The demise of science journalism and rise of science communication?

Are you a science journalist or a science communicator?

For people outside the science communication sphere, this question might seem like an exercise in splitting hairs, but for those of us whose day-to-day lives are embedded in this arena, it’s actually quite important.

However it can be difficult to find clear, unassailable points of distinction that distinguish science journalists from science communicators. Is it who’s paying? Is it the determination of an underlying message? These seem like obvious answers but the often strong underlying agendas of publishing companies make things less clear-cut.

And so it was that we (being the Australian Science Communicators NSW branch) recently assembled a crack team of science journalists and science communicators to help find the answer. Our panel event featured ABC Science editor and journalist Dr Anna Salleh, Regional Executive Editor at Nature Publishing Group Stephen Pincock, media/communications manager for the UNSW Faculty of Science Deborah Smith, and former Sydney Morning Herald science editor Nicky Phillips, now at Nature.

It turns out that the intersection between science journalism and science communication is complex and messy and –particularly in this new era of online media –more important to debate than ever.

The reason is that science journalism – being defined as the kind of ‘objective’, critical reporting and analysis that our panel is most experienced in – is on the decline, at least in the mainstream media. There are fewer dedicated science journalists and editors, and instead the job of writing about science and scientific discoveries is often given to general reporters.

This is not to say these people don’t do a good job, but it means there’s a greater risk that a science story will be a rehashed press release, will be sensationalised, will be click-bait, because the reporter doesn’t have the experience to know that a study in ten people is not the final word, that a cancer cure in mice does not translate to a breakthrough in humans, or that a fifty per cent increase in relative risk does not mean everyone has a one in two chance of getting the disease.

What we are seeing instead is a lot more good quality, well-written science communication going on. Defining exactly how this differs from science journalism is tricky, but science communication covers everything from the Neil Degrasse Tysons and Derek Mullers of this world to the I F**king Love Science website to science blogs to podcasts like Science Vs.

We’re also seeing research organisations investing more time and money into producing high-quality communications about their science. It may be a glossy, self-produced magazine produced by a custom publishing company, written by journalists, illustrated with professional photographs. Even mainstream publishing companies such as Nature Publishing Group are providing that service independent of their traditional publishing arm.

This rise in ‘native content’ – advertising content designed to match its publishing surroundings – does create some dilemmas both for publishers and journalists. If the content is not clearly marked as being paid for, it risks diluting the publisher’s brand, which means publishers like Nature take a very ‘church and state’ approach to their traditional and custom publishing arms. For journalists, particularly freelances, it can lead to conflicts of interest if one is asked to write a critical news piece about a research organisation that one also writes content for.

More than ever before, there is a wealth and diversity of great science communication happening, mostly online but also in print, audio and on TV, by experienced science communicators who present the science in context and in proportion.

From the perspective of a more science-literate community – something I wholeheartedly support – this is an overall positive development. As a freelance writer, it is also the source of a good chunk of my income, as research organisations look to science journalists to help develop this content to appeal to a general audience.

The downside to this transition away from science journalism to science communication is that we are likely to see less of the critical, independent reporting and analysis that science – as with any other human endeavour – should be subject to. It still happens in science magazines such as Science, Nature, New Scientist, Scientific American and Cosmos (long may they survive and thrive). But here again, the internet is delivering new approaches that don’t rely on the traditional publishing model, such as the Retraction Watch website.

I’ve been asked a few times lately if science journalism is dying in Australia. The short answer is ‘no’. The long answer is that it’s not dying, but it is undergoing a metamorphosis. What will emerge on the other side of this process is anyone’s guess. Most likely we will see a far a greater diversity of science communication choices available for the general public, but like all things internet, the challenge will be sifting the gold from the dross.

If you want to see the video of our science journalism vs science communication panel, watch it here.

Meet the Scientists event – NSW

Unwind with a FREE DRINK courtesy of your local ASC, nibble finger food and enervate your neurons with the ASC NSW Christmas event, as we chat with well-known scientists who are successfully communicating their research. We’ll ask them why they f*king love communicating science, how they do it, and we’ll challenge them to describe decades of science research in the space of a single tweet!

They explore the stars, seek the roots of evolution, and spend their days playing with eight-legged beasties.

Scientists are also increasingly at the forefront of communication channels across multiple platforms. Join us as we chat to Australian scientists making their mark in both research and communication; on TV, radio and social platforms.

