New global science of learning website launches

International publishing group Nature Research has launched a global online community dedicated to improving knowledge on the science of learning, in partnership with The University of Queensland.

The npj Science of Learning Community website is a space for communicators, teachers, policymakers and scientists working in neuroscience, education and psychology to discuss how to enhance learning in schools.

The website’s launch content includes:

  • An opinion piece from leading education researcher Professor John Hattie
  • Interviews with education thought-leaders and policymakers including Microsoft Corporation Teaching and Learning director Dr Cathy Cavanaugh, Google Australia Engineering Community and Outreach manager Sally-Ann Williams, and social commentator and writer Jane Caro
  • An article by the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Dr David Dockterman

The site is a place to discover and share information and news, learn from experts, and collaborate to advance the science of learning. You can explore and share content, follow your favourite contributors, and make your own contributions to the Community.

The website is live now and free to join.

Contact: Donna Lu, npj Science of Learning Community managing editor, d.lu@uq.edu.au, +61 7 3346 6419.

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!

President’s update

Thanks to Joan Leach for the update.

The Conference is just about now!

I spent a very productive hour this week listening to the new Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel, AO, give his maiden speech at the press club. I’m now looking forward even more to his plenary opening of the ASC conference in Brisbane on the 11th… 11.00 am. Actually, it strikes me that the national press club has not one, but three (!!) featured science sessions this month. After the Chief Scientist, Alan Alda is speaking. Finally, there is a ‘women in science’ panel to round out the month. Science meets Parliament also looked to be a big success again this year. And the World Festival Science is heating up. Then, there’s the gravitational waves that must be coursing through us even as you read this. So a lot of buzzy things happening. I hope to see you in Brisbane!

Bernard Schiele on the challenges of science communication

Bernard Schiele is a Researcher at the Centre interuniversitaire de recherche sur la science et la technologie (CIRST), and Professor of Communications at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM).

Professor Schiele frequently teaches and lectures in North America, Europe, and Asia. He has been working for a number of years on the socio-dissemination of science and technology. He played a significant role in the creation of the master’s program in museology at UQAM as well as the development of an international PhD in museology in partnership with the Université d’Avignon et des Pays de Vaucluse (UAPV). Professor Schiele is a member of several national and international committees and is a regular consultant on scientific culture matters to governmental bodies and public organizations. He is a founding and current member of the scientific committee of the International Network on Public Communication of Science and Technology (PCST). He has chaired the International Scientific Advisory Committee for the China Science and Technology Museum in Beijing and the scientific committee for the 2012 International Conference on Science Communication in Nancy, France.

In 2012, Professor Schiele was recognized with the Annual International Achievement Award from the International Council of Museums Canada (ICOM).

We sat down with Bernard to chat about his research and find out more about his involvement with science communication.

ASC: How did you find yourself in science communication?

Bernard: I am not in science communication per say. I am an observer of science communication: I try to understand how it works, what its features are, and the processes at play. I came to science communication by studying the representation of science on television, how it was presented to the public, and how it shaped the image that each and everyone had of it. Afterwards, this interest expanded to science museums and science centers. If television remains the single greatest source of information for the majority and a way to interpret the world, museums are appreciated by the public. In short, what drew me towards science communication was this question: how do knowledges – plural – circulate in society once they are beyond the control of specialists? This question entails another one: how does the public appropriate these knowledges, and how, once shared, do they transform our understanding of the world?

ASC: Why is science communication important to you?

Bernard: First, the global impact of science and technology upon society, environment, labor structures, and daily life today is such that no one can remain indifferent. In our modern world, the development of science and technology is the main dynamic behind social transformations and nothing remains immune to it. But science, once synonymous with progress and hegemonic in a world permanently changing, is now viewed as ambiguous as its many promises entail an element of risk. This is why some consider that society’s relationship with science is in a critical phase.

