5 things you can do RIGHT NOW to stay up-to-date with science communication research

Scientists and science communicators are people who see knowledge as a foundation for actions and behaviours, right? A scientist, planning an experiment, will know all about the latest research in their field to maximise their chance of success. We build new knowledge on the knowledge of others.

But how often will a science communicator or scientist-who-communicates-science stop and think whether what they are doing communication-wise is based on current best practice? Do they check whether someone has already done what they are doing or planning on doing? Have other people been successful? Is there a way to do things better?

I’m always surprised when I meet people in science communication who aren’t engaged with science communication research. To me, it’s just applying what I was taught to do as a scientist. “But I can’t access the journals!” I hear people say, or “I don’t know what journals to looks at!” which are probably fair comments – but there are ways around this as you will soon see.

And there is also the good old “I don’t have time to keep up with research”. I think this is an interesting comment given we expect the busy general public to keep reading the vast amount of science writing that we collectively produce to keep up with the latest research.

It doesn’t have to take up a lot of time to keep up with science communication research. In fact, you could end up saving yourself considerable time in the long run by avoiding wasting time on something and, who knows, we might actually be able to improve public engagement with science!

So here are my five things that you can do right now to keep up-to-date with science communication research. All you need is access to the internet!

1) Set yourself up to get email alerts/newsletters from the key journals
You may not be able to get the whole papers, but you can read the abstracts (and who really wants to read more than that, right?). In my opinion, the key journals in our field are:

There are other journals too, of course, and more theoretical ones if you are interested, but these will get you started.scipublic on smartphone

2) Follow the journals on social media
Public Understanding of Science now has a blog and a Twitter account (@SciPublic). Again – links may only take you to abstracts but if you are just wanting to get a feel of current trends that may be enough. Journal of Science Communication has a facebook page.

3) Use Google Scholar
This platform will allow you to search for science communication research articles if you don’t have access to library databases. You should know this already, but I’ve learned never to assume. Again, you might only get abstracts, but you never know.

4) Follow key science communication researchers on social media
Science communication researchers are using social media to reach out to their audiences in the same way as science communicators. In fact, several science communication researchers currently research how to use social media to communicate science! Once you’ve found people who publish on things you are interested in, find out if they have a Twitter account or blog and start following. They will probably share information about more than just their own research. This includes accounts and Facebook pages for research organisations and groups too!

5) Follow key researchers on Academia and/or ResearchGate
If you are currently in research, you might already have a profile and do this for your specific field. But you should also put in “science communication” as a term, and see who you pull out. If you are not in research you may have never heard of these sites before! Quite often researchers will place open access versions of their papers, or conference presentations on their pages that you can download, no matter where you work.

So there you have it! At least 3 of these are set and forget type things that will have the latest research delivered straight to you. And there are lots of other options to stay in touch, not in the least to have an enthusiastic friend who will send you random things they read! Yes, of course it will take some time to read the things that come by, but I think we owe that to ourselves and our audiences. If nothing else, putting yourself in the position of the audience will remind you how it feels to have to open your mind to new information, especially if it challenges what you already thought about how to communicate science.

Heather Bray is an ex-scientist, science communicator and researcher at the University of Adelaide. She is a member of the ASC committee in SA. She manages a research group blog, as well as having personal and research blogs. She is on Twitter @heatherbray6.

Communicating science with mobile applications

The advanced connectivity and computing power of Smartphones opens up new possibilities for science communication, and an increasing number of institutions are experimenting with this great potential. That’s the topic of the thesis I published as part of my Masters of Science Communication, in which I look at the potential benefits and limitations of science-related mobile applications. This excerpt summarises the main ideas, and I hope it can be beneficial to some out there.

Use of a mobile app at the Natural History Museum, London. Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License

Use of a mobile app at the Natural History Museum, London. Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License

Great potential yet to be explored

For science communication professionals who are continuously exploring new strategies for communicating with current and potential audiences, mobile applications open up the possibility for reaching new audiences through a personal device they have chosen and are familiar with. In the case of science museums and science centres, mobile apps also enable the institutions to reach those audiences not only during the museum visit, but before and after also.

“This ability to reach users in conditions and in an environment of their choice opens up new possibilities for the communication of cultural content for life-long learning and edutainment, in addition to the potential for cultural marketing. Additionally, the fact that these users are connected in a wide network offers possibilities not only for one-to-one communication between the cultural organization and the user, but also for social networking and creating communities of users interested in cultural content, incorporating Web 2.0 capabilities.”

(Economou and Meintani, 2011)

Furthermore, in the past few decades we have been observing a paradigm shift in museum learning which is based on an explorative hands-on approach and focuses on the users’ needs rather than the curators’ key message. While traditional museums put visitors into a passive and ‘guest’ position, this new paradigm is about participation and interactivity and puts the users into an active role (Kahr-Højland in Katz, LaBar and Lynch, 2011).