Don’t miss this fun night. Come and have a drink and some simulating discussion with your local ASC branch, and chat to some science communication all-stars featuring Scientia Professor Rob Brooks, Dr Lisa Harvey-Smith and Lizzy Lowe.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015 from 6:30 PM

Pyrmont Point Hotel, Margot’s Room – 59 Harris Street Pyrmont, NSW 2009

Tickets $15 for members and $25 for non-members.


Scientia Professor Rob Brooks

Rob Brooks_web

Evolutionary biologist Rob Brooks studies sexual reproduction and how it shapes the lives of humans and other animals. He heads the “Sex Lab” at UNSW where he is Scientia Professor and Director of the Evolution & Ecology Research Centre. His work has shaped how we understand the evolution of mate choice, how sex alters the aging process, and the links between sex, diet, obesity and death. He has won major prizes for both research and popular science communication. His popular writing, including his first book Sex, Genes & Rock ’n’ Roll: How Evolution has Shaped the Modern World, explores the power of evolutionary thinking to illuminate the human condition.

Dr Lisa Harvey-Smith


Dr Lisa Harvey-Smith is an astronomer at the CSIRO and studies the birth and death of stars in our Galaxy. She is the Project Scientist for the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP), a telescope comprising 36 large radio ‘dishes’ under construction in the Western Australian outback. Lisa is leading the ASKAP early science project, which will study the evolution of galaxies through approximately 7 billion years of cosmic history and is due to start in 2016. Harvey-Smith is an accomplished science writer and speaker and was a finalist in the 2015 Eureka Prize for Promoting the Understanding of Australian Science Research. In 2012 she was listed in the Sydney Morning Herald’s “Top 100: Most Influential People”. Harvey-Smith regularly speaks in schools and is involved in a mentoring program for young indigenous people in WA.

Lizzy Lowe


Lizzy is a PhD student at the University of Sydney studying the effects of urbanisation on spiders. She uses outreach to introduce people to the amazing world of arachnids and start conversations about the importance of biodiversity in cities. She particularly enjoys visiting primary schools because kids are much more appreciative of creepy crawlies!

Inspiring Australia update: Country kids communicating with art and science

Digital photography and solar prints of leaves and other found objects are just some of the ways community participation is being encouraged through storytelling technology.

Creative photography at the Wings Drop-in Centre in Wilcannia

Creative photography at the Wings Drop-in Centre in Wilcannia

Young people are telling stories about themselves and their environment at science and art workshops in the New South Wales towns of Wilcannia and Wagga Wagga.

They’re part of the dLab National Program, started by dLux Media Arts as a way to help regional youth contribute to their communities and shape their own future.

Using everything from digital photography to solar prints of leaves and other found objects, Wilcannia students captured elements of their hometown, learning along the way about local botany but also the chemistry of photography and the physics of light.

“We had a real ‘wow’ moment when we turned the whole room into a camera obscura and projected what we could see outside onto the walls and roof inside the room,” said workshop facilitator Yenny Huber.

Students’ stories and photographs went into a mobile app, an interactive map of Wilcannia with tours of places of personal importance to them.

In Wagga Wagga, the students’ work was projected onto the walls of the Civic Centre, alongside local music and interviews in an exhibition at the Ashmont Artspace.

“As much as the students enjoy learning about the science, the real power in this program is how they use technology to express themselves by creating art and audio-visual content,” Yenny said.

The dLab National Program continues in 2014, with a special guest appearance by Indonesian artist Andreas Siagian, who will run workshops on computer technology and electronics and will teach people how to make a DIY digital microscope from a webcam.

Find out more at

Inspiring Australia

Event review: Nerd Nite Sydney

Thanks to Nolanne Chang for this event review.

“Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!”

“Maths, Maths, Maths!”

That’s the sound of Simon Pampena revving up the crowd at this month’s Sydney Nerd Nite. Simon was the first of three guest speakers on the night, with subjects ranging from comedic science to a treatise against traditional lecture methods, to a review of the current thoughts by leading scientists on PTSD. Last month at Nerd Nite Sydney, topics included why we root for Michael Corleone in the Godfather, an obscure treatise on French philosopher-driven films, and a discussion of what makes a good film review, by local critics. Over time, the topics have ranged from the prosaic to the downright crazy, and from the humanities to the sciences.

Nerd Nite Sydney was co-founded by Justine Rodgers and Jessica Grisham, both academics at UNSW. Justine had just come back from studying at the University of Oxford in England and missed the intellectual atmosphere. She wanted an environment where discussions that would normally only be had between academics could be conducted with a broader audience. Stumbling upon the US organisation of Nerd Nite, she wondered if a similar event could be hosted in Sydney – they put her in touch with Jess, who had also expressed interest. Thus, Nerd Nite Sydney was born.

