President’s Update

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

Coonabarabran, NSW
I just had an amazing weekend at StarFest at Siding Spring Observatory in the Warrumbungles; inspiring to see the observatory at work after it was threatened by fire in 2013. They’ve added a renewed exhibition space and there was a lot of energy around the research. Astronomers seem to have ‘got’ science communication early in the piece but it is still inspiring to spend time at a world-class research facility and interact with the researchers there. And then there are the great views both skyward and over the Warrumbungles themselves…

Upcoming AGM
Unbelievably, 2016 is heading into the final quarter. This means the SCANZ conference is upon us, planning for ASC2017 in Adelaide is in full swing, and of course, it’s time to plan for the ASC AGM. So, keep alert as we set a date and place for the AGM—if anyone would like to host the AGM or put something on the agenda, please let me or Kali know. After 3 years as President of ASC, I will not be standing for President in 2017. I’ve really enjoyed the role and am pleased that ASC is a healthy organisation with many plans for the future. If anyone would like to have a conversation about the role and are thinking about running for ASC President at the AGM, I’m happy to have an actual or virtual coffee with you.

Making Connections with the World Federation of Science Journalists
As many of you know, ASC is a member of the WFSJ. I had a great conversation with Damien Chalaud, the Director of the WFSJ last week. He’s quite keen on hearing more about what we’re doing in Australia and has invited Bianca Nogrady, ASC vice-president, to take over the WFSJ twitter stream for a week in November. We’ll post more information on that and other joint initiatives very soon. It’s always worthwhile checking out what the WFSJ are up to—they’re currently planning their next conference in San Francisco early next year.

Science communication stars at the Eurekas

Thank you to Bianca Nogrady for this article.

It’s fitting that, at the so-called Oscars of Australian science, your entrée is described as a ‘gastronomical geode’ that must be excavated from a box of edible dirt.

The Eureka Awards

Eureka winner Renae Sayers

As amusing as that was, it was but a minor moment in a night that delivered plenty of rousing cheers for the science communication community. The highlight was ASC’s very own Renae Sayers, whose Fireballs In The Sky citizen science project rightly earned her and colleagues at Curtin University the inaugural Department of Industry, Innovation and Science Eureka Prize for Innovation in Citizen Science. In true science communicator fashion, Renae delivered the most passionate and entertaining thank you speech of the evening.

Another highlight was, as always, the Eureka prize for science journalism, which was won this year by Wain Fimeri, Sonya Pemberton, Dr Derek Muller and Steve Westh for their documentary Uranium – Twisting the Dragon’s Tail. Sonya Pemberton took the opportunity on stage to call for greater support of science journalism and science communication in Australia, although she was nearly drowned out by the infernal music designed to usher excessive talkers from the stage.

The fabulous astrophysicist Dr Lisa Harvey-Smith from CSIRO took home the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science Eureka Prize for Promoting Understanding of Australian Science Research. She also earned the greatest number of celebratory tweets, which is equal testament to her popularity and reach.

And the winners and runners-up of the two University of Sydney Sleek Geeks Science Eureka Prize showed that the future of science communication is in capable hands. Hayden Ingle from Banksmeadow Public School channelled David Attenborough in his documentary on The Bluebottle and the Glaucus, which took the primary school prize. Claire Galvin and Anna Hardy from St Monica’s College Cairns, undertook a painstaking reconstruction of the animal skeletons extracted from owl pellets to explore their significance in conservation and ecological studies, in Owl Pellets: A Postal System to Scientists.

It was a night to remember, and not just for the eye-watering pink-and-purple colour scheme of the Town Hall lighting, or the smoked potato masquerading as a dragon’s egg in the edible dirt.

The science communication community was out in force and in finery, filling the room with familiar faces and strong voices. The pomp and ceremony, and several speakers, also sent a clear message that Australian science are alive and kicking, despite best political efforts to the contrary.

All the 2016 Eureka Prize winners are listed here.

Image credit: Australian Museum Eureka Prize

President’s Update

Get ready for #ASC2017
After reviewing some fantastic bids for our 2017 conference, I am excited to announce that the Royal Institution of Australia (RiAus) is our host.

ASC will come together on February 23-24 next year in Adelaide at the Science Exchange. Right in the middle of the Adelaide Fringe Festival, if you’d like to make a week of it.

We’ll be hard at work confirming sponsors in the coming weeks and looking to our program, so if you have any suggestions please let us know.


ASC reflection: Deceptology

ASC member Sarah Turnbull won free tickets to Nicholas J Johnson’s show (also an ASC Member), Deceptology, as part of the Melbourne Magic Festival in July. She wrote up this reflection of attending:

When Nicholas J Johnson opened his act by making his head expand and then shrink, I found myself giggling with delight.

Deceptology, which was part of the Melbourne Magic Festival, is a mix of magic, critical thinking, comedy and theatre. As the “honest conman”, Johnson uses sleight of hand and mentalism to wow the audience, then educates us about confirmation bias, misdirection, hypothetical projection and how our brains can be fooled.