Use of QR codes in Museum. Image in Public Domain

Use of QR codes in Museum. Image in Public Domain

With their advanced computing abilities and connectivity, smartphones are regarded as the key vehicle for customizing and enhancing visitor experience and seem to fit perfectly into this new learning paradigm. However, in reality, museum mobile applications are not as numerous as we may think, and the few that exist do not seem to significantly enhance the museum visit experience (Valtysson, and Ling in Holdgaard Katz, LaBar and Lynch, 2011). The majority of museums apps developed so far have the form of enriched audio-guided tours (with images, video, and sometimes additional texts), and few of them actually support social interaction and participation.

Facilitate accessibility, encourage dialogue

But edutainment mobile applications are not limited to museums, and science-related apps actually abound. A quick search on iTunes with the keyword “science” gives more than 2,000 results. In my thesis I look at a sample of mobile applications created by science museums, science centres, and research institutes, and analyse the means they used to convey science-related content.

A mobile app for plant care.

A mobile app for plant care. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International License.

It appears that a good way to embrace this new learning paradigm, and retract from the passive one-way information delivery from institution to user, is to enable the user to contribute to the content (e.g. upload photos), ask questions, provide feedback, and share on social networks. Smartphones are connected devices, so let’s use that feature!

To convey science-related content to a large and diverse audience through a mobile app, there are a few things to keep in mind, such as: don’t forget to offer different levels of reading (e.g. with “in-depth” or “further info” options available), make the content available on different platforms (e.g. develop the app on different OS, upload content on website as well), use a level of language adapted to the audience (avoid jargon and keep technical language to a minimum, in a manner that it is not misleading, but that your audience can understand quickly and easily), increase usability (e.g. provide captions for videos, title the back arrows with the previous page’s name, have an option to change contrast and text size), and it’s a smartphone app so use the smartphones features (e.g. camera, microphone, GPS, connectivity, gyroscope…).

A mobile app is the device, not the message

Smartphones do offer a broad range of possibilities to science communicators and can be fantastic devices to communicate science to different audiences, and some apps are truly brilliant. However a mobile app may not be the most adapted tool for everyone’s communication.

Event review: Served with a sprinkling of science

Organisations involved in food production, processing, distribution and policy face considerable challenges and opportunities as a result of a range of forces, including globalisation of food systems, growing consumer expectations, economic growth and demographic shifts (particularly in developing countries) environmental issues including climate change, and the growth of chronic diet and nutrition-related diseases.

In response, an interdisciplinary research group at the University of Adelaide is working to develop new research projects in the area of ‘Making ‘good’ food: interdisciplinary approaches to understanding food values and policy’.

National Science Week provided the perfect opportunity for the team to explore how people make decisions about novel foods that have scientific, social, environmental and economic dimensions. The team’s successful bid for funding with an SA Community grant in conjunction with National Science Week allowed them to hold an event “Served with a Sprinkling of Science” What would you put on your plate at which they could collect data, in real time, from the audience using the KeepPad™.

Speakers for the event were each allocated a topic:

  • Martha Shepherd, Galeru and ANFIL (native foods)
  • Tony Lufti, Greenwheat Freekeh (ancient grains)
  • Rachel Burton, ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Cell Walls (GM foods)
  • Bob Gibson, FoodPlus University of Adelaide (functional foods)

for which they discussed cutting-edge food research currently underway from scientists and other experts.

By allowing the audience to participate directly in the event, the team gained valuable insights into how the audience make decisions about novel foods that have scientific, social, environmental and economic dimensions.

Event organiser Heather Bray said, “We wanted to do two things. We wanted to find out what people think about food made with science, as well as finding out if events like this can engage people in the issues.”

The event was a great success, with the organising team gathering a number of novel and significant data sets which they are hoping to publish – keep your eyes peeled for that in the near future.

‘Served with a Sprinkling of Science’ was also showcased recently at the joint meeting of the History of Science Society and the Philosophers of Science Association in Chicago, USA, as an example social engagement.

Organisers would like to thank ASC President Joan Leach for the brilliant job she did hosting and facilitating the event – her contribution meant that they could sit back a little and monitor how things were going, a key factor in the events huge success!

 

 

 

 

SCREN update 2014

Thank you to Sean Perera for the SCREN update.

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

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

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

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

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

For more information about SCREN visit their website

Opening doors

Thank you to Sean Perera for the Inspiring Australia update.

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

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

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

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

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

To learn more about Opening Doors visit the project website openingdoors.anu.edu.au

 

Event review: Simon McKeon Big Picture Seminar

Thanks to Maia Sauren for the run down of the Big Picture Seminar.

