Response to Australia’s draft National Science and Research Priorities

The revitalisation of Australia’s National Science and Research Priorities and National Science Statement will shape a long-term vision for the Australian science system. This process is intended to re-energise conversations across the Australian science and research sector. This process is being led by Australia’s Chief Scientist, Dr Cathy Foley.

In March, co-presidents Jirana Craven and Tom Carruthers were invited to contribute to a roundtable convened by Dr Foley. We extend our thanks the the Office of the Chief Scientist for engaging with the ASC.

At the time, several members contributed to a document of issues that were used to inform the discussion. The ASC is pleased to see some of the language used by the co-presidents make its way into the draft.

On 29 September, the following response to the draft was submitted. The submission will be publicly viewable on the Government Consultation Hub in time, and is reproduced below.

Australia’s draft National Science and Research Priorities

Response to the Draft Recommendations

The Australian Science Communicators (ASC) commends the Government on revitalising Australia’s national science policy framework, and the consultation process adopted by the Office of the Chief Scientist and the Department of Industry, Science and Resources in the production of this draft and appreciate the opportunity to provide comment at this stage. We additionally thank Dr Cathy Foley and the Office of the Chief Scientist for the invitation to contribute to one of the March roundtables informing this document.

We further recognise and applaud the overarching frame with which Indigenous knowledge and knowledge systems have been adapted to the whole document and the priorities, and the clear emphasis the consultation process has put on engaging with communities on Country.

This submission from the Australian Science Communicators emphasises the pivotal role of science communication and the critical need for more communications research to enable and shape Australia’s response to the four identified priorities outlined in the draft. We highlight the impact that increased and formalised support for science communication professionals and research would have in the sector. We argue that a lens of community dialogue and communication is essential for us to achieve a scientifically engaged and prosperous society.

The overlap of the priorities and objectives

The figure on page 8 is a graphic that depicts the whole strategic priorities outlined throughout the document. It gives an overview of the four priorities, and the specific areas of focus intended to achieve progress across them.

We feel that the graphic clarifies a key gap in the priorities of not having centred a specific reference or focus on community engagement with the scientific endeavour.

This engagement with the sciences is crucial for the continued social licence to conduct groundbreaking research and fully exploit the new technologies and advances this research offers us.

It is quality communication (and the support of the research and education that supports this practice) through which we achieve the positive engagement with and support of ethical science and research.

The ASC therefore recommends that the priorities either takes an approach to science communication research and practice as being a critical enabler for all the objectives, or explicitly notes where that research is most effectively applied.

Priority 4: Building a stronger, more resilient nation

We specifically make note of recommendation 4, and applaud the focus on concerns around misinformation and disinformation conveyed by the ASC co-Presidents in their roundtable contribution earlier this year. We further acknowledge the link to democratic resilience referenced in the first aim in this priority, another aspect highlighted by our co-Presidents.

Disappointingly though, we note that while this priority seems to start to engage with the challenges posed to the Australian sector and economy, it fails to engage with the opportunities or pathways to address these issues.

As such the ASC recommends:

  1. Critical research in understanding mis- and disinformation to be expanded to include science communication tools and methods to support disengaging with mis- and disinformation.
    1. Science communication research has for years reviewed the cognitive, social and language tricks used to entice people to engage with misinformation.
    2. But we need to know more than just how or why people engage with communities that reject ideas they don’t like, and support ideas that make them feel comfortable.
    3. We need to understand the full pathway for people as they are exposed to, are influenced by, engage with, and eventually dismiss misconceptions or falsehoods.
    4. Importantly, we also need to dedicate focus to understanding how best to support those leaving family-like communities built on disinformation. What support do they need while they navigate a phase of their life when they are extremely vulnerable to more extreme ideologies or ideas? (This has obvious benefits in national security contexts also.)
    5. The critical research in the social science of the whole gamut of behaviour change is essential to fully support this goal of a stronger and more resilient nation.
  2. Priority 4 incorporate specific acknowledgement of the role of science communication expertise in achieving the desired aims
    1. Aim one states: Australian science and research will support communities to develop the skills, tools and systems that can strengthen Australia’s democratic resilience and enhance trust.
    2. This aim is thoroughly seated in the realm of quality science communication and engagement, though the rest of the discussion avoids referencing this as being important or even a factor. In fact, the word communication is not included once in the entire draft.
    3. While the aim remains focused solely on science supporting communities (ignoring the role of communication), this priority continues to diminish the role of professional and expert science communicators and delays the development of the evidence base required to best support their work.
  3. Critical research also expanded to include the development of the evidence base in quality science communication and engagement.
    1. An ongoing issue with the science communication community is the lack of connection between science communication research and practice. Practitioners often make decisions based on past experience, with little high quality evaluation methodologies or reports available for public consumption.
    2. While there’s broad interest in ‘best practice’, the research sector in science communication is thoroughly under-resourced to be able to provide adequate analysis or recommendations for Australian practice within the Australian context. With the exception of ANU and UWA, very few universities have been able to justify science communication research positions, and those who have science communicators in academic staff positions are often so overwhelmed with undergraduate first-year generalist teaching that they have zero capacity for practice or research.
    3. Best practice science communication needs to be based on findings from high quality research, but there typically isn’t the funding or resources available for collaborations between researchers and practitioners.
    4. Science communication research, conducted alongside practitioners, is essential to continue to improve best-practice, with clear benefits of increased community resilience.

