Translating brain science
Turning science into part of our everyday lives
Innovation is the fuel that
propels our society forward. This fuel
is a mix of sound scientific and public
While scientists and researchers are
discovering new knowledge at faster
and faster speeds, our collective ability
to truly understand—and use—it can
take somewhat longer.
Take the case of the core story of the
Scientific knowledge about the
brain is complex (few people know the
amygdala is an almond-shaped mass of
matter in the brain that plays a key role
in regulating emotions). And each new
discovery tends to be small, building
on those before it. To make sense of
it, new knowledge has to be brought
together, reviewed and translated into
a common language.
Above all, it has to have champions:
people and organizations that take the
knowledge into the world, over time.
More than a decade ago, the
Harvard Center for the Developing
Child put together a team of experts
to develop the core story of the brain.
The team included highly respected
psychologists, pediatricians and
economists. Rounding out the team
was staff with a Washington, D.C.
think-tank called the FrameWorks
Institute, which uses communications
science to help translate complex
knowledge into easily understood
The Harvard Center’s goal is
to gather and communicate the
science of early childhood and early
brain development. The hope is
to have people better understand
what it means to their families and
communities and that it can be used to
shape public policy.
As well, the Harvard Center
wanted to “move beyond the public’s
fascination with the ‘latest study’” and
look at a body of research that was well
reviewed by other scientists.
Translating science can be a tough
task. And where scientific knowledge
is based on data and evidence, the
public is far more likely to embrace
knowledge when it is told through
“sticky” (memorable) metaphors and
As the core story of the brain
(and by extension early childhood