Communicating the science of climate change: Hot Air tips

I am pleased to announce a new resource for climate change communicators and perhaps all who work to make science more accessible. The booklet of tips and highlights of the three Hot Air Symposia is the latest outcome of these workshops about communicating the science of climate change presented by Jenni Metcalfe of Econnect Communication and supported by ASC. The events in Perth and Brisbane in 2009 and in Canberra 2010 (a one day session during our national conference) featured panels of select speakers who explored how to address different audiences.

Jenni, with feedback from several ASC members, wrote the booklet which contains a wealth of information to help you frame and deliver your messages for a range of target audiences. Jenni has based much of her recent ‘Communicating the science of climate change’ workshop in Sydney on this booklet. This is a living document and Jenni and ASC welcome your feedback to its evolution. Follow this link to provide feedback via SurveyMonkey here. The survey closes on 10 September.

ASC members and staff contributed to the smooth running of these workshops. Will Rifkin from the University of New South Wales developed support from volunteers for each session. He also provided critical and very useful feedback to the development of this document. ASC Membership Officer, Kali Madden, and immediate past president, Tim Thwaites, were significantly involved in all three symposia. Nancy Longnecker from the University of Western Australia helped with the Perth session and Joan Leach from the University of Queensland assisted in Brisbane.

The New South Wales Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water provided financial support to assist in developing and drafting this document and Jenni and ASC would like to thank them for their generous support. I thank Jenni and her contributors for their efforts to make the symposia successful and for this booklet which now is a featured resource of the ASC website.

Read the booklet and consider its content. I repeat that this is a living document and we would welcome your insights on how to make it better now and in the future.

Jesse Shore
National President

ASC National Conference 2011 – Call for Expressions of Interest

The ASC National Conference in February of this year set us off in a good direction for 2010. It had excellent sessions about many aspects of the science communication profession, featured the rich field of research into science communication, was well attended, had a fun vibe and was the launching platform of ‘Inspiring Australia, A national strategy for engagement with the sciences’.

Planning and delivering the excellent program for the conference took a lot out of our key people. To allow time to recoup and regroup, and to try something different, we are planning a series of day long professional development workshops in several capital cities for 2011 rather than a multi-day conference in one location.

To give adequate time to plan our next major gathering for a date in 2012 I’m inviting ASC members to submit an expression of interest to join the committee to plan and deliver our next national conference.

I’m also inviting expressions of interest from potential sponsors of the conference and associated events. It’s never too early to seek possible funding.

The planning committee will consult with ASC Executive to:

determine the date and venue for the conference (we’ll avoid conflict with the PCST2012 conference, 18-20 April in Florence)

consider seeking a university as a venue (timing would be in semester break or common week of university holidays)

consider bodies or societies with similar interests which might be interested in presenting or attending

develop sessions and themes suitable for the various interests of science communicators such as editing, script writing, illustrating, evaluation

develop thematic content which makes connections with the Inspiring Australia Report and its associated recommendations

suggest and arrange speakers for sessions and further details of the conference.

Tim Thwaites, the convenor for the 2010 National Conference, offers to act as a consultant to the committee. Tim is preparing a report with tips on the process and decision making involved in developing the conference.

The membership of the committee will be announced before the next AGM in December 2010.

The conference committee has the challenging role to chart the next part of the course for ASC. If you have event management skills, foresight, energy and have a sense of fun helping to plan the next national conference may be the next right step for you.

Please send me your expressions of interest by 15 October 2010.

Jesse Shore
National President

How I became a science communicator

The other week I was asked by some scicomm students in Perth, what was my main bit of advice was to them? I replied ‘to take every opportunity to try many different things and gain many experiences’! I guess this reflects how my career has panned out and the fact that I’ve been lucky enough to remain flexible so that I can take opportunities when they arise.

Having studied biology and environmental sciences originally, and completing a fantastic Honours project with BP Refinery (in oily sludge bioremediation!), my first job working in a lab in Canberra with petri dishes and test tubes did not enthrall me at all. I thought ‘oh no, I’ve studied four years, and this is it?’ I think my main issue was the isolation in the lab, so I decided to undertake further environmental management studies after which I worked as an environmental consultant for a while and as a tour guide at the Australian Dinosaur Museum on the side.

While in Canberra I remember meeting someone who was in the Questacon Science Circus. It sounded really cool, and while I did apply with an audition tape (and got to be a runner up), I ended up enrolling in the science communication Masters course at CPAS the next year. At the same time, I secured a contract job through a temporary secretarial (!) agency working for the Australian Science Festival to coordinate the Solar and Advanced Technology Boat Race. These two things combined, cemented my enthusiasm for science communication. Over the next few years, I went on to work at Geoscience Australia as a promotions officer and then at the Australian National University as the science reporter for the ANU Reporter newspaper.