Priority 2: Supporting healthy and thriving communities

Similar to our critique of Priority 4, we argue that community engagement is inappropriately absent from the discussion around this priority centred on community social wellbeing.

Australians are not making health decisions absent of influence or direction. Aim two starts to highlight the need to understand the diverse and unique social and environmental drivers of health and wellbeing in communities. This is an aspirational goal, but falls short of considering the gaps in the evidence-base for those engaging communities in health advice.

The ASC highlights the enabling function science communication research and practice in health communications and community building would have in addressing these areas.

Priority 1: Ensuring a net zero future and protecting Australia’s biodiversity

While we will leave comment on the scientific feasibility or appropriateness of having a goal focused on supporting a pathway to net zero to the relevant scientific experts, the ASC does want to highlight the lacklustre message that this aspiration sends to Australians and our international partners.

Other technologically advanced countries such as Germany, Denmark, Great Britain and the USA are already focusing substantial climate investment into negative emissions technologies, and the European Climate Act stipulates net negative emissions after 2050.

The draft currently conveys the critical research needed to engage with carbon emissions and this is crucial, but the message conveyed by not more thoroughly emphasising the need for negative emission technologies further reaffirms Australia’s place as following the rest of the world in our climate responsibilities and actions. The ASC therefore recommends that the language of Priority 1 more thoroughly emphasises alignment with the global aspiration for negative emissions, rather than net zero.

About the Australian Science Communicators

The Australian Science Communicators (ASC) is the peak membership body representing the interests of those who work in, study, teach and have an interest in the field of science communication. The Australian Science Communicators has been bringing science communicators together for 30 years.

Pathway to Diversity in STEM

The Pathway to Diversity in STEM Review will recommend how the Australian Government can support change so that people can access and feel they belong within STEM education, careers and industries.

On 8 September, the following response to the draft recommendations was submitted. The submission will be publicly viewable on the Government Consultation Hub in time, and is reproduced in full below.

Pathway to Diversity in STEM

Response to the Review Draft Recommendations

The Australian Science Communicators (ASC) commends the Diversity in STEM consultation process and appreciates the opportunity to provide comment at this stage.

This submission emphasises the pivotal role of science communication professionals in delivering and shaping the future aspirations for diversity in STEM, and the impact that increased and formalised support for science communication professionals would have in the sector.

The need for quality science communication

Science communication plays an important role in modern democratic society, forming links between scientific researchers and the wider community. Science communicators facilitate and encourage dialogue between scientists, policymakers, educators and citizens. Equipped to understand the science that affects them in everyday life, people are empowered to make informed decisions about their future.

Effective science communication plays a key role in reducing these barriers to access by ensuring that educational opportunities, research initiatives, and potential collaborations are shared widely and in a way that avoids misconception and bias. Across the profession there is specific expertise in reaching and engaging people who are at high risk of disengaging or with access barriers.

