SCREN update 2014

Thank you to Sean Perera for the SCREN update.

The Science Communication Research and Education Network (SCREN) is a special interest group recognized by Australian Science Communicators (ASC) and hosted under the auspices of the Director of the Centre for the Public Awareness at The Australian National University.

Currently, SCREN membership includes up to fifty science communication researchers and educators across twenty universities, including seven of the Group of Eight (Go8) universities in Australia, and three international affiliations in Canada, Kenya, and New Zealand.

Since its inception in June 2007, SCREN members convened nationally in April 2011 and May 2014. Deliberations at the recent meeting focused on a strategic forward vision for SCREN. SCREN members sought to identify a strategic Field of Research (FoR) “hub” for future science communication research publications as well as Australian Research Council (ARC) funding applications. Currently, the discipline lacks a unifying FoR Code, and SCREN members believe that a consensus is needed about where research in the discipline should be located, within the wider Australian research landscape.

Also at the recent meeting, strategies were proposed to increase interaction among science communication higher degree research students across Australian universities. SCREN in partnership with ASC introduced plans for a new on-line forum to be trialled in the coming months.

The meeting also addressed importantly the outcomes and implications of science communication research projects funded by Inspiring Australia. SCREN members agreed that other financial models should be explored to support research and development in science communication, and acknowledged ARC as a possible future funder of science communication research.

For more information about SCREN visit their website

Opening doors

Thank you to Sean Perera for the Inspiring Australia update.

The Opening Doors project, as it name suggests, gives otherwise unengaged and marginalised communities access to science and technology (S&T) in Australia. In particular, Opening Doors promotes awareness about S&T studies and careers among young (15–25 yo) humanitarian immigrants currently resettled regionally in Australia.

Mainstream scientific engagement in Australia is a novelty for this audience. Many of them also hold misconceptions about entitlement, stemming from experiences in their countries of origin. These negative early experiences have been anecdotally found to influence their perceptions about life in Australia, leading to views that S&T are elite study and career pathways, to which they do not necessarily have access.

Armed with an Inspiring Australia Unlocking Australia’s Potential Grant in 2012, Opening Doors pioneered a series of science communication activities for humanitarian immigrant youths resettled in regional NSW. The participants visited S&T centres in and around Canberra, including Geoscience Australia, Mt. Stromlo Observatory, Questacon, and CSIRO. They were introduced to first-hand experiences by S&T professionals, many of whom had immigrated to Australia. A wide variety of information including careers expos, Shell-Questacon Science Circus workshops, talks at the National Museum of Australia and the Museum of Australian Democracy were offered to the participants to experience the diversity of S&T opportunities available to them in Australia.

An important achievement in the first year of Opening Doors was to enrol one young man in a university science course leading to a career in medicine. This required the young man to re-embrace his passion for university education, despite numerous bureaucratic and cultural setbacks he faced when he arrived in Australia. Other young people in his community took his lead, and nine others are presently reading for university qualifications in nursing, horticulture, and computer technology.

A recent Opening Doors participant survey found that as many as sixty percent of the young people, who originally participated in the Opening Doors project, had positive views about S&T opportunities in Australia. This is a significant outcome, given that a majority of them were ambivalent, uninterested and even fearful when asked two years ago about S&T careers and studies in Australia. Their changed outlook was celebrated earlier this year by embarking on a partnership with the Atlas of Living Australia, through the QuestaBird citizen science project – where they proudly identified themselves as active contributors to S&T information in Australia.

To learn more about Opening Doors visit the project website


President’s update

Thank you to Joan Leach for the President’s update.

This month, I participated in a debate at the RiAus on genetic modification (sponsored by the Waite Research Institute at Uni Adelaide)—not whether we should be doing it or its dangers or potentials—but how we should carry out conversations about it in public. During the course of the debate, I was reminded that the first Australian consensus conference on gene technology in the food chain was held 15 years ago. Do you remember what you thought of GM in 1999? It also reminded me that I was living in London at the time and that the GM tomato controversy was raging in the supermarket aisles, food-borne illness from listeria was stoking anxiety and Mad Cow was around the corner. The debate in Adelaide was an interesting indication of how far we’ve come and, well, how far we need to go.

