A million fans for Australian science

Australian science has just gained its millionth fan on worldwide internet phenomenon Facebook, the Chief Scientist, Professor Ian Chubb announced at the Australian Science Communicators National Conference in Sydney today.

“The milestone makes Australian website ScienceAlert.com.au the world’s #1 provider of science news on Facebook,” managing director Chris Cassella said.

“We’re also now the world’s 9th largest general media news outlet on Facebook, with more followers than The Economist, the Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine, the Guardian, and all the Australian news media outlets combined,” he added.

“We understand that we are competing for peoples’ attention on the internet, so while science topics can be complex, we have adapted and are now delivering science where people want it, when and how they want it — on the Internet, and in Facebook.”

ScienceAlert founder Julian Cribb adds, “We founded ScienceAlert to share great Australian scientific achievements with a local and global audience at a time when the news was absolutely dominated by US and European science.

“We had no inkling there would be such international interest in Australian science or that it could grow so quickly.”

The ScienceAlert website attracts 100,000+ visitors a month, but more than a million people now keep in touch with science daily via its Facebook site and through their friends. Between them, ScienceAlert’s million Facebook fans have around 130,000,000 personal contacts, with whom they share their interests and activities.

This audience, currently growing by a third of a million a day, and is now within reach of Australian science.

“For the sake of the Australian scientists in our universities, CSIRO, CRCs and scientific centres we are delighted their work is now achieving a much larger global audience,” Mr Cribb said.

“Let’s hope it brings further global recognition of its quality, as well as attracting the brightest researchers and students to Australia.”

Mr Casella said that Facebook users were predominantly aged under 30, and were the fastest growing segment on the internet today, both in Australia and worldwide.

“Since the advent of smart phones many young people go on Facebook before they even get out of bed in the morning,” he says.

“Our followers are young, they are keen on science – and they are engaged, as you can see from their comments, likes and sharing activity.

“We are inspiring science enthusiasts worldwide by making Australian science as fun to follow as a friend.

We think this could be the beginning of a new era in science’s engagement with society.”

ScienceAlert achieved half a million Facebook fans in September 2011, and has since doubled its global outreach in barely 5 months, expanding its news and feature content with images and video from across science.

http://www.famecount.com/node/247314 It is ranked 16th among Australian sites on Facebook, ahead of the tennis, cricket, rugby league and soccer and has more followers than other Australian media or popular TV shows.

“We are currently exploring ways to further grow our audience reach in other languages such as Chinese, Spanish and French.

This will give Australian science unprecedented global exposure – and we hope will lead to more people coming from overseas to study and work in research in Australian universities and companies.

“Above all, we’d like to thank all our fans in Australia and worldwide for making this happen – and express our particular thanks to those Australian universities, science agencies and technology companies who had the entrepreneurial vision to support this venture,” Mr Cassella said.

ASC2012 – three days is not enough

Overview: The ASC2012 conference forms a great package. The program features impressive speakers and important topics, with appealing social events from Sunday through Tuesday nights, and a few deals for attractions while you are in Sydney.

Chief Scientist plenary extended: Given we have a plethora of Chief Scientists, we have extended the duration of their plenary. The session will start at 2.00pm as per the program and run until 3.00pm or 3.15pm (with a slim chance of going to 3.30pm), to allow plenty of interchange, discussion and exploration of issues.

This will leave 15-30 minutes before the afternoon tea break. Some or all the Chief Scientists will go to the refreshment area at this time where you can gather around a Chief Scientist for an informal conversation.

The rooms reserved for the previously scheduled concurrent sessions will be available, should a Chief Scientist choose to give a short presentation or have a more formal Q&A. Either way, you have an opportunity to talk with the state Chief Scientist of your choice.

Sessions will be recorded: the audio of all sessions will be recorded and some sessions will be videoed. This will serve as a resource for conference goers.

Full house of exhibitors: a range of organisations will have booths at the conference where you can talk with their key people. Find out what each organisation has to offer and quiz them about their science communication skills and achievements. The booths will be in the Banquet Hall and will be busiest during the refreshment and lunch breaks.