Itchy feet led me to take off an a year’s leave without pay to Switzerland, where I ended up staying for three years, working in a corporate communication role at a surveying and engineering company. Here I was editor for the company magazine and looked after the content of their website. I moved on to their UK office and then gained some exposure of marketing and technical communication of surveying instruments.

It was in fact on the CPAS eScinapse list that I saw the advert for my next big break. I took the job with a new European-funded project that aimed to encourage collaboration of scientists throughout Europe working on infectious disease and food safety. I set up and ran the ‘Med-Vet-Net’ communications unit for five years, a role where I was responsible for the website, publications, media liaison, event management and communication training. It was here that I developed the Med-Vet-Net internship, that consisted of four 2-week modules aimed at developing scientists’ skills in communication, presenting, working with different audiences, understanding stakeholders and embracing the web and new media. During my time at Med-Vet-Net, I formed my own company ‘Science Communications Ltd’ that has gone on to undertake science communication writing, public relations, website design, event management and communication training throughout Europe.

‘Home sweet home’ eventually called, and I’ve recently returned to my hometown of Perth after 17 years of being away. I’m still running my business and I’ve been lucky enough to win an 8-month part-time contract with the WA Museum to coordinate the International Year of Biodiversity, a position shared with Val Gregory at the Australian Museum.  This role sees us working with scientific and research organisations to promote biodiversity events that are being held throughout the year as well as encourage them, community groups and the public to upload stories, images and videos to our ‘biodiversity hub’ website

I’m also about to start a short-term contact with Curtin University undertaking PR and event coordination for the science and engineering areas while they recruit someone permanently into the position. And, I’ve grand plans to roll out some of my science communication courses that I’ve been running in Europe, having just completed a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment so that I can become an accredited trainer in Australia.

So, my motto is ‘variety is the spice of life’. I’ve had the good fortune to work with many brilliant individuals so far over my varied career and have gained valuable mentors and some very good friends along the way. Take opportunities as they come along, but most importantly, love what you do!

Teresa Belcher
teresa [at]

teresa.belcher [at]


International Year of Biodiversity (IYOB)

The United Nations has declared 2010 as the International Year of Biodiversity (IYOB), a year-long celebration of biological diversity and its value for life on Earth. Throughout the world, individuals and organisations are promoting biodiversity.

Biological diversity – or biodiversity – is the term given to the variety of life on Earth and the natural patterns it forms. We share the planet with as many as 13 million different living species including plants, animals and bacteria, but unbelievably only 1.75 million of them have been named and recorded! The biodiversity we see today is the fruit of billions of years of evolution, shaped by natural processes and, increasingly, by the influence of humans. It forms the web of life of which we are an integral part and upon which we so fully depend.

In Australia, national events are being coordinated by the Council of Australasian Museum Directors (CAMD) with funding from the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research (DIISR). The Western Australian Museum and the Australian Museum each host a part-time IYOB Coordinator, to make this initiative happen. Based at the WA Museum in Perth is Teresa Belcher, coordinating WA, SA and NT events. Looking after events in NSW, VIC, QLD, ACT and TAS is Val Gregory, based at the Australian Museum in Sydney.

During 2010, museums across Australia are working with people and communities to discover, celebrate and promote biodiversity, and encourage participation in biodiversity events all around the country. There have already had three Rounds of funding for grants where over 30 organisations have been awarded up to $5,000 to hold community events.

To promote what’s going on around Australia, a ‘biodiversity hub’ website has been developed ( to advertise events and allow people to have their ‘say’ to show the difference they are making.

The site is gradually growing in size, but we encourage YOU to visit and make a contribution. There is an easy-to-fill-in form which allows you to ‘Add an Event’, making your event part of our searchable calendar, that is also promoted more widely throughout Australia via our Biodiversity Bulletin.

In addition, we are encouraging people to create a ‘story’ about their activities that relate to biodiversity. This may be about specific research in biodiversity – some of you are working on identifying those 11 million plus species yet to be named while others may be looking at the bigger picture by working ecosystems and climate change. You may be involved in a conservation group and could write a feature about a threatened species. You may be involved with community eco-education projects to help clean up our beaches, parks and reserves where wild plants and animals live. Perhaps you are doing your bit at home to increase the biodiversity in your neighbourhood by making wildlife more welcome in your backyards by providing water, food, shelter and privacy. You may have built a frog pond or introduced plants that attract more insects. We’d like to hear about all of these things, because, as you can see, every small step helps!