Second, in parallel — and probably as a result — we observe a legitimacy crisis of authority figures, including scientists. Therefore science communication is now synonymous with the involvement of the public. A public that does not want any more to be kept apart from the decision processes that may affect it, especially those involving social choices. The public is not naive : what are usually advertised as purely scientific or technical questions usually involve questions of a social, economic and ethical nature. To exclude them from the debate only fosters doubt and resentment. When facing their consequences, no one as a greater say than any other. The issue is thus no longer about an impossible rise in the individual and collective level of knowledge, but about the impacts of technoscience’s encroachment on society. This is why the debate nowadays focuses more on issues of participation and dialogue, rather than on diffusion. Furthermore, the idea of dialogue implies reciprocity. In other words, it involves equal partners. Thus, it is not enough to be a scientist or an expert to be listened to, let alone to have the final say. The mobilization of the public has become a major social phenomenon.

ASC: What challenges have you faced in talking about science?

Bernard: I had two main challenges. The first was to explain pervasiveness of communication technologies result in a constant flux of information that not only subvert traditional forms of communication and dramatically increase the number of – often contradictory – information sources, it also results in the creation and development of new forms of participatory collaboration. Thus, it becomes increasingly difficult to differentiate information and knowledge from opinion and judgment. This proliferation of immediately accessible discourses by web users, regardless of their actual location, far from allowing the expansion of knowledge, tends on the contrary to limit them to their function as sign. Unless, they actually engage themselves in a systematic and critical investigative process. The second challenge was to explain that nowadays new knowledge is constantly produced in all fields at an ever-increasing pace, forever widening the gap not only between scientists and publics but also between scientists. How can we then expect the public to acquire an all-encompassing scientific culture? Thus, a lack of scientific culture is the dominant feature of our ever more specialized modernity, and this ignorance cannot but further increase. The issue has thus shifted from raising the level of scientific literacy at least to the bare minimum required to become a credible interlocutor, to involving citizens. It is only collectively, with the participation and involvement of each and every citizen, regardless of background, that we will find solutions to the problems we face. It is thus the mobilization and involvement of the scientific community and of all social actors, invited to work alongside each other, that must be encouraged and brought about.


Bernard will join our rejection of science panel at the ASC Conference on March 11 in Brisbane. 

Chatting with Christine O’Connell about science communication

Dr. Christine O’Connell is the Associate Director of the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science and a faculty member in the School of Journalism at Stony Brook University. As a scientist with an extensive interdisciplinary background in policy, outreach and communication, she brings a unique perspective to the Alda Center. She received her Ph.D. in Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University, and her B.S. in Natural Resources from Cornell University.

Christine teaches and develops curriculum for graduate and undergraduate courses in science communication and speaks at national and international workshops for the Alda Center. She was part of the original group of graduate student scientists trained by Alan Alda in improvisation back in 2009, and manages The Flame Challenge, an international contest that asks scientists to communicate complex science in ways that would interest and enlighten an 11-year-old.

We sat down with Christine to find out more about her involvement with science communication.

ASC: How did you find yourself in science communication?

Christine: I went to school for science in the 1990’s and got frustrated that my research just ended up on library shelves or in the hands of other scientists. I decided to switch careers and go into environmental advocacy and policy, where I thought I could make more of a difference. After years of doing that, I got frustrated that there wasn’t enough science in important policy decisions and decided to go back to graduate school and get my PhD in the sciences to try and bridge the gap between science, society and policy. That’s when I was asked to be part of the initial pilot group of scientists being trained by Alan Alda in improv techniques to help us be better communicators. I was hooked and have worked with the Alda Center in science communication ever since. This is where I see myself making the biggest difference.

ASC: Why is communicating science important to you?