The event is held at Café Lounge in Surry Hills on the first Wednesday of every month. For the first few months around 40 to 50 people turned up; and now, one and a half years later, there are online ticket sales and the venue often reaches maximum capacity (120). This is something to be justifiably proud of, as it goes against the anti-intellectual stereotype often portrayed of Australians. Curiously, the audience seems to have a large age range, and, glancing around the room it’s noticeable that not everyone attending is an academic or the type of person that would normally attend a lecture. This is partially why Café Lounge was chosen – it’s a relaxed, “non-threatening” atmosphere where the audience members can buy bar food and drinks (I can personally vouch for the excellent chips). There’s a small stage and a screen – though not all presenters even use slide decks, preferring to interact more directly with their audience.

On the other hand, the atmosphere presented by the current location, would be harder to accomplish in a larger venue, which would be desired to accommodate their expanding crowd. Occasionally, the group behind Nerd Nite spins off special events, such as organizing a Stand-Up Comedy night at the Ultimo Science Festival (two years in a row now) or Nerd Gala, a night when they brought back several of the most popular Nerd Nite speakers. In addition to their monthly speakers’ night, they are also now trying to expand the role of their Facebook page, to reach their audience much more frequently. Posts on this page include interesting science tidbits, updates on what past speakers are up to, and teasers about the next month’s program.

If you’re interested in learning more about Nerd Nite Sydney – check out their page on Facebook. The event is held the first Wednesday of every month at Café Lounge in Surry Hills – the next event is October 2nd.

Interactive Intro to Marketing & The biggest snapshot of science engagement in Australia – 30/4

30 April 2012
6:30 pmto8:00 pm

Ever wondered why someone else is getting more web hits than you…. or funding…. or press?

Could it have something to do with the way you are marketing your product?

Have you really sat down to think about what your product, your audience, your goal really is?

Here’s your chance to ask an expert!

After graduating with a Master of Business Administration from the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS), Anthony Katsikas went on to become a lecturer at their School of Marketing.
His knowledge comes backed with 20 years of hands on experience, managing several Global Marketing Organisations, with over 7 years at Vice President, General Manager and Director levels.
His roles have focused on understanding customers and their needs in strategic and tactical marketing terms, developing product & market strategies as well as branding and promotional decisions.

If you are interested in getting a peek into the first principles of Marketing and how they might apply to you, come armed with your questions for a thought provoking and interactive delve into Tony’s world.


Where: Glasshouse, Level 2, City of Sydney RSL, 565 George St, Sydney

When: Monday 30th April, 6.30pm onwards

What: Interactive Intro to Marketing, followed by The biggest snapshot of science engagement in Australia!

Please RSVP to: / Rebecca – ASC Committee: 0410 635 083

The biggest snapshot of science engagement in Australia!

How are we engaging people with science in in Australia, and how do we do it better? A way to get answers is to create a high definition picture of science engagement activities in the country.

Jesse Shore will explain this new project to gather information about the who, what, where, when, why and how we communicate science. Then you’ll have your say as you become a focus group to answer the biggest question of the project, which is basically:

What are the critical areas where we need to improve the quantity or quality of science engagement in Australia?

It will be a fast paced session peppered with simpler questions to get the pieces of the big one. Your thoughts will contribute to the success of the rest of the project.

The main tool of the snapshot project is a survey questionnaire to be answered by people and organisations involved in science engagement activities. So bring your ideas about who we should promote the survey to.

The project is funded by the Australian government’s Inspiring Australia Strategy. The ASC is a partner in this project with Jenni Metcalfe from Econnect and Kristin Alford from Bridge8. ASC members and their colleagues can make a major contribution to greater science engagement in Australia. So come to the session and help shape the future of science communication.

ASC conference – a social happening

Cocktails in UTS’s new Great Hall? Café Scientific in a pub? Book Launch event of The Genome Generation? Pre-conference drinks with sci-comm up-and-comings?

Yes to all! The conference social calendar is now in place and we even offer a choice on the Tuesday evening.

First off is a relaxed pre-conference get-together at the Belgian Beer Café in the Rocks on Sunday 26 February from 6pm. Will Grant is organising this event. Reply to his tweet @willozap if attending.

Science Communication Tweetup pre #asc2012. 6pm, 26th Feb, Belgian Beer Cafe The Rocks (See Map Here) ping @willozap if attending!

