What counts in science communication?

These days many science awards, although being primarily for research, also require evidence that the candidate has played a role in science communication.  Because of ERA descriptions and other measures of research and publications, most judges can evaluate the strength of a researcher by using clear and agreed indicators (peer-reviewed publications, citations, ARC grants, patents etc), but it is harder for them to evaluate the submitted claims about involvement in science communication. How does “subject of media interview” compare with “gave presentations in schools,”  or “participated in National Science Week” with “delivered several talks for Rotary” and similar?

Sometimes the standard of competing entries is so high that the perception of good science communication can be a deciding factor in who wins or loses an award. As science communicators, we can help in this process by detailing some of the activities embraced by the broad brush of science communication and giving them a rough hierarchy (at least within categories) to show what we consider to be significant work in our field and help to have that recognized within the nation’s science awards.

The following is neither comprehensive nor prescriptive, but may start the ball rolling. It has received some input from experienced science communicators already, but science communication is such a broad field that there will be other activities that we will have missed, and there are varying activities and awards in different states.

The final list will be audited by the executive, but remain open for suggestions.  Please send any to rob.morrison [at] flinders.edu.au One note of warning: it is impossible to get down to very fine detail so a huge list of headings will not help.  Please use existing headings where possible, adding examples to show what such a heading might be interpreted to include. Of course, if there is something new to be included which does not fit an existing heading, then please submit it.

Significant Achievements in Science Communication

This list is neither comprehensive nor prescriptive, but gives some guidance as to the relative importance of various science communication activities when considering these in science awards. No section is considered more important than another but, within each section, those items of higher significance are placed higher in the list. Please note that awards etc are those that specifically  recognise science communication, not science research.  Allowance should also be made for the fact that various awards, activities etc may be available in some states and territories and not in others.                                                                                                                               (Updated: 1 July 2010)


National Awards
* Eureka Prizes for Science Communication (especially Science Promotion; Science Journalism, People’s Choice)
*  Prime Minister’s Prize for Teaching
* National Media Awards for Science Journalism (Michael Daley, Walkley etc)
*  National Teaching Prizes
*  National Unsung Hero of Science Award (Aust Science Communicators)

# There are many awards made by particular societies and agencies. It is impossible to list these but, in general, the more significant the body, the more significant the award.

State Awards
* State Science Excellence Awards: eg SA Science Educator of the Year (School , Tertiary, Community)
* Tall Poppies Awards
* Unsung Hero of Science Communication  (SA only at present)
*  State Media Awards for Science Journalism (eg Archbishop of Adelaide Media Citation; Margaret Tobin Award for Mental Health journalism etc)
*  State-based teaching prizes

# There are many awards made by particular societies and agencies. It is impossible to list these but, in general, the more significant the body, the more significant the award.


* Initiation of Community/School Science Activities (eg Double Helix, naturalist societies etc)
* Executive/Committee of state educational organisations:  ( eg State Science Teachers’ Assocn etc)
* Participant in Scientists in Schools Program
* Occasional school presentations

* Executive/Committee of state organisations:  (eg National Science Week, Australian Science Communicators SA)
*  Significant public science presentations (eg Thinkers in Residence, Festival of Ideas, National Science Week etc)
* Chair/organiser of significant Community Science Event or Conference
* Regional Program/presentation of science to community


* Author of commercially published popular science book (Field Guide, Textbook etc)
*  Writer of substantial open broadcast Television or Radio documentary (may be more than one part)
* Author of science book for schools (commercial publisher, Primary reading program etc)
* Chapter in book as above
* Writer of regular column or presenter of regular series/segment  (mainstream media, science journal etc)
*  Subject/Author/Presenter of significant story/broadcast  in national popular science journal/media outlet (Cosmos; Australasian  Science, Sky and Space; Catalyst; The Science Show, Ockham’s Razor etc)
*  Included in database and used as expert commentator in media by Australian Science Media Centre
*  Subject of significant story in national mainstream media
*  Subject of significant story in state media  (Feature story;  Feature in Education Pages)
*  Subject of story in local media
*   Subject of story in regional media


The field of science communication is a young and growing one. Many initiatives within it are similarly new, and not incorporated in the categories above that refer to more conventional activities. They may well, however, provide evidence of significant contributions to science communication.

2 thoughts on “What counts in science communication?

  1. Does the government really want to know “what we consider to be significant work in our field”, or what can be shown objectively to be successful communication?

    The list above is a good idea, but would be most valuable if accompanied by suggestions for quantitative measures that can help scientists (or their press offices) monitor results of communication efforts and genuinely extend their reach, and help funding/awards bodies to recognize communications efforts based on their real impact.

    Working through the headings above, awards in one’s trophy cabinet aren’t objective measures per se. You don’t win a Nobel because you have a Lasker, but you might win a Nobel for (at least some of) the same work that earned you the Lasker.

    School and community events could be ranked by number of attendees/participants, weighted appropriately (e.g. an interactive workshop participant is more effectively engaged than a passive audience member).

    Just as Thomson Reuters (and before it, ISI) has long calculated “impact factors” to rank academic journals based on e.g. citations, companies such as Media Monitors use audience/circulation figures and advertising space rates to quantify the impact of other media (including online “new media”).

    James Shirvill
    Science Communication Consultant

  2. Rob,

    Good list!

    One might add science communication efforts on the web (or are they up there already?).

    Blogs would be a start, as they are publicly visible. Trendoids might suggest Twitter feeds, as well.

    How about websites, like Prof Joe Wolfe’s award-winning PhysClips or his clarinet physics site?

    Will Rifkin, PhD
    Director, Science Communication Program

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