Science-As-Art Exhibition: the Science-As-Art exhibition at the conference will showcase examples of science visualisation created by scientists and science communicators right across Australia. Prizes will be awarded for the best entry. Also look at the artist-inspired Periodic Table on Show, made to celebrate the 2011 International Year of Chemistry.

Jesse Shore
National President

Member Profile: Past President and Life Member, Robyn Williams

Robyn Williams is a past president and life member of the ASC. He is a science journalist and presenter of Radio National’s Science Show (since 1975), Ockham’s Razor and In Conversation.

Robyn is as prominent on radio as he is on television, having narrated programs such as Nature of Australia, and Catalyst, and appeared on World Safari with David Attenborough.

He has conducted countless interviews with scientists for ABC TV and he hosted a link between leading scientists of Australia and the United Kingdom at the Grand Launch for the Royal Institution of Great Britain, attended by David Attenborough and the Queen.

Robyn Williams is highly respected in the academic world. In 1993 he was the first journalist elected as a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science. In 1988, he received an Honorary Doctorate in Science from the Universities of Sydney, Macquarie and Deakin. The ANU awarded him a Doctorate of Law, and he is a Visiting Professor at the University of NSW and an Adjunct Professor at the University of Queensland.

He was appointed AM in the 1988 Australian Bicentenary Honours list. He was elected a National Living Treasure by the National Trust in 1987 and even has a star named after him by the Sydney Observatory. Robyn has served in various positions including President of the Australian Museum Trust, Deputy Chairman of the Commission For The Future, and President of The ANZAAS Congress. He is an Ambassador of the Queensland Museum Foundation.

Robyn Williams has written over 10 books, three of which are on the Higher School Certificate reading list. In 1994, Robyn Williams took up a Reuters Fellowship at Oxford University where he wrote his autobiography And Now For Something Completely Different, in deference to one of his most popular interviews with John Cleese on psychiatry. His book, Future Perfect, focuses on cities, transport, communication, education and science.

Although Robyn Williams graduated with a Bachelor of Science (Honours) in England, he admits to having spent as much time acting as he has studying. Early in his career he made guest appearances in The Goodies, Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Dr Who and stood in for Tom Jones for four months in his TV series.

Next week Robyn celebrates 40 years since joining the ABC Science Unit.

See Robyn address the ASC National Conference on Monday 27 February.

Australian Enabling Technologies Roadmap

The deadline for submissions about the Australian Enabling Technologies Roadmap is 23 February. Have a read of the ‘ETRM’ at http://www.innovation.gov.au/Industry/Nanotechnology/NationalEnablingTechnologiesStrategy/Pages/ExpertForum.aspx. It covers the projected developments of new forms of nanotechnology and biotechnology and synthetic biology over the next 10-15 years. It also mentions some expected impacts.

My comment would be that the ETRM is light on in how it will navigate the landscape with all levels of the community. I welcome your views before the impending deadline.

Jesse Shore
National president

Research at ASC2012

27 February 2012to29 February 2012

Science communication is an active field of research and some of the latest results will be presented at ASC2012.

Among many others there will be a paper discussing strategies to close the gap between target audience and actual audience, while another one explores the way Twitter can be used to gauge people’s interest in science.

With the rise of social media and blogs as communication tools, science communication has become more interactive than ever. Often blog posts spark heated discussions, held through comments to the original post – content, which the author of the blog has no control over. How these comments can impact the message of blog posts is the topic of yet another research project presented at ASC2012.

Have you ever though of postage stamps as a means to communicate science? Well, millions of these small but obvious ‘message boards’ are distributed across the world every day. It will be interesting to learn how this form of media is used to represent science in countries differing in their political, historical and cultural background.

Being the intermediate between scientists, the general public and policy makers, science communicators bear the burden of responsibility to provide accurate and reliable information. In cases of controversial topics this can be quite difficult but delegates can learn from a highly successful campaign, informing about synthetic cannabinoids.