It is the view of the ASC that effective science communication plays a crucial and yet underappreciated role in facilitating the implementation of the recommendations of the Pathway to Diversity in STEM Draft Review. As such, we recommend the final Pathway Recommendations to:

  1. Acknowledge and call for adequate support and resources for professional science communicators within the STEM sector
    1. Many universities, government agencies and research institutions employ some form of marketing, communications or promotion staff, whose role it is to translate complex technical information and communicate it in a way that different audiences and stakeholders can understand. This is called science communication.
    2. However, these science communicators are typically under-resourced and required to be a one-stop-shop for all external communication needs. Often they are required to be a university marketer first and foremost.
    3. The skills and knowledge required to take complex information and share it in ways that are relevant to policy-makers, other institutions, educators, children, and the wider community are not to be taken for granted, and should be recognised as professional skills of science communicators.
    4. In the same way that scientific researchers bring skills and knowledge to their fields of expertise, so do those who communicate science.
    5. With this formalised and acknowledged role, science communicators would be able to contribute more thoroughly to the intent behind the Pathway to Diversity.
  2. Demonstrate the value of diversity of thought, especially among research leaders at government organisations and institutes
    1. We argue point 4b doesn’t go far enough to demonstrate the importance of utilising trained and experienced science communicators. 4b references the media and entertainment industry to work with industry and researchers to celebrate diversity in STEM.
    2. Informal science learning organisations, including museums, zoos, aquaria and science centres play a crucial role in celebrating diversity, as well as science journalists, and media and entertainment professionals.
    3. Representations of scientists and science as showcased in informal science learning organisations are important for visitors to see the range of ways science is done, the people involved, the importance of collaboration and showcasing that there is no singular way of being a scientist.
  3. Address the issue of Early- and Mid-Career Researchers (EMCRs) being dissuaded from participating in community engagement and outreach activities
    1. Scientists and researchers participating in outreach and community engagement activities is an important component of science communication. It allows non-scientists to not only meet with scientists, allowing opportunities for discussions, debates, and common understanding, but creates opportunities for children and young people to meet and see scientists as role models for future career aspirations.
    2. However, many EMCRs are typically dissuaded from participating in outreach activities.
    3. Supervisors, with their mentee’s interest at heart, will often provide counsel that outreach is a ‘waste of time’ as only core research and publications are considered important for career stability and progression.
    4. Those who are disadvantaged in the system are even more likely to be encouraged to ‘focus on their research’, or alternatively, are overwhelmed with requests to be the diverse person at an event.
    5. If ‘allowed’ to participate, EMCRs are typically unpaid for their efforts, or required to conduct outreach in their spare time. Further, few university panels account outreach activities as valuable when considering individuals for promotion.
    6. This trend is harming the opportunities for EMCRs, and especially those with additional barriers to promotion or success, from actively participating in science communication and the goals of the Pathway to Diversity purpose.
    7. In addition, it further reinforces the poor value perception that science communication and that it is not a professional expertise.
  4. Adequately fund the continued development of the evidence base in science communication to address diversity access issues
    1. An ongoing issue with the science communication community is the lack of connection between science communication research and practice. Practitioners often make decisions based on past experience, with little high quality evaluation methodologies or reports available for public consumption.
    2. While there’s broad interest in ‘best practice’, the research sector in science communication is thoroughly under-resourced to be able to provide adequate analysis or recommendations for Australian practice. With the exception of ANU (with Australian Federal investment), very few universities have been able to justify science communication research positions, and those who have science communicators in academic staff positions are often so overwhelmed with undergraduate teaching that they have zero capacity for practice or research.
    3. While research funding is linked to undergraduate or international student numbers, science communication will continue to be undervalued in the university sector.
    4. Best practice science communication needs to be based on findings from high quality research, but there typically isn’t the funding or resources available for collaborations between researchers and practitioners.
    5. We recommend funding to be allocated to science communication research conducted alongside practitioners, to continue to improve best-practice, with clear benefits of increased accessibility.

With these considerations, we support the Pathway and look forward to being key partners in its implementation.

About the Australian Science Communicators

The Australian Science Communicators (ASC) is the peak membership body representing the interests of those who work in, study, teach and have an interest in the field of science communication. The Australian Science Communicators has been bringing science communicators together for 30 years.

Job available – Executive Officer [contractor]

About the role

The Executive Officer has historically been the central hub for all member enquiries and supporter of the National Executive Committee’s projects and initiatives. For the past several years, this is the only paid role at the Australian Science Communicators.