We’d also like see photos and videos that can be uploaded to our site via Flick and YouTube. Lastly, you may like to interact with us on Twitter (@bio2010aus) and use the hashtag #iyob2010 to promote your events and work further. Or send us an email and we can do this for you. We look forward to hearing from you soon.

Teresa Belcher- teresa.belcher [at]

Val Gregory – valerie.gregory [at]

Climate change workshops – special offer for ASC

Starting this August is a wonderful opportunity for professional development for those working in the area of climate change communication, policy, education and engagement:
Communicating Climate Change Workshop Series

  • Workshop 1: Communicating the Science with Jenni Metcalfe (11 August 2010)
  • Workshop 2: Communicating the Story with Sohail Inayatullah (25 August 2010)
  • Workshop 3: Communicating for Action with Kath Fisher (8 September 2010)

ASC has collaborated with The International Association for Public Participation Australasia and the Sydney Environmental Educators Network to present this series of three innovative workshops with three leading practitioners during August and September 2010. There is a substantial discount for members of these organisations to attend the sessions. Spaces are limited and if you are keen to attend book now. You can book for the entire series or for individual workshops.

The series is designed for anyone working in the area of climate change communication, policy, education and engagement and is hosted by the Powerhouse Museum as part of the Ultimo Science Festival.

Cost: $110 for IAP2, AAEE and ASC members, students and NGOs (incl GST), $220 other non-members (incl GST)
Venue: Powerhouse Museum, Board Room

Book today – don’t miss out. Go to for information and to register (scroll through the Events page to August 2010 and September; IAP2 NSW – Communicating Climate Change – Workshop…). The workshops are three hours long and there are two sessions each day.

Follow this link to view the flyer of the workshop series: Climate change workshop flyer

Jesse Shore

New science communication grants

A great opportunity awaits two fortunate project groups. The availability of two Sustainable Science Outreach Grants from DIISR’s Science Connections Program (SCOPE) has just been announced.

Two $50,000 grants are available for science communication programs for regional and remote communities that combine science with social science/arts and make use of local content and partnerships.

Details are on the Science Connections Program (SCOPE) web site:

Geoff Crane, from Science Communication and Strategic Partnerships at Questacon, Canberra, asked me to promote these grants to ASC folk. Geoff‘s contact details are email: gcrane [at], Ph +61 2 6270 2880, web:

Cheers and good grant application writing,

Jesse Shore

ASC President

From the President, June 2010: Inspiring Australia; national workshops; theatre; and ‘What is science?’

The Inspiring Australia report has been much on my mind and in my actions. I again met with DIISR staff to discuss the role ASC can and will play in promoting several of the recommendations in the report. Perhaps ASC’s profile is growing as I was invited to a meeting to explore evaluation tools (part of Recommendation 15 in the report) and have since been invited to participate in a steering committee on the same topic.

In late June I will be speaking at a workshop of state government representatives whose role is to help implement actions related to the Inspiring Australia report. I’ll give a brief presentation about aspects of science communication in Australia and also seek support for some ASC initiatives.

The first project in the pipeline is a series of professional development workshops for early 2011. The idea is for several ASC branches to present one day events within 10-14 days of each other. The national body will organise a keynote presenter to feature at each event. The workshops will be done in collaboration with another like minded professional association. News of this will be forthcoming as the pieces fall into place. This activity will provide a cost-effective alternative to a national multi-day conference, put a spotlight on the branches and result in a number of significant new relationships with professional bodies and more than one level of government.

I admit to working on a pet project or two. In March I read that Alan Alda (of TV M*A*S*H fame and much more) has been involved in starting a training course for early career scientists and engineers in improvisational theatre techniques. I note that our ACT branch is running an event about learning how to impro (on 23 June). Great minds think alike. I’m exploring whether ASC can be involved in setting up a nationwide training course in improv theatre techniques for scientists. I’ll keep you posted.

The ‘What is science?’ project is developing slowly but with purpose. I received more than 15 responses from members on the topic and will form a group to digest the material. Everyone I’ve discussed this project has seen its value. Susannah Eliott suggested that the topic could be called ‘Where is the evidence?’ and ‘Who is the source?’ These phrases were so good I suggested that ABC’s Catalyst consider ‘Where’s the evidence and who’s the source?’ as a regular segment for the program. I await to see if raising this flag gets their salute.

