is a luxury we can no longer afford.”