Finally, who doesn’t love a real hero? It is for this reason that ‘science heroes’ inspire the masses and play an important role in raising the public acceptance of science. What we can learn from these heroes and if their inspiration can be copied by others are among the questions explored in a paper presented on the final day of the conference.

In five sessions a total of nearly 30 papers will be presented across all three days of the conference. Refer to the program pages to find out about the session contents.

Getting science where it’s needed

Sydney Masonic Centre
27 to 29 February

Concurrent Session 1B: Research and Papers
Concurrent Session 3B: Research and Papers
Concurrent Session 4B: Research and Papers
Concurrent Session 5B: Research and Papers
Concurrent Session 6B: Research and Papers

Stunning science images the best for 2011

The international competition – awarded by the journal Science and the US National Science Foundation (NSF) – recognises the year’s best images, videos and interactive games that convey complex science ideas. Winning entries must not only capture attention, but help the viewer grasp scientific research, when words alone might fall short. Deadly cucumber skin and a two-dimensional compound feature in the best science photos of 2011.

Post of ASC Assistant Treasurer – seeking applicants

Assistant Treasurer, Australian Science Communicators www.asc.asn.au
Location: anywhere in Australia with broadband internet access
Honorarium: $300 per year.

The ASC is seeking applications from members interested in the post of Assistant Treasurer.

The Assistant Treasurer will assist the ASC Treasurer, David Ellyard, to manage the financial matters of the Association. The position offers opportunities to increase one’s financial skills and to be exposed to wider aspects of science communication and to the activities of the ASC.

The Assistant Treasurer position has been created as part of the succession planning for the management of the Association. It is intended that In due course the Assistant Treasurer will take over the full Treasurer’s role.

The Treasurer will induct and train the Assistant Treasurer. In the short term, the Assistant Treasurer will be responsible for a limited number of the Treasurer’s duties. Over time the Assistant Treasurer will gradually learn all the tasks of the Treasurer.

Duties of the Assistant Treasurer include:

  • Keeping the books under supervision of the Treasurer. (David Ellyard uses Quickbooks but other software (eg MYOB) could be used.);
  • Assisting the Treasurer prepare monthly accounts for reporting to the National Council and Executive;
  • Taking responsibility for the payment of invoices under the direction of the Treasurer.
  • Serving as a non-voting member of the National Council and Executive to contribute to discussions of programs and policy beyond their financial aspects.

The key selection criteria for this role are:

  • Demonstrated ability to be methodical and to keep financial records up to date;
  • Evidence of an interest in increasing one’s financial accounting skills;
  • Evidence of an established interest in science communication;
  • Computer and internet literacy. The successful applicant will be trained to use accounting software but it is desirable to have familiarity with Quickbooks, MYOB or similar accounting software;
  • Capacity to commit ~5 hours per month to ASC financial tasks;
  • It is desirable that the applicant is interested in the role of Treasurer in the context of succession planning of the ASC.

The Assistant Treasurer will receive an honorarium of $300. The Treasurer is allocated an honorarium of $1000.

Applications are invited by e-mail no later than 5 pm on 5 March 2012 for the attention of Jesse Shore, ASC National President at: jesse@prismaticsciences.com.

Please include a brief CV (two pages maximum) and a statement addressing the selection criteria with contact details of two professional referees (one page maximum).  Applications must be submitted in PDF or Word 2003/2007 format (.doc or .docx). Candidates must be current financial members of ASC.

If you have any technical questions about the role, e-mail David at: david@davidellyard.com

Additional information:

ASC Treasurer – statement of duties (as provided by the current Treasurer).

1. Prepare monthly accounts for reporting to the National Council and Executive, and provide an explanatory commentary.

2. Prepare and oversight the budget.

2. Provide advice to the National Council and Executive on the money dimension of ASC policy and programs (eg the national conference).

3. Pay bills (not many of these; e.g. Executive officer’s fee is done by a periodic direct transfer). Mostly done by EFT since the Treasurer is the only signatory at the moment.

5. Do the banking (not a lot. Most income is from membership fees which come via YourMembership, our membership registration company).

