It’s great to hear about the results you’re getting with this method for measuring public attitudes. It sounds like a useful tool for doing what we are all keen to see more of: impact of science communication efforts.
Your response about usual lack of budget for evaluating communication is a key consideration. In the wake ‘Inspiring Australia’ (unfunded in this budget), science communicators need to continue to lobby for proper research funding for science communication. Robust research in this area involves expertise, time and resources; triangulation such as what you did at CSIRO is a good thing.
Spending money on science communication research is not something that many scientists necessarily support; in times of a static or shrinking budget many would prefer to see limited available money going to more of their own research, not on research about communication and impact.
An anecdotal example 😉 After a modest request for funding to do some research about impact of an outreach program being run by a university science faculty (albeit back in 2003), the response left me gobsmacked: ‘Why should we spend money on evaluation? We’re going to run the program anyway.’
At present, there seems to be a groundswell in Australia to do more evaluation and research on impact. This is great! Science communication as a discipline needs collaborative survey results as well as more detailed research.
Wendy Williams should be applauded for her catalytic efforts to develop an exit survey for events that can be used collaboratively. This is being taken up by the Inspiring Australia team who should also be recognised for their efforts.
The ASC-WA branch is organising a half-day workshop on event evaluation to further develop the exit survey that can be used by organizers of events (eg for this year’s National Science Week). It’s hoped that the data will be collected, collated (by someone?!) and shared to give a broader story than possible when collected individually.
While some of us have been lucky enough to get ARC funding for research of impact/ effectiveness, our applications are going to an array of panels. One thing that would help for robust science communication research would be to have ARC/NHMRC recognition of science communication as a discipline where research proposals can be submitted and evaluated by people with relevant expertise. Many of us in ASC’s SCERN (science communication education and research network) keep plugging away with the suggestion of codes/ panel specifically for science communication but any other lobbying would be helpful.
(Thanks to Niall for kick-starting a stimulating discussion.)
Assoc Prof Nancy Longnecker
Coordinator, Science Communication Program Faculty of Life and Physical Sciences, M011 The University of Western Australia 35 Stirling Highway Crawley, WA 6009
ph: 61 8 6488 3926 email: firstname.lastname@example.org skype: nancylongnecker
There is no point explaining everything in the universe if no one is listening to you. (UWA Sci Comm student, 2009)
CRICOS Provider No. 00126G
> Responding to Carols very valid point about how we measure the > effectiveness of science communication, one reason we dont is that we are > seldom given enough budget to do so properly. The budget rarely covers the > communication itself, let alone in-depth impact assessment. > > That said, let me outline two methods I have found to work. > > At CSIRO in the good old days we used to triangulate public opinion and > attitudes to science by a combination of public opinion research > (quantitative), media analysis (not just counting stories or web hits but > analysing content, placement, reach etc) and customer/community value > analysis (qualitative research). That was all we could afford to do, but it > gave us a handle on what the public knew/did not know about the agency and > its science, and what they thought of it and where the gaps were. Its OK > but its expensive for the average small science outfit. It is of course > nothing like what large corporations or political parties do to measure if > their messages are getting through…. > > Prompted largely by the GM food debate, with eminent statistician Dr Nick > Fisher, I developed a new technique called Reading The Public Mind (RtPM), > which has the added advantages of operating in real time, taking a movie > of public opinion about scientific issues (instead of costly snapshots from > opinion polling, which go out of date quickly) and of identifying the > drivers of public interest and concern about new science and technologies. > This provides very effective early warning of how the public is liable to > react to a new scientific advance or piece of technology and the ability > to adapt the technology or the communication to suit. > > We have been running this for two years as a research project in the > Invasive Animal CRC, with remarkably consistent results. We are keen to test > it in other areas of science. > > Traditionally, most communicators use things like media monitoring or > opinion surveys to judge impact. But media monitoring only tells you how > many stories you got not what the public did with the knowledge it had > gained, which is what scientists, managers and communicators really want to > know. RtPM does tell you this. > > For example, we noticed a trend in the public to underestimate the damage > caused by rabbits in the Aust environment. The CRC did a public awareness > blitz and we saw a clear response in RtPM as rabbit awareness rose again > in our largely-urban population. Likewise camels were rated very low as a > pest by most Australians until the DKCRC camel report hit the headlines. > Bingo, camels leapt in significance in the minds of Australians, as a pest > that needs to be controlled for the sake of the landscape etc. > > We are fairly confident, from this and other indications we now have a tool > which will: > > – Improve the rate of science adoption by forewarning research > agencies about how their work is likely to be received by the public, so > they can adapt it > > – Stop the waste of scientific resources on research projects that > will never deliver an outcome the public is prepared to accept > > – Measure the effectiveness of communication activity in real time, > allowing constant adjustment of the strategy to take in shifts in public > attitude. > > – Work for almost any major scientific issue in which the public has > an interest.(nanotech, biotech, nuclear, geosequestration, stem cells, > xenografts…you name it) > > – Give science agencies an argument for increased funding, by > demonstrating to politicians and bureaucrats that the public (or industry) > actually wants what they are turning out. > > I am happy to provide further detail of RtPM to any communicator who is > seriously interested. > > Cheers > > Julian > > Julian Cribb FTSE > > Julian Cribb & Associates > > ph +61 (0)2 6242 8770 or 0418 639 245 > > http://www.sciencealert.com.au/jca.html > > www.scinews.com.au > > > > From: email@example.com > [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org] On Behalf Of Peter Quiddington > Sent: Friday, 4 June 2010 1:10 PM > To: email@example.com > Subject: Re: [ASC-list] World class > > > > Just in relation to Carol’s point about measuring the impact of science > communication. It is obviously a difficult ask, especially in terms of > pinning down causes and effects. However, there seems to be a very strong > correlation between the level of scientific literacy in Australia (measured > by PISA as per below), and the standard of science communication. > > This is no smoking gun, but it is an interesting correspondence, the fact > that Australia ranks near the top of the world, in terms of the level of > debate regarding science communication, the size of the profession, and the > extent of science content in the (general and specialist) media. > > During the same period that this has emerged, there has also been a growth > in the level of scientific literacy. (OK, many will bemoan that there has > also been a fall in particular disciplinary scientific skills, maths, > chemistry etc). But the level of general scientific literacy is high, and > getting higher, and the fact that Australia boasts a high level of science > coverage (esp. ABC, magazines, etc) is probably a factor. > > So, what is needed now is some more focused research on what are the causes > of this rise in scientific literacy, and what is the role of the media, etc. > > Data to support this … > > Thomson, S., & De Bortoli, L. (2008). Exploring Scientific Literacy: How > Australia Measures Up – The PISA 2006 Survey of Students’ Scientific, > reading and mathematical skills. Victoria. (Download report > http://www.acer.edu.au/ozpisa/scientific-literacy-in-pisa-2006 > > > > On Fri, Jun 4, 2010 at 12:39 PM, Carol Oliver wrote: > > As a past science journalist I totally get what Julian is saying, and > somewhat sympathetic to Peter’s view. However, we live in the net-geners > age. For me the challenge is not to address what are now perhaps relatively > narrow audiences (the boss, the Government, and the converted) but in > understanding the impact of the Internet on science news distribution. > > The US National Science Foundation has been reporting for some time now that > the Internet is the medium of choice when people seek news and information > about science. While these figures do