The affirmative team was arguing “The GM debate should only be about the science” and the team was staffed with eminent Australian scientists working on various forms of GM.  They tried to argue that scientists should stay out of public debate and leave it to the professionals—science communicators. They tried, but couldn’t really do it with a straight face. Every member of that team had worked with a science communicator, a few had media training from ASC members, and all reflected that effective science communication was a real partnership  between science and communicators. That’s a fair move from 1999.  For the debate, I was on the negative team arguing, of course, “The GM debate should NOT only be about the science.” It’s a position I believe as a communicator and something we probably share in the ASC community. Whether or not you like or loathe GM, various values, legal intuitions, views on social justice, are going to come into the conversation and they should.

What was perplexing to me, though, is that because I was arguing to pay attention to various values and the context of science, some people in the audience assumed I was anti-GM or assumed that I thought values should always trump the science in conversation. Here’s where we still have some way to go, then. It still seems that there is a assumption that “social” values are at odds with “science” and that “social” and “science” are antonyms. They are not. Scientists have values, too. And, there are social contexts where science trumps everything else. So, creating a context where values can be discussed openly, even when those values are about scientific things, still seems elusive.

Unbelievably, it’s time for the ASC AGM. We’re planning to have it in Canberra on 5 December. If you can’t get to our nation’s capital for this event, ASC is planning to stream proceedings so consider putting a ‘save the date’ in your diary and checking in on the AGM online.  As always, if there are issues you’d like to discuss, drop me a line.

Keen to study SciComm at uni?

Thank you to Claire Harris for the update.

Have you been wondering where you could study science communication at university? Maybe some soon-to-be school leavers are interested in exploring the mix of science and people that sci comm offers?

A number of universities in Australia offer subjects and qualifications focused on science communication. These universities include:

  • Australian National University
  • University of New South Wales
  • The University of Queensland
  • University of Western Australia
  • University of Adelaide.

Interestingly, the Centre for Public Awareness of Science is the longest running science communication academic centre in Australia, offering its first graduate diploma in 1986.

Do you know of any others that we’ve missed?

Have you found any Massive Open Online Courses in sci comm that you’d care to recommend? Comment below. (See an earlier article in Scope about MOOCs.)

Members may also be interested in checking out the discussion on the public LinkedIn site following a question from an undergraduate science student about what qualifications are needed to be considered a science communicator.

Event review: The art of communicating science

Thank you to Kathleen Hayes and George Aranda for the event review.

The Victorian branch recently held an event looking at the use of art – such as photography, animation, illustration and video – in communicating science.

A wonderful night was had by all, with ASC member Kathleen Hayes providing the following review:

“A night of good company, interesting conversation and amazing visuals made the Art of Communicating Science event a great time for all. For the mainly science based crowd the presentations gave a new and stimulating perspective on art, and how it could effectively convey and inspire scientific thinking. It was fascinating to learn about the practicalities of communicating science in visual mediums, be it cartooning, photography or animation. In particular I loved the high speed photography of air movement by Phred Peterson, I’d never understood the beauty of the maths behind such physics as helicopter flight until I saw it illuminated. First Dog was also a crowd winner as he humorously took the room to task on the status of science communication and its importance in the current climate. As well as being an enjoyable night, I think the event contributed to the group knowledge of science communication as well, and I anticipate more such events in the future.”

If you missed the event – or if you made it, but enjoyed it so much you want to see more – video interviews with science photographer Linnea Rundgren and Horrible Science series Tony De Saulles can be found on the PopSciGuy youtube channel.

Celebrity guest, First Dog on the Moon!

Celebrity guest, First Dog on the Moon!

Event review: Melbourne National Science Week mixer

Thank you to Linden Ashcroft for the event review.

Science educators and communicators converged at Markov Place, Melbourne on Thursday 14 August to bring in National Science Week 2014.