The problem with research, say hospital CEOs, is that no one is held accountable for it. If the Australian government followed the recommendations of the McKeon review, that might not be the case. The Strategic Review of Health and Medical Research 2013, chaired by Simon McKeon, highlights that the majority of the 1998 Wills Review recommendations were successfully implemented, and delivered a substantial positive impact on the sector.

Hospital CEOs begin each fiscal year with a nice line item for research, but there’s no KPI that holds them to it. Over the year, amounts are slowly shaved off for urgent and accountable matters; if reducing surgery waiting times is on the public’s mind, then that’s where the money goes.

In terms of bang for buck, Australia does pretty well. Our life expectancy is 82 years, a good 3 years above that of the US, at half their per capita cost. While total investment in HMR is not known, it was estimated to be over $6bn in 2012. In 2009-2010, government expenditure on health care amounted to 4% of government expenditure, estimated to rise to an unsustainable 7% in 2049. Just by addressing healthcare-associated infections by translating research into policies, Australian healthcare costs could drop by up to $1–2bn p.a.

The catchphrase of the McKeon review recommendations is “embed research into the health system”. This includes optimising investments, tying health outcomes to research recommendations, translating existing and new research into practices and policies, monitoring and evaluating outcomes, and supporting research commercialisation. To support this, the McKeon review recommends helping drive philanthropic investment in health and medical research, similar to overseas models.

So what can you do, as a science communicator? Bang the drum.

The summary report has clear, specific, strategic recommendations, supported by facts and figures, clear visualisations, and case studies. Ensure policymakers know the about it. Highlight the economic value of streamlined investments, of commercialising research outcomes, of priority driven research. Ensure people in decision making capacities have the facts.

The full 300-page McKeon Report and the summary version are available online at http://www.mckeonreview.org.au

Are we making an impact with science communication?

By Craig Cormick and Arwen Cross

Community concerns about wind farms and vaccines have led to a discussion about why some people have strong fears of adverse reactions, and why their perception of risk doesn’t align with those of scientists. As Janet McCalmun wrote recently:

Their problem is a problem with science, and science has a something of a problem with them.

Both sides have a problem which could potentially be addressed by better science communication that worked to include all sides of such debates rather than polarising them, and used evaluation to measure impact and improve.

There are many good arguments for raising community understanding of science. These include a knowledge of science being useful in daily life (such as determining which medical advice is more sound), the economic benefits (a skilled workforce is good for the national economy), the cultural benefits (that it is fulfilling to know about science, history or music), or even democratic benefits (an informed society can make better decisions). Let’s call this 20th century thinking.

More recent arguments say that people should be engaged early in the directions and outcomes of scientific research, as key stakeholders/tax payers/beneficiaries. Let’s call this 21st century thinking.

But is the question a discrepancy between 20th and 21st century thinking as Jenni Metcalfe has suggested? Or is it more about better matching science communication strategies with different audiences, based on evidence? Because if we’re going to debate the best way to communicate science to the public, we must use that key tool of scientific research – evidence!

Continue reading

Big Ideas event in the ACT – Is Australia producing too many PhDs?

Thanks to Toss Gascoigne and Ian McDonald for providing this information. 

Long hours, short-term contracts, uncertain employment, and cut-throat competition for grants, fellowships and positions. The work may be on interesting and important issues and the company stimulating, but for many the reality of a career in research isn’t so rosy.

This event was held yesterday – we look forward to hearing the reviews.

ABOUT the event

Paul Barclay, presenter and series producer of Big Ideas on ABC Radio National.

Paul Barclay, presenter and series producer of Big Ideas on ABC Radio National.

In 2012, the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education commissioned the Australian Council of Learned Academies to investigate the career pathway for researchers in Australia.

Science communication consultant Mr Toss Gascoigne was asked to conduct the survey and draft the report, Career support for researchers: Understanding needs and developing a best practice approach [external link, 997 KB PDF], which highlighted job insecurity as the number one problem facing Australian researchers.

Join our panel of experts as they discuss the pros and cons of getting a PhD, and explore a best practice approach to how the career pathway of researchers might be improved.

Mr Paul Barclay, the host of ABC Radio National’s Big Ideas program, will be facilitating the panel discussion.

Our speakers include:

  • Mr Toss Gascoigne – Author, Australian Council of Learned Academies report, Career Support for Researchers
  • Professor Aidan Byrne – CEO, Australian Research Council
  • Dr Marguerite Evans-Galea – Chair, Early-Mid Career Researcher Forum (an initiative of the Australian Academy of Science)
  • Ms Melanie Hand – PhD student, Dairy Futures Cooperative Research Centre (CRC).