His skilful interaction with the many volunteers he pulled up on stage was funny without being embarrassing. A rare trick.

The show ended with a change of pace – a shadow-play that stood on its own as a tiny work of art. And if you want to know how Nicholas managed to project it into an audience member’s head, you’ll have to see the show for yourself.

Thanks to Nicholas and the ASC for a fun night out in Northcote.

President’s Update

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


National Science Week

There is currently a nearly manic preparation going on for National Science Week all around me. Every ASC member I know is readying themselves for a week plus of activity. To all of us I say ‘courage’ and ‘break a leg’.  It would be dangerous to give too many shout outs to activities by members in science week, but the breadth is staggering—from open science initiatives, live science comedy, curated evens, debates, demonstrations, panels, talks, and even the odd lecture. Check in with your local ASC branch—chances are after science week is over, you’ll need a debrief and someone with whom to compare notes. ASC channels will be open—Facebook, LinkedIn, the list, and some state branches are planning ‘recovery’ events.


‘State of the ASC’ 

The activity in National Science Week has been mirrored by activity at the ASC. I feel like we need a ‘state of the ASC’ address at the moment (‘the state of the nation’ in the US being still a bit befuddling to me). What I can say unequivocally is that the state of the ASC is strong. I want to communicate that clearly as we’ve done a lot of things to bolster the organisation—made our constitution legal, cleared our bookkeeping,  committed to pay an overdue tax burden, streamlined and reduced our costs at the national level—and, of course, raised membership fees. Raising membership fees is an unpleasant thing to do. I don’t love it. But being able to continue to be the professional association for science communicators and science journalists is important and the fact is, we hadn’t raised the fees soon enough. The ASC now has a plan forward and will have the funds to meet that plan and return value to the membership (in addition to actual money for grants!). This plan includes the ‘meet the members’ that Kali Madden has been running—I love to listen to these (usually after the fact). It included our successful Brisbane conference…and ‘teaser’, the plan for next year’s conference (soon to be announced!). It includes the support we’ve given to local branches for events (congrats to SA for a great storytelling event) as well the fantastic grants program that we’re able to offer our members again this year…see this month’s issue of SCOPE!! It includes maintaining our list (not as trivial as it sounds)—we have an active stream of job ads coming through and our social media (I confess to being a lurker) where the discussions are excellent bellwethers of where our field is at.  And, we are planning a re-launch of the ASC website, supported by the efforts of Bianca Nogrady, award-winning science journalist. So, I’ve just renewed my membership alongside my colleagues.  I hope you’ll renew yours. And get ready for the e-cocktail parties coming your way as another addition to our networking at ASC.


Getting involved

So, I’m fascinated by the data that suggests while social media is important, we also want to feel engaged IRL—that is, live events, experiences, social engagement is still important for well-being, creativity, critical engagement.  I hope that someone reading this will see the ASC as a place to be engaged IRL. I find the colleagues I meet through the ASC valuable to my professional life, but also to feeling of a network that has a set of agendas to pursue. ASC is doing well again; let’s kick it up to the next level with some of the skills and passion that you have as a member. We’re a couple months out from our AGM (and so are the State branches). If you’re not actively involved in some way (it’s OK to lurk in some outlets, but in every format???), this could be the time. As always, let me know if you have thoughts about what ASC can do for you, or what you can do for the ASC, I’d look forward to hearing them.


President’s Update

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

We’ve been living through ‘interesting times’ — an election that seemed to go on forever, even after the voting, and then there is Brexit and watching the US unravel. If you’re in a funk, I’m with you. But, Kate Driver at Questacon brightened a recent day with an email about a keynote that she heard at the 2016 Ecsite conference; ASC members in the museum and science centre context will recognise this as the conference for the European Network of Science Centres and Museums. Dr Elizabeth Rasekoala, President of African Gong, gave the keynote and identified a range of issues for the science centre world (and popular science in general) that resonated and challenged me to think through my funk and about the issues of globalization, racism, and gender equality in relation to science. It’s worth a listen/watch on Youtube.

And the rumblings of the great machine of ASC coming to life ahead of National Science Week can already be heard far and wide. I’m looking forward to it this year… let’s keep the ASC list hopping with announcements about what we’re doing. And, let’s also make some time to talk about what we’re doing, how, why, and how well it all went.

President’s update

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

Ever had that deja vu all over again feeling? Overseas colleagues sent me a link to an article in The Conversation (probably to wind me up—you know who you are!). You can find the article here.

