Understanding statistical data can prove challenging when the mind is stuck in 2000 B.C.

Statistician and journalist Regina Nuzzo will try to help.

Nuzzo will deliver the keynote address, “Connecting 21st-Century Information to Stone-Age Brains: Numbers, Uncertainty, Surprise, and More,” at ComSciCon–Virginia Tech 2020 on Feb. 27, 6:30 p.m., in the Fralin Hall Auditorium.

Nuzzo’s presentation is open to the public. The talk will address the gap between modern research advances and our “Stone-Age” brains.

“Rather than trying to force people’s brains to fit the information, let’s talk about how to reshape the information to fit our idiosyncratic brains,” said Nuzzo, who serves as senior advisor for statistics communication and media innovation for the American Statistical Association. “It’s worth our time. Otherwise, when it comes to quantitative information — anything involving numbers or other forms of data, which includes most of science today — we might find ourselves needing to do a whole lot of retrofitting.”

In Nuzzo’s talk, she will offer a survival-kit checklist for communicating with humans, modern or otherwise. 

Nuzzo has worked for the National Academy of Sciences and the Department of Energy and has published in Nature, Scientific American, Science News, The New York Times, and many other venues. Nuzzo holds a doctorate in statistics from Stanford University, and her science journalism focuses on data, statistics, probability, and the research process.

ComSciCon–Virginia Tech, a conference planned by graduate students for graduate students, is designed to empower early-career researchers to communicate complex and technical concepts to broad and diverse audiences. The conference will provide opportunities for skill development and networking.

The event is organized in collaboration with the Center for Communicating Science, which is led by Patricia Raun, a professor of theatre in the School of Performing Arts in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. The center is a unit within the Institute for Society, Culture, and Environment (ISCE).

The ComSciCon–Virginia Tech organizing committee has 14 members, including co-chairs Susan Chen and Stephanie Edwards Compton, both graduate students in the Department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. The committee has planned a full program of events on Feb. 28 centered on the theme of inclusion, diversity, and accessibility in STEAM — science, technology, engineering, arts, and math. Attendees will interact with fellow graduate student leaders in science communication; learn from expert writers, communicators, and panelists; and have the opportunity to produce original writing for publication.

Workshop topics include finding the story in your research, condensing your research into a nutshell, science communication careers, accessibility, social issues and advocacy, and more.

ComSciCon-Virginia Tech is supported by the Center for Communicating Science; the Institute for Society, Culture, and Environment; the Virginia Tech Communicating Science Club; the Global Change Center; the College of Science; the Fralin Life Sciences Institute; 4-VA; and the Graduate School. Support was also received from CytoRecovery; the Department of Psychology; the Department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise; and Jack Wardale Videography.

Originating at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the flagship ComSciCon is in its eighth year. Its popularity resulted in a franchising of the event to other venues across the United States and in Canada. Virginia Tech held its first ComSciCon in March 2019.

The Fralin Hall Auditorium is located within the Fralin Life Sciences Institute at 360 West Campus Drive in Blacksburg. A reception will precede the talk, at 5:30 p.m. in the Fralin Hall atrium.

Written by Carrie Kroehler, associate director of the Center for Communicating Science