Report findings

The 1203 researchers who participated in an online survey and focus group discussions say the best thing about a career in research is working on interesting and important issues, and working in a stimulating environment.

Respondents say that best thing about a career in research is working on interesting and important issues, and working in a stimulating environment.

They appreciate the PhD program, which supports students as they work through their training; they feel encouraged to take up post-doctoral appointments; and they value the mentoring provided formally or informally by their institutions or their workplace.

Questions regarding the adequacy of salaries and assistance available to women re-entering the workforce draw mixed responses, rather more negative than positive.

On the less positive side are job security, uncertainty of funding and workload.

Almost universally, respondents to the survey like their work but not the employment system in which they work. For many the reality is seen as a frustrating round of chasing grants and fellowships while trying to write papers and (for some) manage a heavy teaching load.

Respondents say solutions to these matters require:

  • a greater investment in the system
  • more funding for fellowships and grants
  • more funding for universities so they can ‘carry’ researchers over the lean times between winning grants
  • more time to allow early career researchers to publish and establish themselves
  • more support to reduce work loads in the mature stages of a career.

This event is proudly brought to you by Australian Science Communicators [external link] and Inspiring Australia – a national strategy for engagement with the sciences[external link].

 

 

Science engagement survey extended to 29 July 2012

The national on-line survey of science engagement activities been extended to 29 July. Project leader Jenni Metcalfe reports we have had more than 220 entries of Australian science engagement activities so far. However, a number of people have asked for more time to enter as many activities as they can.

In response we squeezed some time out of the project to give you until 29 July to record what you are doing. So if you haven’t yet had the chance to fill in your completed or planned science engagement activities for January 2011 until June 2013, don’t miss out! Go to: :https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/scienceengageaudit

If you are having any issues with completing this survey or want some help with filling it out please contact Jenni so the team can assist you to contribute to Australia’s biggest ever snapshot of science engagement activities.

Jenni Metcalfe
phone: 07 3846 7111; 0408 551 866
jenni@econnect.com.au
skype: jenni.metcalfe

Congratulations to Graeme Batten from Sea Spec who won a $150 book voucher in the survey’s random draw.  For those who are disappointed, we’ll have another draw after 29 July to select another winner for the book voucher or wine.

Jesse Shore
National president

Time is running out!

For those of you who need a reminder, time is running out to add your science engagement activities to the national survey. We want to get a good snapshot of the diversity of activity in Australia and we need your input. Activities will be represented in an interactive on-line map and other data visualisation tools. So don’t be camera shy, fill in the survey and become part of the big picture.

Grab yourself a few moments and fill out the survey at: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/scienceengageaudit.  It closes 30 June 2012.

You can be in the draw to win a prize, and help make science communication and engagement more effective.

Send me an email if you have a long a list of activities and need some data entry help: president at asc.asn.au

Once again, here is the description of the project:

The biggest snapshot of science engagement in Australia

It’s a picture as big as Australia. A flash of light illuminating how people are getting science out there. And it’s the first time it’s been done.

The picture shows everyone who is engaging people with any science, from anywhere, any organisation, even into the future—that’s the goal.

Inspiring Australia wants to create a snapshot of all of the diverse science communication activities and programs going on between January 2011 and June 2013, and we need the help of anyone doing science engagement across the country.

People can help by filling out a survey about the science engagement that they’re a part of. We’ll put the results into a visual national online database that anyone can explore. The database is part of a national audit that will help us all understand:

  • who are Australia’s players in science engagement—internationally, nationally, regionally and locally
  • where and who is missing out on science engagement
  • if and how Australians respond to science engagement activities
  • how people can link their activities or ideas together
  • how people are evaluating their engagement activities, or not
  • how we can create better tools for evaluation
  • the bigger picture of science engagement in Australia—with lots of opportunity for research.

The survey and database are being created in response to the Inspiring Australia Expert Working Group report Developing an Evidence Base for Science Engagement. It’s the first of a suite of projects tackling the report’s recommendations.

As well as the survey, we will do personal interviews and a desktop review to make sure that we capture as many activities as possible.

The team comprises Jenni Metcalfe (Econnect Communication), Kristin Alford (Bridge8), and Jesse Shore and Kali Madden (Australian Science Communicators). Nancy Longnecker (UWA), Rod Lamberts (ANU) and Joan Leach (UQ) are advisors for the project. The data will help develop a national evaluation tool for science engagement activities—another initiative in response to the report’s recommendations.

The audit will help science communicators to be seen as part of the big picture of science engagement in Australia and their standing with respect to the world.

This Inspiring Australia initiative is supported by the Australian Government through the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research & Tertiary Education in partnership with Econnect, Bridge8, ASC and UWA.

Fill the survey out at: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/scienceengageaudit   It closes 30 June 2012.

Jesse Shore
National president