More than 40 people came along to the Victorian branch of ASC’s ‘ice-breaker’ for what many claim to be the most exciting week of the year! The beer and conversations ran freely between attendees, including representatives from Australian Young Scientists, Knox Innovation Opportunity and Sustainability Centre (KIOSC), Science Teachers Australia, Inspiring Australia, the Environmental Film Festival Melbourne, Scienceworks, The Royal Society of Victoria, Mill Park Library Monash University, Laborastory and many other science–based events and organisations across Melbourne.

Those who were running events during National Science Week were given an opportunity to promote their shows on a timeline posted along the wall of the bar. There was also a chance to spruik events to the crowd in a two-minute lightning talk. Many thanks to those of you who took to the wobbly stool!

A large number of door prizes were even given away. Movie tickets, a night at an observatory, 3D-printed cookie cutters and free passes to National Science Week events were all up for grabs.

Despite the packed house a good time was had by all and it was encouraging to see such an active ASC community alive and well in Melbourne. We look forward to seeing you all at our next event!


Science bloggers get Linked In to ASC

Thank you to Claire Harris for the discussion summary.

The ASC public LinkedIn group took off in early August with a discussion about scientist bloggers sparked by Jacinta Legg.

She asked, “Does anyone have any favourite Australian scientist-bloggers they follow?”

Jacinta, who describes herself as a ‘science geek’ likes to know what is happening in the world of science and enjoys blogs as an alternative source of news to the usual ‘latest breakthrough’ stories of mainstream science media.

“I’ve been reading science blogs, some regularly and some less so, for years. I like the conversational tone and the personal element. Ben Goldacre (Bad Science), Ed Yong (Not Exactly Rocket Science) and Phil Plait (Bad Astronomy) are long time favourites,” said Jacinta.

“Some months ago, a work colleague asked me about science blogs, and it got me thinking: of the science blogs I read, I couldn’t recommend any Australian ones to him; because I didn’t know any.

“I went searching online, but I didn’t know where to look. And I’m a science communicator! So I decided to put it to the ASC community. They know things,” she said.

The discussion that ensued on LinkedIn attracted 24 comments with lots of people chiming in with their ideas.

“Of the blogs people suggested, I loved the variety of science (canine science!), great subjects (women in science) and great post titles (‘Too much sex is sometimes deadly’),” said Jacinta.

“I was particularly excited by ‘The League of Remarkable Women in Science’. Great title! Finding out about it coincided with the Australian women in science Wikibomb by the Australian Academy of Science. Go Aussie women in science!”

George Aranda, who suggested Science Book a Day also volunteered to put a list of the blog suggestions on the ASC website.

“I saw that people were asking about science blogs by Australian authors, which I am particularly interested in – as I teach higher ed science students how to write blogs, with the aim of improving their communication skills,” said George.

“An Australian list of blogs is something I couldn’t walk past. Thanks to the LinkedIn group, we now have a great starting list which I put together for the ASC website,” he said.

George has included a short form for website users to submit blogs to be added to the list, which George is planning to update monthly.

Thanks to everyone for sharing their suggestions! And thanks to George for starting the blog list; what a great value-add for science communicators!


Jacinta’s tips for people thinking of starting a blog:

  • Be personal.
  • Use conversational language.
  • Write about things you find interesting.
  • Write from ‘real life’.
  • No jargon (or keep it to a minimum).
  • Use images and photos.
  • Don’t waffle on – keep it short.
  • Have fun with it – the reader and the blogger should enjoy it.

Jacinta also said: Blogs I’m impressed with tend to be a little quirky and have a sense of humour. But the most impressive, is when a working scientist (not a professional communicator) takes the time to engage non-scientists with interesting thoughts/events/findings from their life as a scientist. I like to feel they’re having a conversation with the reader – demystifying the world of science and dispelling the myth of scientists being apart from the rest of the world.

Keeping your eye on the journals prize

Thank you to Claire Harris and Joan Leach for preparing this piece.

Do you wish you could keep up with science communication research and papers published globally?

At ASC we hear that many people are busy and finding it hard to know where to look to keep up with what’s happening. So below, we have a few tasters from science communication research and publications and we hope they’re useful. We are also going to feature science communication research more regularly in Scope.