6. Organise the annual audit (this takes a bit of time) and present the accounts at the AGM.

7. Prepare and submit the Annual Return to the authorities (Treasurer has done this as it mostly deals with the accounts, and eases the task of the ASC Public Officer).

8. Keep the books. (David Ellyard uses Quickbooks but other software (eg MYOB) could be used. This would be a key task of the Assistant Treasurer)

9. Maintain liaison (eg with President, Executive officer, YourMembership).

10. Serve as a member of the National Council and Executive to offer advice on programs and policy beyond financial aspects.

11. Circulate monthly bank statements for accountability.

12. Pay capitation by 1 July of each year. Capitation is set at 10% of the membership fees of the number of members in a branch. An additional 10% may be paid on application to the Executive (e.g. to fund a special project).

Climate Change and Health Impacts

LISTEN to the edited podcast: Communicating health and climate change (mp3)

In March 2012 ASC Victoria and the Australasian Medical Writers Association held a dinner conversation with leading researchers and communicators.

Discussion Panel:

Facilitation –  Ian Muchamore, ASC Victoria President
Podcast Production – Dr Andi Horvarth


One of the greatest challenges surrounding the climate change debate is how to effectively communicate its impact to policy makers and the wider community. Are the messages getting to the right people and being communicated in the best way? Despite exhaustive debate of climate change science using environmental, economic, moral and social frameworks, Australian community consensus on appropriate responses to climate change can sometimes seem more distant than ever. A recent approach has been to reframe climate change consequences as major public health issues. Some communities may more readily engage with this approach but are there also disadvantages?

Key Issues:

  • Could a communications focus on health consequences of climate change break through the current polarised positions?
  • What are the predicted health consequences of climate change and how is this scientific understanding developing?
  • What mitigation and adaptation approaches need to be developed?
  • How can we responsibly communicate future health consequences when outcomes depend upon multiple environmental, biological and social systems?

 Further Resources:

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2012-02-12

  • Also Au sci tweeps not attending Australian Science Communicators' conference, why not? It's on 27-29 Feb in Sydney. http://t.co/G0FqO7O4 #

Science as Art – Art as Science

27 February 2012to29 February 2012

Science and art are not as far apart as you may think. A long history of visualising science entwines the two disciplines. At ASC2012 delegates will be able to learn how to make use of science art and visualisation when communicating scientific concepts and explore the transition between pure science and pure art.

Illustrations and graphics have been critical to the advancement of science ever since the times of Leonardo DaVinci and Albrecht Dürer, who very efficiently used the universal language of images to document details of the natural world. “Medical illustration allows the artist to edit the scene. You can even show what can’t be seen,” highlights Bang Wong, creative director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. Data journalist David McCandless explains that in our modern society, “suffering from information overload or data glut”, graphics can help to “visualise information so we can see the patterns and connections that matter and allow us to focus only on the information that’s important”.

It is from these illustrations of scientific information that science art was born. Visual communication of science can be regarded as a continuum ranging from purely informative illustrations of scientific detail to artistic creations for entertainment purposes. “To create effective visual communication is trying to hit the right spot in that continuum that matches the purpose of the communication and also the audience that you’re targeting,” elaborates Wong. However, the location of a visual on this continuum also depends on who watches it. “People see in it what they see in it. They may or may not notice [certain details],” he explains and McCandless remarks that “failing [its informative purpose], visualised information can just look really cool.”

Besides inspiration, modern science provides artists with novel techniques and materials to experiment with. The result is a fascinating array of projects ranging from weird to wonderful. The question, however, is, which role can and do these art projects play in the communication of science.

A highly interactive session at ASC2012 will explore this question and discuss ways to increase the communicative aspect of science art. An exhibition of science art throughout the three days of the conference will showcase the work of scientists and science artists and illustrate the ‘continuum of science visualisation’. Creators of science visuals are encouraged to <a title="Kate Patterson" href="mailto:Kate Patterson “>contact the organiser to have their work included in the exhibition.

Getting science where it’s needed
Sydney Masonic Centre
27 to 29 February

Concurrent Session 7B – Science Art: A dialogue about the value of art in communicating science

Science-As-Art Exhibition