Christine: Clear and vivid  communication of science is so important for an informed society and for sound policy decisions. Many scientists are scared of the word “advocacy,” but, in today’s day and age, where science itself has become politicized, we must be advocates for science and the scientific process. Otherwise someone else will fill the void with bad science or muddled intentions, and bad decisions will be made. We need to have an informed and inspired public to help build the next generation of science leaders and to make sure we are making sound decisions about our world. Also, not only does effective science communication help with funding important research, educating the next generation, guiding public policy and increasing the public’s understanding of science – it also just makes for stronger science. This is something we hear over and over again after scientists go through our training – it makes them better scientists.  Communication is what makes scientific process work.

ASC: What challenges have you faced in talking about science?

Christine: Jargon. There is discipline specific jargon, where even as a scientist, I find it hard to understand my colleges half the time; and then there is academic jargon. Its important to remember to speak in clear and vivid everyday language. Another challenge is always focusing on my audience and remembering that communication doesn’t actually happen unless they get what I am saying, otherwise I’m just talking. You need to always be listening, even when you are talking. Its hard to keep this level of focus and energy all of the time, but it is so important.


Christine will deliver a keynote presentation at the ASC Conference on March 11 in Brisbane. Find out more on the conference schedule.

Premier science communication and science journalist conference comes to Brisbane

On March 11, the Australian Science Communicators (ASC) will bring together leading science communicators and journalists from across the globe to network and discuss current issues for science communication at QUT University, Gardens Point. 

ASC2016 - March 11 in Brisbane, Australia

Speakers include Climate Communication Fellow for the Global Change Institute at The University of Queensland John Cook, Director of Communications and Outreach at the Australian Academy of Science Kylie Walker, and contributing editor at the Scientific American George Musser. 

ASC President Professor Joan Leach said this year’s conference will provide direct access to leaders from industry and academia.

“This is an important opportunity for busy science communicators and journalists to take a step back and look at the future of communicating science,” said Prof. Leach.

Topics to be presented include understanding and responding to people’s rejection of science, the cultural value of science communication, a look at new narratives in science communication and the future of science journalism.

The ASC National Conference 2016 (ASC2016) is being held in Brisbane to tie in with the first World Science Festival held in Australia. The festival runs from March 9 to March 13.

ASC national conferences have been a regular and important feature of the science communication landscape in Australia since 1996. These events are the premier networking and professional development opportunity for those making science and technology accessible. 

Check out the conference website for more details – 2016conf.asc.asn.au.

Media enquires: asc2016@asc.asn.au

ASC2016 – Kelly Fielding

Kelly Fielding is a Vice Chancellor’s research and teaching fellow at The University of Queensland. Her broad research focus is understanding environmental decision-making and how to communicate to increase knowledge and change attitudes and behaviASC2016 - March 11 in Brisbane, Australiaour.

Her research has identified ways to communicate to increase domestic water conservation, public place recycling, acceptance of recycled water and, more broadly, actions to reduce individual environmental impact. She is currently conducting research that seeks to understand the roots of rejection of science and how we might communicate to overcome these. She takes an interdisciplinary approach to her research and has worked with local council, State Government, and catchment management authorities to undertake this research.

We sat down with Kelly to find out more about her involvement in science communication.

ASC: How did you find yourself in science communication?

KF: It’s been a serendipitous route into science communication. It developed in the first instance from work I did about public perceptions of recycled water. I got to a stage where I realised we understood what the drivers of perceptions were, but now we needed to move to the next stage of developing effective communication about this water source. It’s also grown out of collaborations that I have with biophysical researchers. I’ve found that they are hungry for input on how they can more effectively communicate their findings and this has spurred my own interest in the area.

ASC: Why is communicating science important to you?

KF: My main motivation comes from my concern for the environment and our need to address the serious environmental issues that we currently face in Australia and around the world.  We need to get more people interested and passionate about these issues and science communication is one route to this.

ASC: What challenges have you faced in talking about science?

KF: From a research perspective the challenges are the ones that research usually presents – what works and what doesn’t, how can we provide the evidence? For example, in relation to climate change – what are the most effective ways of framing the issue to get traction? Personally, the challenge for me is to sit back and listen more and try to find a way to connect with people’s underlying values and concerns.