Until recently, the role has been filled by a long-standing employee who has chosen to stand down from the role. This leaves a significant gap in the organisation with many tasks being absorbed by volunteers. We are keen to reduce the number of volunteer hours as a priority.

In the immediate term, we are seeking the support of a temporary contractor who can invoice for their time. As part of our strategic review, it is expected this role will evolve into one or more operational and strategic positions. It is expected the successful contractor will support the design of this.

Key accountabilities

  • Provide executive support to the National Executive Committee
  • Be the key point of contact for all general office and member enquiries and respond to these in a timely manner
  • Use our membership management platform to manage and modify membership information, extract data and reports, raise and edit invoices, and other membership-related tasks
  • Manage online account access, subscriptions and services, and keep information up to date
  • Manage other administration-related and ad-hoc tasks, keep documentation organised and up to date
  • Assist with bookkeeping, invoicing and accounting-related tasks where needed
  • Provide event-related support where needed
  • Other activities as appropriate and requested by the National Executive Committee

We’re looking for someone who:

  • Has excellent communication and customer service skills
  • Can manage their own time and priorities
  • Has flexibility in their schedule to monitor email inboxes at least once every 24-48 hours and allocate enough time to respond to enquiries when needed
  • Can rapidly problem-solve around complex technologies and systems
  • Is familiar with the principles of using a CRM and accounting software such as Xero

This role will be contracted at a weekly rate of $300-450 (ex. GST) pending experience and impact. Including additional load during the conference season, the estimated time requirement is between 6 – 10 hours per week (more initially as you become familiar with our systems). Should more consistent time be required, we will appropriately increase the weekly rate to cover.

Please do not hesitate to get in touch via office @ if you are interested in discussing the role and your suitability. The role will be filled once a suitable candidate has been found.

About the Australian Science Communicators

The Australian Science Communicators is the peak body for science communication in Australia. Established in 1994, it represents a body of over 200 members with an interest in science communication.

2022 and 2023 has been a period of significant change, which will continue until the national conference, held in June 2024 in Perth. Further strategic review of the organisation, its operations and priorities are currently underway.

The Australian Universities Accord

The Accord Interim Report outlines a vision for the future of Australia’s higher education system. The Report reflects high-quality, thoughtful submissions and extensive engagement with a wide range of stakeholders. It contains five recommendations for priority action and raises issues for further discussion to inform the Review’s Final Report.

The Australian Science Communicators made a submission in reaction to the Accord process, specifically recognising the gap in support for formalised science communication training and professional impact.

The response was submitted on Friday 1 September and is reproduced below in full.

Australian Universities Accord

Response to the Accord Interim Report

The Australian Science Communicators (ASC) commends the Universities Accord consultation process and appreciate the opportunity to provide comment at this stage.

This submission emphasises the pivotal role of science communication professionals in enhancing the impact and public perception of university research, and stresses the need for more ambitious aims for the Universities Accord.

The need for quality science communication

We consider that the need for quality science communication to support and enhance Australia’s higher education system has not been adequately addressed in the Interim Report or the sector more broadly.

Science communicators being limited almost exclusively to the role of ‘science PR’ in many universities thoroughly ignores the obligation on the part of universities to make public research appropriately and accurately accessible to those who fund it, benefit from it, and use it.

The Business Council of Australia’s Seize the Moment report notes that “nine in ten Australians agree that spending on research and development is vital to give us a competitive edge”, and yet many are unaware of the true impact of this R&D investment. This clearly shows the current shortfall in communicating the research effort and its impact.

It is our view that effective science communication plays a crucial and yet underappreciated role in facilitating the implementation of the recommendations of the Australian Government’s Australian Universities Accord Interim Report by:

  1. Providing universities with evidence-based practice in engaging communities, policy-makers and stakeholders
    1. Just as university researchers are valued and respected for their high-quality work and research output, similar emphasis is needed for trained professionals and academics whose expertise is in the translation and transformation of technical details of contemporary research into messages that different stakeholders can access: science communicators.
    2. It is essential that communication professionals are considered at the beginning stages of the research process (e.g. during grant development), so adequate funds can be allocated for their time and expertise, and that funding models incorporate provision for communication activities.
    3. Trained science communicators can assist with reporting to funders, research participants and local communities, strengthening the link between research and society.
  2. Linking research to impact
    1. Science communication links academia and the Australian people, including policymakers, industry stakeholders, and the wider community.
    2. Of note, there is specific expertise developed within the field in how best to engage hard to reach audiences.
    3. Effective science communication is vital to make complex research findings accessible and understandable, enabling stakeholders to grasp the potential implications and applications of research outcomes.
  3. Promoting collaboration
    1. Science communication promotes integration within the tertiary system and collaboration between universities, industry, and government.
    2. Effective communication channels share information about significant research problems and capabilities, helping stakeholders identify mutual interest and collaboration opportunities.
  4. Public engagement
    1. Quality science communication helps universities connect with the public, enhancing research awareness.
    2. This fosters a sense of relevance and opens doors for public support and funding opportunities.
    3. By promoting a better understanding of the importance of research, science communication can also help build trust between universities, government, industry, and the general public.
  5. Facilitating policy implementation
    1. Clear communication strategies are crucial for effective policy implementation and public buy in.
    2. Stakeholders need to grasp how research outcomes integrate into policies to effect the desired shifts in higher education.
    3. Science communication can facilitate this understanding and encourage support for evidence-based policy decisions.
  6. Addressing equity and access
    1. The commitment to access for everyone, as mentioned in the report, requires communication efforts to reach diverse audiences.
    2. Effective science communication can play a role in reducing barriers to access by ensuring that information about educational opportunities, research initiatives, and potential collaborations is shared widely and in a way that is accessible to individuals from various backgrounds and communities.

As such, we implore the Accord vision to acknowledge and build in adequate support and resources for roles such as that of the science communicator professional within the higher education sector, along with the researchers who inform their practice.

The ASC has a specific focus on communication in the sciences. While there are specific challenges faced by ASC members, we expect that our recommendations would readily be applied across other fields including the humanities, arts, economics and business, for example. It is the view of the ASC that the Universities Accords should appropriately acknowledge and include the role of these professionals in any forward-looking vision.

A missed opportunity

Further, the ASC adds our voice to others calling for the Accord process to be more ambitious. We specifically echo the statement from Science & Technology Australia in their April submission and their submission in response to this Interim Report:

“To avert a decline in Australian living standards in the next decade, we must use the Universities Accord to make a ‘once-in-a-generation investment in Australia itself.’ At its heart, the Accord should state a bold ambition to ramp up our national investment in R&D and develop the specialised, STEM-skilled workforce we need to control our future.”

Science Technology Australia

Other bodies have provided submissions on STEM-research, social science and R&D investment shortfalls, and we add our voice to their concerns. In light of the ARC’s recent report highlighting the 331% economic returns to Australia from research investment, failing to recommend a more radical review of university sector funding would be hard to justify.

About the Australian Science Communicators

The Australian Science Communicators (ASC) is the peak membership body representing the interests of those who work in, study, teach and have an interest in the field of science communication. The Australian Science Communicators has been bringing science communicators together for 30 years.

WFSJ International Press Card

As a member-organisation of the World Federation of Science Journalists, the ASC qualifies members to access an international press card via the WFSJ. This card will help freelance and other journalists in gaining access to press conferences and official meetings, especially in countries that do not provide national press cards.

If you wish to apply, please fill in the application form on their website, and inform who will then be able to supply you with an email certifying your membership with the ASC as required in Part III of the application. At present, the committee is not in a position to coordinate bulk applications; members will need to apply by themselves.

More information on how to apply, the form and what proof you need to provide can be found here. Please note that there is a cost associated with getting the card. 

New cards are being issued by WSFJ in September, so we recommend you get your application in before September.

“A damn good investment”

Register on Eventbrite

Wednesday 30 August
5-6pm AEST | 4:30-5:30pm ACST | 3-4pm AWST
Zoom meeting (audio and video participants encouraged)

How do we demonstrate our value as science communicators?

Continuing on from the #ASC2023 Conference, Distinguished Prof. Arnan Mitchell, will be chatting and offering up Q&A with his experience at hiring a science communicator and why it’s ‘a damn good investment’.

This webinar aims to give research leaders and science communicators a case study that shows the value of long-term investment in science communication. 

Arnan will speak about how science communication helped him as a research leader – and Director of a research centre – to establish a track record, build reputation, and ultimately secure grants, like the $72M Centre of Excellence he now leads. 

More details can be found on Eventbrite. Don’t forget to register for the link.