not reflect the situation in > Australia, there are some indicators that suggest these numbers also apply > here. The most important question of all, though, is whether science news > alone is an effective strategy in disseminating news about science’s > advances. How do we know what is an effective strategy, and how do we > measure it? I’m still gobsmacked by how much time and money is put into > communicating science without knowing if the objectives were even partly > achieved among the audience(s) intended (and why those objectives were set > in the first place). Given science is a data-driven enterprise, it is > surprising how little data exists in the effectiveness of science > communication. I definitely stand here waiting for someone to correct me by > pointing to the gobs of substantial data I have been missing over the years. > The literature tends to support the critical lack of data. > > At the ASC conference in Canberra in February, a rather pointed remark was > made: “How have we got away with it so long?” Perhaps the answer is we just > don’t think about it – the boss wants media space and it is the role of the > communicator to get it. Or perhaps it is done, but the results are > proprietary. > > Don’t get me wrong. I think science news in the media has an important role > to play. I’m just not aware of what that is exactly given the Internet Age. > > Best, > Carol > > > Dr Carol Oliver > Australian Centre for Astrobiology > University of New South Wales > Room 130, Biological Sciences Building > Kensington, NSW 2052, Australia > > Phone: (+61) 02 9385 2061 > Cell: (+61) 0417 477 612 > > > ________________________________________ > From: firstname.lastname@example.org [email@example.com] > On Behalf Of Peter Quiddington [firstname.lastname@example.org] > Sent: Friday, June 04, 2010 11:13 AM > > To: email@example.com > Subject: Re: [ASC-list] World class > > Well, I agree and very much disagree with Julian, having spent my time > grinding away at the daily coalface, I know that restricting the use of > descriptors is silly. Also, these little pearls not only fall from the lips > of old hacks like ourselves, but are often employed by scientists. And, why > not? > The truth is that any really good quality research that makes a genuine > advance is by definition a world-first, and descriptions such as ‘ground > breaking’ and ‘cutting edge’ are not out of place. At the same time, I think > the general notion that editors are by and large disinterest in science, > only its impacts, is somewhat flawed, and increasingly outdated. This is not > (altogether) my experience; most need to be shown how and why a piece of > research is novel, counter-intuitive, odd, strange, or potentially > revolutionary in its future impacts. They need to be shown that the research > has uncovered some new essential truth, a new fact of reality, or a new > avenue for the human imagination to grapple with in order to address the > dilemmas facing humanity, etc etc… > The use of terms like ‘ground breaking’ and ‘world beating’ is no longer > useful in this task. In the world of journalism, these terms lost their > currency long ago through overuse, misuse and abuse. > We simply need a fresh crop of superlatives. > So, all suggestions welcome. > — > Dr Peter QUIDDINGTON > Director, Science Media, > Canberra > Adjunct Lecturer, > School of Humanities, > University of New England > Contact: 6771-2874 > Mob: 0402-459-141 > > On Fri, Jun 4, 2010 at 10:17 AM, Jenni Metcalfe > <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote: > I’d like to back up Julian’s comments below (whilst still agreeing to some > extent with the others). > > Certainly journalists who participate in the media skills workshops we run > for scientists around the country (and sometimes internationally) will often > ask our participants if it’s a breakthrough, world first, Australian-first, > or cutting edge. And this has not changed over the past 18 years of running > these workshops. General rather than science journalists ask these > questions. > > However, if it is genuinely a world or Australian first – why not celebrate > this? > > I am not into hype or spin; it does have to be the truth. Scientists, in my > experience, are very conservative about whether their research is > “world-first” and so unless they are very sure this is true and happy for > this term to be used, I won’t use it in our releases. > > With all media publicity, I pitch a story to a specific media audience based > on its RELEVANCE (the “so what?”) to them. > > cheers > > Jenni Metcalfe > Director Econnect Communication > PO Box 734 > South Brisbane Q 4101 > Australia > > www.econnect.com.au > email@example.com > > phone: + 61 7 3846 7111, +0408 551 866 > skype: jenni.metcalfe > > —–Original Message—– > From: > firstname.lastname@example.org > > [mailto:email@example.com asn.au>] On Behalf Of Julian Cribb > Sent: Friday, 4 June 2010 9:46 AM > > To: ‘Derek Elmes’; > firstname.lastname@example.org; > email@example.com > Subject: Re: [ASC-list] World class > > An interesting debate, but one that seems to lack understanding of what > really happens in the media. > > The reason journalists use cliches like ‘breakthrough’ ‘world-first’ and > ‘cutting edge’ etc is not so much for the benefit of the external audience, > as for the information of the (non-scientific) editors who make up the news > bench in a media organisation and who decide what runs and what doesn’t. > > On any given day these editors scan and process several hundred potential > stories from journalists, correspondents, contributors, wire services and > media releases. From this several hundred they will select maybe 10-30 for > the news bulletin or news pages of the paper. The remaining 80-90 per cent > of stories are killed. > > A science story has a number of problems from a news editor’s perspective. > First, the media isn’t terribly interested in science per se, but more in > its impact on society and on their local audience in particular. So the > science story starts behind the eightball, in competition with a politics, > economics, crime, scandal, business or sport story. It has to push its way > up the newslist somehow. > > Second, the science wasn’t done ‘today’ – a primary requirement of 24-hour > news media – but over the last few years. It may possibly have been > published today, but that is not a very strong news angle. Media likes its > news to be ‘red hot’ if possible. So in a sense the science story is already > ageing news and there is no particular argument to run it today as opposed > to any other day. And the newslist is already full. > > Third, if you are selling a story, say on a new genetic approach to cancer > therapy, the editors are likely to say “Oh I’m sure I’ve seen something like > this in the news before” and kill your story just to be safe, even though it > may be fresh as a daisy newswise. They have not appreciated the distinction > between the genes in your story and the genes in a hundred other stories > like it. Frustrated science journalists often resort to terms like > “world-first” to get their editors to understand that this IS a genuine news > story – not old hat and headed for the spike. > > Fourth, the media is almost invariably local in its focus, and a term like > ‘world first’ or ‘cutting edge’ is a signal to its editors that local > scientists have done something good. Local heroes always get more coverage > than those from interstate or overseas – whether they are scientists or > sportspeople. > > A science story has to work very hard to get into the top ten percent of > publishable/broadcastable news. Most experienced science journalists will > admit that more than half their efforts usually end on the spike. That was > certainly the case when I was at The Australian, and I know from my > colleagues on other dailies they suffered the same fate. > > So while it is all very well to bewail the use of clichés in journalism – > and I do not like them and try constantly to avoid them personally – there > needs to be an appreciation among science communicators about what a science > story is really up against when it enters the news mill, and why a science > journalist might resort to colourful language to give it more impetus with > the editors who have the final say. > > To insist on the elimination of such clichés will probably only result in > fewer science stories being published, as a scientifically-illiterate > editorial stratum will not understand they are in fact about genuine, > world-first, breakthrough, cutting-edge science – and send them to the > growing scrap-pile of unpublished news. > > While I applaud the elimination of self-praise and hype from institutional > media releases, I defend the right of both science journalists and > communicators to use every verbal device they can to disseminate human > knowledge more widely via the media, without being too heavily criticised by > their peers for doing so. > > If this doesn’t start an argument in ASC, nothing will… > > > Julian Cribb FTSE > Julian Cribb & Associates > ph +61 (0)2 6242 8770 or 0418 639 245 > http://www.sciencealert.com.au/jca.html > > www.scinews.com.au > > > > —–Original Message—– > From: > firstname.lastname@example.org > > [mailto:email@example.com asn.au>] On Behalf Of Derek Elmes > Sent: Friday, 4 June 2010 8:51 AM > > To: firstname.lastname@example.org; > email@example.com > Subject: Re: [ASC-list] World class > > Niall, Nancy et al > > I recall Rob Morrison commenting on a similar issue several years ago. When > posting to this list an advertisement for a science communication position > not long after, Rob’s comments prompted me to invite people interested in > “communicating cutting edge breakthrough research” to go and work for a > mining equipment organisation. > > I suppose the question I’d add is do we know what audiences (as opposed to > communication professionals) think of such words (whether these ones or ones > in other areas of communication e.g. “hero” sports people)? Are there any > studies about audience reaction to there use or over-use? > > Cheers > > Derek > > > Derek Elmes > Scientific Services Division > Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water (NSW) > > > —–Original Message—– > From: > firstname.lastname@example.org > > [mailto:email@example.com asn.au>] On Behalf Of > firstname.lastname@example.org > Sent: Friday, 4 June 2010 12:51 AM > > To: email@example.com > Subject: Re: [ASC-list] World class > > Hello Niall, > > Yes, I agree. ‘Cutting edge’ is another one to avoid. > > Cheers, Nancy > > Assoc Prof Nancy Longnecker > > Coordinator, Science Communication Program > Faculty of Life and Physical Sciences, M011 > The University of Western Australia > 35 Stirling Highway > Crawley, WA 6009 > > ph: 61 8 6488 3926 > > email: firstname.lastname@example.org > > skype: nancylongnecker > > There is no point explaining everything in the universe if no one is > listening to you. (UWA Sci Comm student, 2009) > > CRICOS Provider No. 00126G > > >> I’m interested in ASC members’ views on the use of world-class and >> breakthrough in media releases. >> >> We try to avoid them. >> >> I generally think that if the work is good it doesn’t need the puff. >> The journalists can add it in if they want. >> >> Noel Turnbull made a similar comment in a piece on Crikey today. >> >> So, for instance, the Victorian government can be obsessive about >> describing things — from our events program to buildings — as >> world-class, but the reality is that world-class things don’t need >> to be promoted. It is symptomatic of Britain’s decline that the >> world-class cringe sometimes surfaces there too, but one never hears >> New York or Paris talking about world-class — they just are. >> Niall >> >> ________ >> >> Niall Byrne >> >> Science in Public >> 26 Railway Street South, Altona Vic 3018 >> >> ph +61 (3) 9398 1416 or 0417 131 977 > >> > email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org> >> >> Full contact details at >> > www.scienceinpublic.com.au enceinpublic.com.au/> >> >> >> > > > _______________________________________________ > ASC-list mailing list > email@example.com > > http://www.asc.asn.au/index.php?option=com_content > http://www.asc.asn.au/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=97&Itemid=1 > 1> &task=view&id=97&Itemid=11 > 5 > —————————————————————————- > —————————————————————————- > ————– > This email is intended for the addressee(s) named and may contain > confidential and/or privileged information. > If you are not the intended recipient, please notify the sender and then > delete it immediately. > Any views expressed in this email are those of the individual sender except > where the sender expressly and with authority states them to be the views of > the Department of Environment, Climate Change & Water NSW. > > _______________________________________________ > ASC-list mailing list > > firstname.lastname@example.org > > http://www.asc.asn.au/index.php?option=com_content > http://www.asc.asn.au/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=97&Itemid=1 > 1> &task=view&id=97&Itemid=11 > 5 > > > _______________________________________________ > ASC-list mailing list > > email@example.com > > http://www.asc.asn.au/index.php?option=com_content > http://www.asc.asn.au/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=97&Itemid=1 > 1> &task=view&id=97&Itemid=11 > 5 > > _______________________________________________ > ASC-list mailing list > > firstname.lastname@example.org > > http://www.asc.asn.au/index.php?option=com_content > http://www.asc.asn.au/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=97&Itemid=1 > 15> &task=view&id=97&Itemid=115 > > > > — > Dr Peter QUIDDINGTON > Adjunct Lecturer, > School of Humanities, > University of New England > Contact: 6771-2874 > Mob: 0402-459-141 > > > > > > > — > Dr Peter QUIDDINGTON > Adjunct Lecturer, > School of Humanities, > University of New England > Contact: 6771-2874 > Mob: 0402-459-141 > > > >
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