Explaining bioinformatics to your Grandmother!


I chanced upon these article and thought it would be a great piece to blog about.

During my undergrad days, … (Many years ago)….., there has been a great debate of wet lab (experimental research work) vs dry lab (bioinformatics) findings. Some have questioned whether results found via bioinformatics are translatable towards viable research practice.  Sometimes the work presented by bioinformaticians might be too mathematically challenge that most science research group just shun away and considers the work to be too ambiguous and unreproducible. So the question in mind would be is the research methodology unsounded or its the way such information being presented to the audience uncommunicable.


Bernard (2013) shares that communicating with a lay audience about scientific subjects and making them attractive is a difficult task. However with the vast amount of reliable data made available, one can see that not able to learn the skill of communicating such science can be quite dangerous. Most research group has also commented that there is a greater need of such science communicators as we transition towards a data science era. (Nisbet., 2009).

So as a bioinformatician, in order to become a better science communicator, one should be able to bridge the content bridge. This bridge should connect some event or phenomena to an audience. The job of the communicator is to build the best (most appropriate) bridge. In this situation, the bioinformatician should explain prediction models and statistical methods to be understandable and relate its biological importance to the science researchers. Furthermore, the bioinformatician should also consider the general level of the audience and not misinformed the public with too much statistical numbers.

Below are some general tips I found to be useful in improving to be a better science communicator.

  1. Be Simple and Straightforward
  2. Don’t Be Condescending, nobody likes the feeling.
  3. Tell Compelling Stories to interest your audience
  4. If possible, use illustrations as a picture speaks a thousand words.
  5. Be Apolitical

To sum up, I recognized that it is indeed challenging to be an effective science communicator. To be able to entertain and bring out the science to all with different background, one should have an array of tools and be prepared. There is also no fixed rule in pleasing everyone as everyone would have their own views. Hence, to get better, one should practice more and be exposed to a greater variety of audience. Just like Bernard (2013) said, if your grandmother can understand, half the battle is won.


Nisbet, M. C., & Scheufele, D. A. (2009). What’s next for science communication? Promising directions and lingering distractions. American journal of botany, 96(10), 1767-1778.

Rennie, L., & Stocklmayer, S. M. (2003). The communication of science and technology: Past, present and future agendas. International Journal of Science Education, 25(6), 759-773.

Treise, D., & Weigold, M. F. (2002). Advancing science communication: A survey of science communicators. Science Communication, 23(3), 310-322.

Bernard, V., & Michaut, M. (2013). Explain bioinformatics to your grandmother!. PLoS Comput Biol, 9(10), e1003305.



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