Most read articles in journal Science Communication

Science Communication is an international, interdisciplinary journal with an impact factor of 1.436. Published by SAGE, it is ranked 16 out of 72 journals in Communication and has been running since 1979. Here are the 5 ‘most read’ articles:

  1. Cultural Representations of Gender and Science: Portrayals of Female Scientists and Engineers in Popular Films
  2. Threat Without Efficacy? Climate Change on U.S. Network News
  3. Communicating Science: A Review of the Literature
  4. Effects of the Language Barrier on Processes and Performance of International Scientific Collaboration, Collaborators’ Participation, Organizational Integrity, and Interorganizational Relationships
  5. “Fear Won’t Do It”: Promoting Positive Engagement With Climate Change Through Visual and Iconic Representations.

Papers from the Science Communication Research and Education Network (SCREN)

SCREN has a publications list available on their website. SCREN is a network of science communication researchers and educators mainly from Australia and New Zealand. They collectively share best practices in science communication training and engage collaboratively in science communication research.

Sharing papers and open access

For those out there who are publishing papers – could you help make them more easily accessible to ASC members? And particularly those who don’t have access to paid subscriptions.

Maybe you’re not sure about whether you can share papers when you’ve transferred copyright to a traditional journal? Well recently, Paige Brown, who writes on her blog From The Lab Bench, published a post called Open Access to Science Communication Research: Your Options.

She explained that ‘green open access’ options allow authors to post preprint or postprint versions of peer-reviewed articles on personal websites, blogs, forums or digital repositories. There are quite a few repositories available including: PeerJ an open access publisher with a preprint service, GitHub for collaborative development of manuscripts and ResarchGate.

Very helpfully Paige has summarised the preprint and green open access policies of several premier mass communication and science communication journals. These include: Science Communication (SAGE), Communication Research (SAGE), Journal of Communication (Wiley), Journal of Health Communication (Taylor & Francis Journals), Studies in Communication Sciences (Elsevier), Public Relations Review (Elsevier).

Why not subscribe to some of these journals via RSS feeds to keep up to date with new issues using RSS feed readers and reference managers like The Old Reader, Digg Reader, Feedly, or Mendeley.

Do you know some great science communication research repositories that ASC members should hear about?

The 2013 Unsung Hero of Science Communication Award #ASC14

Thank you to Simon Chester for preparing this piece.

The Unsung Hero of Science Communication award is offered annually by the Australian Science Communicators (ASC), and recognises and celebrates excellence in science communication across Australia.

Science communication is the process of making science accessible, and encouraging engagement with scientific processes and outcomes. This engagement allows people to make better-informed decisions about some of the most critical issues facing society and the planet.

Science communication can come from many sources, including scientists, teachers, journalists, writers, entertainers, students, and other communicators including, most noticeably, radio and TV personalities.

One of the members of the judging panel from last year’s award, former ASC President and Eureka Awards Science Book Prize winner, David Ellyard, recognises the importance of communicating science out to the public, but that science communication isn’t just about the top-level celebrities.

“Science communication is at the heart of the scientific enterprise,” said David. “The everyday people who pay for science to be done, and who will be impacted by scientific discoveries, are entitled to know what is going on. And they will commonly find it fascinating.

“Science communication goes on at many levels, from high profile journalism, conferences, and TV documentaries to informal person to person chats,” said David. “The high-fliers get a lot of kudos, but those who work productively in other dimensions are also worthy of acknowledgment.”

The ASC has traditionally acknowledged unsung Australian scientists, but, last year, felt that it was past time to shine the spotlight onto those who communicate the science – especially as the scope of the award is not covered in existing national science award programs. Thus, in 2012, the Unsung Hero of Science Communication award was born.

“The ASC created this award to honour a person or group who exemplify science communication, who have not yet received significant recognition for their contribution to science and its promotion, and for work done in Australia over a considerable or prolonged time” said Jesse Shore.

In 2012, that person was editor and publisher of the magazine Australasian Science, Guy Nolch.

According to the judges, Guy Nolch was recognised for: his long period of distinguished science publishing (more than 20 years publishing Australasian Science); training and mentoring science communicators; making scientists’ work accessible to and understood by the public; dealing with controversial issues; his major contributions to the discussion of science policy and scientific issues in Australia; and for the fostering of good science journalism in Australia and for promotion of leading Australian scientists and their research.

