Faith Kearns thought she knew how to talk about science. In 2008, she was working in a fire center at the University of California, Berkeley, not long after getting her doctorate there. Kearns had already worked in communications for years. Then she spoke at a community fire safety demonstration in Northern California. She and her colleagues followed all the conventional advice about what to say, but something felt off.
After the presentation, a man came up to Kearns, emotional. Listening to them present steps of what he should have done to protect his home from fire had been traumatizing. Just a few months before, wildfires had burned through this small community in Mendocino County. For her audience, the memory was still fresh, the wounds raw.
“I knew those fires that happened, but I didn’t put together that we were going to be talking to people who were directly affected by that fire, and that talking about things they should do raised a lot of guilt, a lot of shame, a lot of trauma,” Kearns said in an interview with Grist. Her rigorous academic training had not prepared her for this — and maybe it had made things worse. “That really forced me into ... Read more