This webinar is available to all members of the public.

Register on Eventbrite

A scientifically engaged Australia

This speech was delivered by Prof. the Hon Kim Carr FAHA FTSE to the Australian Science Communicators at the 2023 national conference at the Shine Dome, Canberra, 16 February 2023

Late last year, the Bureau of Meteorology tried to rebrand itself.  They issued statements insisting that we should now refer to them as ‘The Bureau’, rather than the BOM.  This somewhat bizarre campaign took place in the middle of a flood crisis across eastern Australia.  This odd idea, combined with poor timing, highlighted a particularly stark example of poor communication.  

The BOM – and I shall stubbornly continue to use what remains a widely popular name – is one of the most recognised and valued public science agencies in Australia. This fact only added to the unpopularity of the name campaign. Such a misreading of the popular mood, and a failure to prioritise what really matters, is a prime example of poor communications which can reflect a deeper problem within our public services.  

As Minister Tanya Plibersek pointed out, “with the severe weather we’re experiencing right now, what matters is timely weather information for communities. Lives are at risk. My focus and the focus of the BOM should be on weather, not branding.” In other words, the reputation of the Bureau of Meteorology has everything to do with the quality and value of its service, not the affectionate nickname which Australians have given it with characteristic brevity and a bit of cheek.

Good science communicators should take note of this unfortunate example.  

Our challenge is not to promote fancy branding and sanitised names – our challenge is to build genuine respect, trust and confidence in science: expressed through our scientific institutions, agencies, research and practitioners.

Many of the pressing problems that confront us, as Australians and as global citizens, will require us to make choices about what to do, when and by whom. To do that well, we need information, and we need it presented to us in a clear, concise and meaningful way.

How can we make intelligent and informed decisions if the information, arguments and options are held tightly by a bunch of experts?  How can we understand the depth and breadth of the challenges we face, if scientists are more worried about what their peers will think of them than in providing fearless and courageous advice?

Science communication is about getting the messages out – early, frequently, and in a language an interested but non-expert can access. 

Science communication is not about dumbing things down; rather it is about taking the community along for the journey at a pace they can keep up with.

Over the last decade, we have seen the merchants of doubt cynically argue against expertise. 

We have seen disturbing trends in the public discourse – trends which should be of concern not just to the science community, but to policy makers, innovators and leaders across all sectors of society.  These trends include:

  • An undermining of public confidence in authority generally;
  • Hostility to science: for example in regards to vaccines and climate change science to mention only two,;
  • McCarthyist smears against some researchers and academics, particularly in regard to China; and
  • an undercurrent of resentment directed at universities and other institutions with specialist expertise.

We need to ask ourselves what role science communication can play in restoring trust not just in science and research, but in public institutions more generally.   

We have to consider how science communication can assist in equipping our community for dealing with rapid change.

In the face of acute and seemingly intractable problems, it is all too easy for some people to succumb to pessimism.  

Today I wish to concentrate on science communication as a means of lifting public engagement, of enlightenment and strengthening a sense of wonder about scientific discoveries and ways of looking at the world. 

My simple assumption remains – that good science and research can move people, can influence attitudes and change behaviour.  Back when I launched ‘Inspiring Australia’ at your conference on the 8th February in 2010, I argued that good science can build confidence in democracy.  I stand by that even today.

Reversing the decline in trust in public authorities, in government, in business and in civil society should be a matter of priority for our entire democratic system of government.  

The current government recognises that trust remains the great fault line in modern politics, and that it is why it is so determined to implement its election promises. Politicians know that the ‘trust crisis’ runs deeper than that, with few quick fixes available.

Those of us engaged in scientific pursuits cannot be complacent about how much the work is recognised or valued by the broader community.  Trust in expert knowledge is far less stable than it once was. 

While scientists, researchers and academics still have high levels of authority and credibility, the value of science is not uncontested in the public mind. Think about the ease with which politicians openly acknowledge that scientific advice is no longer the primary determinant of public health responses to ongoing levels of Covid 19 infections. 

In the US, survey results in 2022 by the Pew Research Centre suggested a ten per cent drop in the level of public trust in science and medical scientists from the beginning of the pandemic. In Australia, last year’s 3M survey highlighted a six percent rise in public scepticism about scientific advice.

