A colleague here at The Scientist recently interviewed a microbiologist on the telephone. They were talking about bacteria, and the scientist commented that if he were an alien who had just arrived on Earth, he would surely be confused about the purposes of the kitchen sink and the toilet in a modern home. Based on microbiological evidence, he explained, he would no doubt incorrectly conclude that the respective uses of these amenities were reversed. As my colleague related this story, we cringed, laughed uncomfortably, and thought about it. The microbiologist's observation is a fine, if minor, example of effective science communication.

As journalists, we love to witness the use by scientists of inventive ways to enliven facts by applying them to the human condition. Imagine how much less dramatically the microbiologist would have made his point, had he simply said that potentially harmful bacteria are more plentiful in the kitchen...

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