As a publisher of a long-standing science magazine, Guy sees targeted publications as becoming ever more important as tools for quality science communication.

“The mainstream media has a greater reliance on syndicated stories these days, and pitch their stories at the centre of the demographic bell curve,” said Guy. “Niche publications like Australasian Science can focus more on local research and researchers, and provide more in-depth analysis of a broader range of research and its potential consequences.

“Newspapers have let science reporters go and the most noise is made by shock jocks with a particular entrenched view that is based more on the proprietor’s objectives than true objectivity. There are good writers out there, but, on the whole, they’re under pressure to file something short on a sexy topic before the rest of the pack run with it.”

But hope is not lost, as technology has turned any writer into a potential publisher, and budding communicators are now able to perfect their skills on their own blogs. Guy had this advice to offer to anyone interested in communicating science:

“In many ways it’s easier these days to get a portfolio of work together by self-publishing online in blogs, podcasts, and social media. Many niche magazines like Australasian Science will also welcome you to pitch story ideas. Check out the contributors’ guidelines so you can tailor your idea to the audience you’ll be reaching, and have a crack!”

The Unsung Hero of Australian Science Communication 2013 award will be presented during the Australian Science Communicators National Conference, held from 2-5 February 2014 at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre.

The 2014 ASC Conference also marks the 20th anniversary of ASC, so come join delegates from agencies like CSIRO, ANSTO, ATSE, Cooperative Research Centres, NHMRC, museums, universities, research institutes, and privately-run technology companies, as they celebrate the anniversary, learn about innovative practice and new initiatives, and hear from national leaders across research/technology, communication, media, business, industry and education.

Event review: Canberra’s deadliest air disaster re-examined

Thank you to Melissa Snape, Secretary of the ACT branch, for providing this event review.

With the 73rd memorial of the Canberra Air Disaster fresh in the minds of those who attended the crash site at Fairbairn Pine Plantation (near the Canberra Airport) just a day before, the ASC-ACT branch brought in the experts to delve into the mystery surrounding this historic episode – with a bit of a science twist.

The sell-out National Science Week event was held in the Japan Theatre at Questacon on August 14 and gathered a diverse crowd of local eye witnesses, aeronautical enthusiasts, relatives of the deceased and detectives at heart – and thrilled them all with never-before-seen in public footage of the wreckage (filmed within hours of the crash), a lesson in state-of-the-art forensic techniques by Mardi Southwell (AFP Forensic Science Team) and an in depth interview with Mr Andrew Tink, local expert and author of ‘Air Disaster Canberra: the plane crash that destroyed a government’.

A close re-examination of the fatal event, which killed ten people in total (including 3 war time government ministers), uncovered evidence indicating that Air Minister Fairbairn (and not the experienced RAAF pilot Bob Hitchcock) may have been flying the plane when it met its fiery destiny. Tales were also told of the charred bodies of victims being misidentified as smouldering stumps and improper collection and documentation of evidence resulting in the true nature of the tragedy being shroud in mystery forever.

To add our science twist, Mardi then gave a fantastic presentation briefing the audience about how forensic scientists in 2013 would approach such a scenario and what techniques are available to us now that were not in 1940.

The evening was rounded off by competitions for prizes (including two signed copies of Andrew’s book), a bite to eat and a glass or two to drink – all on the house. We only hope that those attending had as much fun as we did hosting.

Want to see what we go up to?

  • Short video clip produced by Alex Harrod (played at the event) – click here
  • Photos of our event taken by David Wong – click here

We also had a massive amount of local media attention surrounding the event including TV, print and radio interviews. Also, two days after our event the ABCs 7.30 report even got on the band wagon and did a story about the Canberra Air Disaster- see the link here which mentions our society.

The ASC ACT Branch would like to thank those who helped make the event a major success:

  • ACT Branch of the Australian New Zealand Forensic Society
  • Questacon
  • Inspiring Australia
  • ACT National Science Week committee
  • ACT Government