Interested in hearing more from Kelly? She forms part of our ‘How can we understand and respond to people’s rejection of science?’ panel at the ASC Conference 2016.  

 

ASC2016 – Bob Bruce

Bob Bruce is a retired industrial engineer who has worked widely in government and private enterprise. He currently works as an IT Orange Card with Education Qld. He holds a double major in Psychology. He has been President of the Queensland Skeptics Association Inc since the turn of the century.

Bob was ‘the Skeptic’ on 4BC’s Paranormal Panel for over five years. His philosophy is based on the rules of science and believes that science should step beyond its advisory capacity and assume a more determinate role in decision making.

Bob has been involved with the Queensland Skeptics Association since the meetings took place in his lounge room. We spoke with Bob to find out more on why communicating science is important.

ASC2016 - March 11 in Brisbane, Australia

ASC: Why is communicating science important to you?

BB: Science plays a significant role in determining our future. The world must become scientifically literate or we will perish.

The older and uglier one gets the more one can look dispassionately at the world and determine what went wrong. The conclusion one draws is that the ideal pursuit for humanity is the discovery of ‘reality’ because we appear to have been pursuing something else.

Humans have clouded their judgment with all manner of cultural and traditional artefacts that, given our limited knowledge at the time, helped us adapt and survive our environment. But humans also have self-interest and avarice to deal with and foibles like ‘morality’ that tries to make sense of lots of humans acting together.

We have innumerable codes of ethics some based on logic or health and some based simply on the propagation of the species. Polygamy for instance served to ensure that sufficient numbers of newborns reach maturity to maintain the population but close family partnerships were frowned upon because undesirable genetic traits were expressed. We also wrongly assumed that the gods were in charge of the weather and the success or failure of the crops.

We only understand these things now because of science. Science shows us the real world without our biases and prejudices.

Humans relied on intuitive thinking which was often wrong. The taxonomy of the various species was originally done by intuition and was blatantly wrong in many cases. Plants that looked alike (because local environmental conditions shaped them) were unrelated and similarly animals were assumed to have quite erroneous family lineages. There is no taxonomic reason for ‘fish’ for instance. The discovery of DNA and genomics corrected the family tree. It also showed how homo sapiens spread across the world.

ASC: What challenges have you faced in talking about science?

BB: Getting people to understand the perilous state of the Earth is a big challenge.

If you make a statement like “commercial fishing in the Atlantic Ocean has collapsed”, people won’t believe you. Yet, the pH of the sea has fallen 0.1 in 25 years and the sea is destined to become an acid soup. Plankton which produces 50% of the oxygen we breathe is at the very base of the food chain and has declined by 80% in some areas around the Antarctic.

Our biases are embedded in our culture, prejudice and wishful thinking. We cannot be sure of the objectivity of an experiment unless it is triple blind.

Ultimately science and skepticism are seen as downers even though virtually all of the world’s progress is thanks to scientific research.

Information can be very touchy. Science is engaged in a ‘Hearts and Minds’ battle over fluoridation, vaccinations, GMOs and similar issues.

A massive market exists for supplements and health tonics that do very little. This can be regarded as a mild amusement but ultimately it is a sham and a waste of money. As an example public disinterest and the insidious thread of unknowing anti science, look at “Super Foods”. This food movement is media savvy, sensational and often wrong. There are no “Super Foods” and no additional nutritional benefits to organic foods.

As an example, consider the selection of bread…

On one hand we have supermarket bread – a plastic wrapped Supermarket loaf pre sliced, with bread improver, iodised salt, added folates, vitamin C, amino acids, preservatives, anti-oxidants, added flavours and colouring probably leavened with CO2 gas and formulated to stay soft for a week. The dough may be pre-prepared in Holland and shipped frozen to Australia before baking is completed locally.