I recently enjoyed meeting with the rejuvenated South Australian branch of ASC. I was impressed at the good relationships they have established with RiAus and the Australian Science Media Centre. The energetic committee has also lined up a creative program of events such as a tour of the new biodiversity gallery at the South Australian Museum. Excellent presentations by museum staff revealed how they successfully addressed challenges to communicate science effectively in the gallery setting and to create an engaging exhibition experience. I look forward to meeting with other committees soon.

Jesse Shore
National President

A Little Knowledge Can Be Dangerous: ‘White-coat syndrome’ and the ‘CSI Effect’

rmp-explained-stillProviding jurors with carefully designed instruction prior to a criminal case involving DNA evidence improves their understanding of science and reduces the likelihood of a miscarriage of justice, according to research by ASC members in NSW.

A recent research project “Improving jury understanding and use of expert DNA evidence” (Goodman-Delahunty & Hewson, 2010) has shown that the less jurors know about DNA science, the more likely they are to be influenced by scientific evidence and convict.

This “white-coat syndrome” in which jurors place undue weight on scientific evidence is compounded by a “CSI effect” in which frequent viewers of forensic criminal television shows often have the lowest understanding of DNA science – but feel competent to use it.

Jurors in criminal trials in Australia are increasingly expected to hear and understand complex scientific evidence before considering their verdict. Unfortunately, only about two-thirds of typical Australian jurors have studied high-school mathematics and only one-third has studied any science at high school level. Juries are three times more likely to convict in identical cases where DNA evidence is presented.

This study exposed jurors to an 18-minute video instruction on both DNA science and the calculation of random match probabilities to improve understanding of DNA evidence and reducing the overall conviction rate. Jurors’ trust in DNA evidence declined as their knowledge of DNA science increased – they became more sceptical and empowered to be critical of the evidence.

The study also compared the efficacy of different instructional media and sources of scientific information.  Researchers examined the learning preferences of jurors prior to the case and then exposed them to either verbal or multimedia presentations, and also compared judge-led and prosecution-led scientific experts. Instruction presented by a DNA expert was perceived as more credible than judge-led instruction.

The researchers recommendations propose jury education programs which would equip jurors with relevant knowledge about complex scientific concepts, with increased use of visual aids in evidence and other legal proceedings to facilitate jury understanding.

Reports on the research and its recommendations (Improving jury understanding and use of expert DNA evidence and Enhancing fairness in DNA jury trials) can be accessed through the Australian Institute of Criminology.

Dr. Lindsay Hewson – ASC NSW branch
lindsay [at]

100,000 students engaged in NSW science and engineering challenge

The University of Newcastle celebrated a milestone in science and engineering engagement recently with the 100,000th student participating in the Science and Engineering Challenge.

The Challenge changes students’ perceptions about what a career in science or engineering entails as they compete in a variety of activities including building bridges, making catapults, navigating virtual mazes and decrypting codes.  The principle message they take from the competition is that a career in science or engineering involves creativity, innovation, problem solving and team work.

Developed by the University’s Faculty of Science and Information Technology and Faculty of Engineering and Built Environment, the innovative program has been successful at convincing students to continue with maths and science in senior secondary school to keep their options open for careers in science and engineering.

The Challenge is a partnership with Rotary, Engineers Australia and universities across Australia, and is sponsored nationally by the Australian Constructors Association.  The Challenge has previously won the Engineers Australia National Engineering Excellence Award for the best engineering project in Australia.

Professor John O’Connor, Head of the University’s School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences, said the Challenge was established in 2000 as a way of boosting enrolment in secondary high school science and mathematics.

The Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research has provided one million dollars over two years to support both the Challenge and the University’s SMART program, which delivers interactive science shows to primary school students, said Professor O’Connor.

Since its inception, the Challenge has grown from a local event to one involving more than 20,000 students per year from high schools across Australia each year. The participation of 100,000 students in the program demonstrates the wonderful success the Challenge has achieved throughout its 10 year history.

One of its great strengths is the principle of “local ownership”. In every location, a local organising committee coordinates activities in their region.

Professor O’Connor welcomes interest from ASC members wishing to assist with future Challenge activities. Find out more here: or contact: Professor John O’Connor – ASC NSW Branch / Hunter Chapter, john.oconnor [at]

Bilingual French online networking for science communicators

Knowtex ( is a science/technology social networking website, written mainly in French with some English articles which may be of interest to ASC members.  It seems to be run by a commercial agency, Umaps, but it’s fun to see ‘Poincaré conjecture’ in a tag cloud.

(With thanks to Professor Justin Dillon from King’s College London and ESERA for his original posting on PSCI-COM.)