What can I say? First, let me be clear—I find the research by Besley and Dudo to be interesting from afar. But, I don’t think it reflects reality in the Australian context. In short, I’ll argue here for American exceptionalism in science communication—as in Americans are exceptionally obsessed with science literacy and have been for a long time. And there’s nothing wrong with improving science literacy. However, I would guess that a repeated study in Australia would not find that Australian ‘trainers’ gauge success by ‘giving people information’ and ‘correcting misinformation’. Now, I know this is just anecdote from the ASC perspective, but the training I’ve seen is about a lot of other things—dialogue, engagement, awareness, wonder, reframing—you name it. Anybody want to join me in a follow up study on this from an Australian point of view?

President’s Update

Thank you to Joan Leach for the President update.

Can it be prize season again?
As much as it terrifies me that another year has come round, I’ve spent some time over the last week looking at nominations for some of the national prizes — the Eurekas, FameLab — to just name two. It’s pretty inspiring what is happening in Australia — I’m genuinely keen to hear who is going to win the inaugural prize for innovation in Citizen Science. The bar is getting higher and the communicators associated with the projects that I’ve seen have been doing a stellar job, and one that should be rewarded (as well as awarded).

Glass ceiling for science communicators?
The point about rewarding science communication was put to me rather pointedly this last week when a colleague mused that he thought there was a ‘glass ceiling’ for science communicators’ remuneration. Once you get to a certain level, you really can’t go further and need to branch out (into consulting for example) or re-orient your work (into science policy, say). This is as discouraging as the award season is encouraging. I’m interested in how this looks internationally and will have a look around and find out if anyone has any data on this — if you are aware of any, let me know! ( I hope to report back in next month’s SCOPE.

Sharing amazing science stories at FameLab 2016

Thank you to Sarah Lau for the post.

I recently had the honour of MCing the WA semi-final of FameLab 2016 at the WA Maritime Museum in Fremantle.

FameLab sees early career researchers share their research in a three minute presentation – using everything from props to poetry, but certainly no PowerPoint!

Beginning in 2005 at the Cheltenham Science Festival, FameLab has grown through a partnership with the British Council to include over 5000 researchers in more than 25 countries, becoming one of the leading international science communication competitions.

In WA, the 12 competitors spent the day leading into the semi-final in an intensive science communication workshop with leading science communicators and broadcasters (and ASC luminaries), including Frankie Lee, Renae Sayers and Kylie Sturgess.

The evening then lit up with the finalists showcasing a diversity of styles and topics to an appreciative audience.

The judging panel had the challenge of evaluating each presenter and presentation on ‘content, clarity and charisma’.

It was a tough call, but the winner of the WA semi-final was Mahmoud Bassal from The University of South Australia, with ‘The Cancer Conundrum’, about genetic and metabolic changes in Acute Myeloid Leukaemia.

Mahmoud also took out the Audience Choice Award.

The runner–up was Toby Brown from ICRAR-University of Western Australia and Swinburne University, with ‘Chasing Shadows’, about how dark matter shapes our Universe.

Programs such as FameLab are important in promoting excellence in science communication and demonstrating the many benefits of communicating research in interesting and accessible ways.

On a personal level, it is a very rewarding experience to be part of a program which helps early career researchers build their communication skills to expand the reach and impact of their research.

If you are in WA this week, you can see some of Australia’s best and brightest early career researchers share their work at the national FameLab final at the WA Museum in Perth on 5 May 2016.

FameLab 2016

President’s update

Thank you to Joan Leach for the update.

Still taking the conference in…

I’ve attended a lot of conferences over the years and fashions in conferencing certainly change—there is a ‘pre-conference’ mania, the 4 day multi-streamed headspin, the International plenary shock-and-awe—and this year the ASC went for a one-day plenary with wide but high-quality programming, association with the World Festival of Science, and opportunities for networking. I haven’t had that much fun and been so engaged in a conference in a fair while.

I am still sitting with a copy of David Throsby’s “Economics and Culture”—in a great session curated by Lisa Bailey at RiAus, Professor Throsby and colleagues, Professor Julian Meyrick and Dr Tully Barnett—really put the question to science communicators about how much our industry is worth and how best to express that (hint:  not in dollars).  This question of the value of science communication and value in science communication is just so important.  I’m reminded of Dr Melanie McKenzie who said to me, “and who decides what value science communication has, anyway?” Indeed. I’m sorry she isn’t alive to help me in my reflections on that conference session, but for me, it was a turning point for the field. WE need to articulate our value—in a narrative—and not be bullied by dollar signs.

I’m also really appreciative of the session Heather Catchpole curated with the best of new modes for doing science communication—in video, through art, in journalism, with obvious passion.

You can read our Chief Scientists opening speech here, but what you can’t read is the obvious affiliation he has with science communication. Sometimes we need to recognize when we have an advocate who ‘gets it’. Our current Chief Scientist ‘gets’ science communication.

What next?

We’d like to come off this high of this conference with a plan for the next.  So, if your organisation would like to make a day-plenary conference happen again, let us know. We’re looking for bidders for the next ASC conference.  Multi-streamed, shock-and-awe, plenary…pitch us!