Get dressed up on Monday 27 February for a cocktail function from 6-8pm at the newly refurbished Great Hall of the University Technology Sydney. All registered conference delegates are invited to this convivial gathering. Arrive on time to mingle and relax. There will be a couple of brief presentations and then some more mingling, etc. UTS has a lot to show off – you’ll hear about the exciting major rejuvenation of the university and its neighbourhood, its new science facilities and novel partnerships in communicating science. The Great Hall is in the Tower building on Broadway in Ultimo, a short walk or a quick bus ride from the conference venue.

Tuesday 28 February offers two events from 6-8pm for different tastes. In fact your choice of which one to go to may be influenced by where you want to eat afterwards.

  • The science team at the ABC with support from NETS and Rod Lamberts, our conference convenor, are putting on a light-hearted conversation about seriously communicating science, and the best part is that’s in a pub (location TBA).
  • The second event is in restaurant rich Glebe (a short bus or taxi ride from the Masonic Centre). Elizabeth Finkel’s latest book, The Genome Generation, will be launched at Gleebooks on Glebe Point Road. The first 20 delegates to RSVP will get free entry (otherwise $10). Drinks are available. Elizabeth will be in conversation with Wilson da Silva, editor-in-chief of Cosmos Magazine. See

More information about how to RSVP for the events will come soon.

More details are being added to the conference program and many sessions have powerful panels of potent presenters. The sooner you register the quicker you can reserve your place for sessions and events that have limited numbers.

So get organised and get registered – go to to make it happen.

Jesse Shore
National President

The ASC NSW Christmas Party – Fri 9 December

9 December 2011
6:30 pmto11:30 pm

Hi folks,

You’re all invited to a night of food, fun and friends at the ASC NSW Christmas Party.

This is a great chance to meet fellow ASC members and discover the people behind the emails.

And we’re offering free drinks (well, two) to all members, nibblies and a great Trivia quiz.

Cost: Members are free, non-members $5 (partners and other potential ASC’ers welcome)

When: From 6.30 pm till late, Friday 9 December

Where: The Star Bar, 600 George St, Sydney (just down from Town Hall station, opposite Events Cinemas)
We have a room on the ground floor, at the back (the ‘Amber Bar’…. there will be a welcome sign).

What to wear: A dash of Christmas! (Something we can see: not your special Xmas undies…. Hat, earrings, tie, reindeer-antlers etc.)

RSVP: Would love to know if you can make it so please send us an email by Wednesday 30 November (it will help us know how much food to order) or visit the ASC Facebook page

Best wishes and a very Merry Christmas from the ASC NSW Committee

ASC National Conference 2012

The Sydney Masonic Centre has been selected as the venue for the ASC conference. It has impressive facilities and is well located. The dates for the conference are 27-29 February 2012. Very shortly Rod Lamberts will issue the call for papers for the research stream of the conference.

Rod has lined up a significant keynote speaker and I expect that we can build some important sessions around this dignitary. I’ll leave it to Rod to make the the relevant announcements soon.

I’m looking forward to a thought provoking three days. Be sure to mark it in your diaries and attend what I anticipate will be a terrific group of sessions.

Jesse Shore

National President

The 2nd Annual National Science Communication Officers’ Forum 2011

Thanks to Karine Bruron from Liquid Learning Group for providing this information:

Liquid Learning is delighted to present The 2nd Annual National Science Communication Officers’ Forum 2011 – the premier event for communication professionals to exchange and acquire knowledge, tools and skills for true performance excellence.

The National Science Communication Officers’ Forum 2011 will be held on 22 & 23 November 2011 at Citigate Central, Sydney

Essential Tools and Approaches for Developing Communication Strategies within Scientific and Technical Research Environments

View the brochure here:

ASC Members receive a 10% discount off the standard registration fee.

Visit Liquid Learning’s website at:


Phone: (02) 9437 1311


Liquid Learning’s Forum Rescheduled

Author: Kali Madden

ASC is supporting Liquid Learning’s second annual National Science Communication Officers’ Forum

It has been rescheduled to 22-24 November 2011 in Sydney, Citigate Central. Read more

The event in brief:

Essential Tools and Approaches for Developing Communication Strategies within Scientific and Technical Research Environments

• Applying Innovative Strategies for Dealing with the Media
• Negotiating the Science Communication Spectrum for Better Results
• Maintaining Scientific Integrity
• Communicating Complex Information with Creativity

Click here to view the brochure:

ASC members receive a 10% discount off the standard registration fee. For more information, visit Liquid Learning’s website at: or email: or telephone: (02) 9437 1311