President’s Update

Thank you to Joan Leach for the President’s Update

Happy 2016!

Having just completed an interstate move and changed jobs, 2016 seems like a rather fresh start — I find myself more optimistic than usual (academics being prone to a bit of cynicism, I suppose).

Going into the holiday, I was buoyed by a quick trip across the Tasman for the SCANZ conference. The program was smart and engaging and it was also well attended by ASC members so it was great to catch up in Wellington. Plans were already afoot for the 2018 PCST conference in Dunedin. I look forward to talking with ASC members to see how we’d like to get involved.

The SCANZ conference was kicked off by the Minister for Science and Innovation, the Hon Steven Joyce. I was struck by how central science communication was in his innovation vision for NZ. He also discussed awards and incentives for great communicators and for science communication initiatives. His message seemed very much in line with the innovation message we’re currently hearing in Australia.

My hope is that after a strong presence by the Prime Minister at the 2015 PM’s prizes for science and the appointment of Alan Finkel as Chief Scientist who is well aware of the value of science communication and science journalism, our advocacy for science communication and recognition for quality work will not fall on deaf ears!

Back to the topic of the SCANZ conference — the plenary sessions focussed on citizen science as well as NZ’s myriad programs communicating environmental issues, Antarctic science, and basic research. It was inspiring — and the plenary format meant that science communication and journalism colleagues across sectors could respond and discuss questions and issues all together. We’ll try to follow our Kiwi colleagues lead in March in Brisbane. I really enjoyed the interaction across the diversity of science communication, journalism, policy, academic research. Congrats to Christine Ross, outgoing President of SCANZ, for a great conference.

Since I am overwhelmed by the listicle at the moment (‘5 ways to really stick with your New Year’s resolutions this year’) I thought I’d share my own: 3 top trends (in addition to the “innovation agenda”) I look for in science communication in 2016:

1. Citizen Science is hot. Now, most of us have been involved in some way with initiatives for a long time, but now the rest of the world loves it! As I unpacked my boxes from my move, I found my 1995 copy of Alan Irwin’s Citizen Science: A Study of People, Expertise, and Sustainable Development. It will repay another read! The idea has morphed in the last 20 years, but even a scan while hunched over a pile of books was revealing. So, if we love the idea of citizen science, why is citizen journalism more problematic (I think it is)? Does the current focus on getting people to do scientific activities preclude getting people to think about controversial science? Anyway, these discussions are coming our way and I look forward to them.

2. ‘Engagement’ may be a dead metaphor by the end of 2016: For a fun read, try http://www.theguardian.com/science/political-science/2015/dec/17/public-participation-science-technology-failure-to-launch

3. Native content advertising is going to drive a lot of science communication: OK, so this is a special interest of mine so I see it everywhere at the moment. But, some of the journalists I most respect are doing very good work… but paid for by Universities and other institutions (and of course, corporate sponsors). I’m not willing to say ‘this is terrible, this is the end of the world…’  but it’s a trend. I want to understand it. So, I hope this year we can have an open discussion on this… the good, the bad, the ugly… the science listicle.

I hope ASC members had a great end to 2015 and are optimistic about 2016.

Professor Joan Leach

ASC President