On the other, we have “Holistic Earth Bread”: It is a crusty high top loaf made from 1000yo variety stoneground wholemeal spelt flour with no preservatives, no artificial colours, emulsifiers or bread improvers. It is low salt.

Consumers tend to prefer the crusty high top as somehow more wholesome, pure and healthy (and more expensive). However, the supermarket bread (which can be, admittedly, pretty basic) is formulated to be healthier; the added vitamins, folates and iodised salt are vital for pregnant mothers and avert birth defects in newborns. The preservatives avoid moulds and fungus that can be poisonous and contrary to popular belief they do not ‘preserve’ your insides (if only). The bread improvers improve texture and shelf life.

To sum up; the challenge of science is to make knowledge accessible, believable and credible (ABC) to the populace.  


Interested in hearing more from Bob? He forms part of our ‘How can we understand and respond to people’s rejection of science?’ panel at the ASC Conference 2016.  

ASC conference – Join us in Brisbane on March 11, 2016

A huge thank you to all those who took the time to respond to the conference planning email sent to members in August this year. Your views were very supportive of a March 2016 conference, along with a longer term view to planning joint conferences in future. Below is our first conference announcement since that email and we plan to follow up with many of you soon.

We are delighted to confirm that the very popular ASC national conference is being held in Brisbane to tie in with the World Science Festival, an annual week-long festival for all things science. The festival runs from March 9 to 13 and we have scheduled the main ASC conference on Friday, March 11 when the world festival has a day programmed primarily for schools (we hope this means less scheduling conflicts for members!)

We’ve arranged a later conference start (registration at 10:30 for an 11am start) so that delegates may choose to attend brekky with the Brians and our very own Robyn Williams (details below). Tickets are selling (very) fast. If you have even an inkling that you will be joining us for the conference then we’d recommend buying your brekky ticket right NOW! Contact us at office@asc.asn.au for the member discount info.

Satellite and social events are highly likely so you may wish to plan to attend Brisbane for a few days to make the visit really worth your while at a time when luminaries in science and science communication will abound! View the festival program online here to help your planning.

VOLUNTEERS: Great opportunity to network and contribute to your national community event. As you may be aware, the national conference is made possible by a huge contingent of capable ASC member volunteers who help out with everything from website content & marketing, to mic running on the day. We are looking for our 2016 crew now so if you are interested please contact us at asc2016@asc.asn.au and let us know how you’d like to be involved.

Member offer – Breakfast with the Brians

Before the ASC Conference starts on March 11, ASC members can head to a breakfast event that promises to be as entertaining as it is thought provoking, Australia’s Nobel Prize winning astrophysicist (and successful winery owner), Brian Schmidt, meets internationally renowned string theorist and best-selling author, Brian Greene (think The Elegant Universe and  Big Bang Theory). You’ll recognise them both as favourites on the best talk shows – from Adam Hills to David Letterman – as they discuss ‘life, the universe and everything’ with ABC broadcaster, former ASC President and lifetime member, and national living treasure, Robyn Williams.

Ticket price ($50.00) includes light breakfast.  Breakfast is served in foyer from 8.15am.
Contact us at office@asc.asn.au for the member discount info.

President’s Update

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

Save the date! 11 March 2016

I’m very pleased to announce that the next ASC conference will be in Brisbane in March 2016. We have tried to tie in our next meeting with the World Festival of Science so that our members who are involved can make their travel dollars go further. Also, we hope that as the WFS announces its program ASC members might satisfy their curiosity at the festival and enjoy networking time with ASC members as well. Our venue and program will be announced shortly. But, circle that date and plan to be in Brisbane. We’re going to organise the 2016 conference into one packed day for ASC and break out events during the World Festival of Science. More news coming…

Issues for AGM?

ASC is gearing up for its AGM and a SGM to consider the ASC constitution. If you have any queries you would like to put to me personally, please do so at j.leach@uq.edu.au. I’m also very interested to hear about colleagues who would like to join the executive of ASC so please get in touch if you’d like to get more involved.