However, despite this trend, there is still a relatively high level of public support for science. And that gives me confidence that scientists can play an important role in defining what sort of society we aspire to, what sort of society we could be, and in rebuilding economic prosperity and social justice. 

We know that scientists have earned this support through well- grounded research expertise, evidence-based advice and leadership. We know that scientists have a vital role to play in the formulation and implementation of public policy. 

Scientific communicators need a sharper set of tools than ever before. They need to speak and write clearly, so that people from all walks of life can hear and understand the messages, without being patronised or taken for granted. 

This is not just a responsibility to the scientists and institutions we represent, but a civic responsibility to a more democratic, more informed society.

Given the impact of fake news, and the power of social media, it is not surprising that the trust deficit has grown.  This is the evidence of overwhelming survey results both here and abroad.  We have so many examples in recent times of how the power of misinformation and right-wing conspiracies can have frightening and even tragic consequences.  We need look no further than the protests during the height of the pandemic against masks and vaccination, and even more recently, the shocking shootings of police in Wiembilla, Queensland.   

Science communication needs to highlight that science can:

  • provide real world solutions to problems that recognise real world effects and that can work for ordinary people, 
  • enhance society’s ability to build anew, and 
  • offer hope and confidence in the future

To be effective, science communicators need to have an understanding of how public opinion is formed.  And they need to be patient. 

Indeed, a former Chief Scientist, Professor Ian Chubb, once told me that he needed a three-word mantra to match the several of the then Prime Minister. He chose ‘passion, patience, persistence’ as a key to communication and to advice. 

Maybe it’s obvious but let me be clear: there is no point in doing it (or anything of substance) without 

  • passion; 
  • patience;
  • hard work – this is no place for anybody who craves instant gratification;
  • persistence – the work is NOT done by one good speech, press release, briefing or meeting with the Minister.  There is always a need for multiple follow-ups to keep the matter in front of busy people. 

Communicators need to understand the scientific method, to be agile, politically aware and credible.  

There needs to be a blending of scientific knowledge with a deep understanding that science works within the morés of the community:  the social licence to operate; and an acceptance that the social sciences and humanities have a role.  

These are not new problems. In 2010, the Labor Government was trying to address the very same problems when we announced the new national  science communications strategy, “Inspiring Australia”.  

Yes, the problems may now be more acute, but they are not new.  

It is the government’s role to create the climate in which science can prosper.

So, there is value in examining the original objectives of the Inspiring Australia program.  

It is important to note that in 2010 ‘Inspiring Australia’ was just one part of a much bigger science and research agenda for the 21st century, which we called ‘Powering Ahead, next steps for implementing a science and research vision for Australia’.

 The 2010 program was part of an integrated policy response.  It sought to address not just science communication, but research workforce development, research infrastructure, and international science and research collaborations.  

The position put within Government in 2010 was that 

  • Science and research investment paid economic, social and environmental dividends.  
  • attracting young people to science was critical
  • science helped improve productivity and helped new jobs and industries
  • science could help build public debate about intractable problems, and
  • science could aid constructive and mutually beneficial international engagement.

By supporting the Prime Minister’s Science Prizes, the longevity of the program was enhanced. Other elements of the program also assisted. Questacon gave Australia a national Science Communications Hub that helped extend the CSIRO, the ABC and the Chief Scientist’s scientific activities.  Commonwealth leadership assisted the states’ networks and assisted the communications in the humanities and the social sciences through CHASS and FAST.  This program helped lock in Science Week and Science Meets Parliament.  The program was strengthened with the Cabinet giving support to bringing on the SKA bid in the 2011 funding cycle.

Science is a long game. 

To have a Minister in the portfolio for a few months at a time is not conducive to the long game. 

Notwithstanding:  the changes since my day: Gillard, Rudd, Abbott, Turnbull, Morrison, Albanese and multiple Ministers. in 2023, I find the longevity of our program remarkable.  Not only has it survived the changes in political directions of subsequent Prime Ministers, but also the different interests of the various Science Ministers. 

In the forthcoming period of budgetary ‘fiscal consolidation’ , the science community will have to work hard to emphasise the value of maintaining the investment in this as an ongoing program. 

Furthermore, it will be of assistance in that quest if the original breadth of the agenda was reasserted. 

I will remind you that the 2010 Inspiring Australia program was preceded by a major report in 2009 by the steering committee on the National Science Strategy Review chaired by Patricia Kelly. 

This 2009 report was the product of significant research. broad consultation, and detailed involvement of the CSIRO, ABC, the Chief Scientist , Questacon and community organisations. 

The Kelly Report highlighted the need to replace existing programs which were largely uncoordinated and fragmented. It called for national leadership and coherent action by the Commonwealth in mobilising public engagement across the country. 

It is time for another such substantive review. The program in recent years has lost its core focus and has moved away from Questacon and back into the Department. 

Since 2015 the program has been amended with a series of  ad hoc,  miscellaneous initiatives seeking to address short term political objectives, such as digital literacy, women’s participation, school science competitions and entrepreneurship. 

 It might well be argued that we have seen a return to the uncoordinated and fragmented approach of the pre 2010 period.

Science communication is more than just appealing to policy makers.  Science communicators must reach out to the community at large.

I remain concerned that one great group of science communicators, namely our teachers, have been left out of the science communication equation.

School based science education remains under-funded and insufficiently supported.  It is timely to re-examine this program to ensure that it is fit for purpose. 

While teachers are widely considered crucial to advancing an interest in science, classroom science teaching gets little additional support .

Science week is not enough to help under the pump classroom teachers.

It is timely to genuinely refocus science communication’s ambitions on the national interest by emphasising science’s role in building economic prosperity, social justice and democratic values.  

In this ambition we can help create a scientifically engaged Australia.

Science communicators can seek to build a society that is inspired by and values scientific endeavour, that engages with key scientific issues and that encourages young people to pursue scientific studies and careers.

Prof the Hon. Kim Carr FAHA FTSE, February 2023

Diversity in STEM

Another public consultation opportunity has opened today, this a dialogue starter around diversity in STEM.

From the Department’s consultation website:

We want to hear your experiences with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Your stories and insights will help shape our vision to increase diversity, engagement and skills in STEM, and support pathways for diverse groups into STEM.

We welcome insights from all Australians. We especially welcome input from people in historically underrepresented groups in STEM.

We also welcome insights from organisations who support, employ, educate, learn from, represent or have policies and programs impacting people in STEM

Department of Industry, Science and Resources consultation hub

Go here for more information, and get in touch if you wish to contribute to the ASC’s response. We have until 11 April to provide our first submission.

Got an international project?

The ASC, as part of our international engagement, have a seat on the Preparatory Committee for the World Organisation of Science Literacy (WOSL).

Currently WOSL are seeking ideas for projects to select as the international collaborative project for 2023. Their request is below:

We would like to know if any of our member organizations could contribute related projects and resources for sharing in the future. This could include projects related to science education, public outreach, science journalism, or any other relevant fields. We are particularly interested in projects that aim to engage diverse audiences and promote scientific dialogue across cultures.

Proposals need to put forward an application, including key detail such as target audience, who would fund it, and how people can get involved.

If you’ve a potential project or idea, get in touch at office at and we can chat. We would need to send these ideas through before 16 March so get thinking!

PCST 2027 – a bid for the region

The ASC is underway with a bid to host PCST2027 in Australia.

The current conference committee consists of the following ASC members:

  • David Barbalet National Alliances Manager, Questacon – Department of Industry, Science & Resources
  • Dr Heather Bray UWA
  • Jirana Boontanjai Co-President, ASC
  • Niall Byrne Creative Director at Science in Public Pty Ltd
  • Dr Tom Carruthers Co-President, ASC; Client Partner, Ogilvy PR
  • Melina Gillespie CSIRO; President of South East Queensland Branch, ASC
  • Abigail Goff Victorian branch, ASC
  • A/Prof Will Grant Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science, ANU 
  • Abigail Hils Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science, ANU
  • Alison Kershaw Program Manager, Inspiring South Australia
  • Prof Joan Leach Director, Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science, ANU
  • Clare Mullen Bureau of Meteorology
  • Prof Sujatha Raman UNESCO Chair in Science Communication for the Public Good, CPAS, ANU
  • Dr Michelle Riedlinger Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Science Communication (JCOM); Senior Lecturer, QUT
  • Ruby Stoios Co-Secretary, ASC

The committee is also forming a set of supporting subcommittees to provide advice and support.

The bid is underway, and we will share more on this as we proceed through the process.

Please get in touch if you are keen to be involved.