National Science Week (NSWk) – August 13-21

Author: Jesse Shore

National Science Week (NSWk) is 13-21 August, and with related events scheduled either side of that nine day week it becomes a three or four week ‘week’. Many of the activities during this time are organised and/or delivered by ASC members. We are a diverse bunch and our many-sided involvement in NSWk mirrors this. It is likely that the more successful NSWk becomes, the more work, and hopefully employment, there is for science communicators.

I have a special mention about ASC member involvement in NSWk activity in South Australia. The ASC SA branch committee works closely with the SA NSWk coordinating committee (and I expect other ASC branches have representatives on their local NSWk committees). The branch is helping organise the launch of NSWk in SA. In conjunction with that event, they are announcing their two awards: the Unsung Hero of South Australian Science and Unsung Hero of South Australian Science Communication.

ASC SA is following that up with a book launch of Dinosaurs in Australia, a CSIRO publication, and is holding this notable and timely NSWk event in association with RiAus.

Last year around 1.4 million Australians attended NSWk events. Individual ASC members and our branches are doing their bit to increase this number as well as raise the quality of Australians’ engagement in science.

And given the efforts of full-time science communicators, I expect we will contribute to the three or four week ‘week’ extending into an even more horologically incorrect time period.

See for a list of NSWk events, and to learn more about NSWk and its future dates.

Jesse Shore

National President


National Launch of the International Year of Chemistry

The International Year of Chemistry has its official launch next Tuesday, 8 February, in Canberra.

The website for the launch information and registration is via this pdf on the shac communications website.

The website for IYC Australia is Check out the events calendar.

I’m assured that science communication will play a role during the year. Check out the travelling exhibitions activity, four of which were developed by yours truly, which will soon have more details added. You can read descriptions of the four displays at



Jesse Shore

President, Australian Science Communicators, 2011

ASC-WA goes wild at Perth Zoo

Wayne Walters, Perth Zoo’s Acting Education Manager, organised an action-packed program for the ASCers, with attendees taking part in the same education and communication activities used with school, community and corporate groups.

Upon arriving, Wayne and Education Officer Claire Gaskin guided ASC members through an African Painted Dog scenario, in which two teams were required to navigate their way across a grid whilst avoiding some of the dangers the dogs face in real life.

This first activity was an engaging introduction to communication and education at Perth Zoo, in which a range of tools and approaches are used to encourage visitors to connect with animal ‘ambassadors’.

From a science communication perspective, Perth Zoo not only works to raise awareness of issues such as conservation and sustainability, but also encourages visitors to change their own daily behaviour to address these issues. Often these actions are simple, but can conflict with existing attitudes. To illustrate these concepts in action, Wayne
explained one of the Zoo’s current campaigns – encouraging people to choose recycled toilet paper.

The group was then immersed in a selection of the Education Team’s ‘educational experiences’, which are designed to allow hands-on experiences around the Zoo’s own programs and operations. For example, one group of ASCers was put to work solving the problem of finding enough termites to feed the Zoo’s numbats.

It was an entertaining and engaging showcase of the many educational programs offered at the Zoo. However, the final part of the visit was the most special, in which Wayne led the party through the Zoo’s African Safari section after dark.

Many of the animals viewed were particularly active and ASCers were fortunate enough to witness the Southern White Rhinoceroses from less than a metre away, and to hear the lions ‘singing’.

ASC-WA must thank WA Secretary, Miriam Sullivan for organising the visit and Claire Gaskin from Perth Zoo for assisting with the educational activities. A special thanks to Wayne Walters for organising an excellent program and sharing Perth Zoo’s approach to communication and education.

Sarah Lau
ASC National Secretary


Changes to CQ University’s science programs

CQ has updated its science programs with a range that can provide you with general and specialist subject knowledge, as well improving your skills in problem-solving, teamwork and communication.

Campuses: Gladstone, Mackay, Rockhampton & External Delivery (Distance Education). Please note that course offerings may differ between campuses.



Bachelor of Applied Physics

Bachelor of Applied Physics(Co-op)/Diploma of Professional Practice (Physics)

Bachelor of Exercise and Sports Science

Bachelor of Medical Sonography & Graduate Diploma of Medical Sonography

Bachelor of Medical Imaging

Bachelor of Medical Science (Specialisation)

Bachelor of Paramedic Science

Bachelor of Science (Applied Biology, Industrial Chemistry)

Bachelor of Sciences (Honours) (Specialisation)

Postgraduate (Research)

Master of Applied Science

Master of Health Science

Master of Communication

Doctor of Philosophy – Sciences, Engineering & Health

For more information:

Or contact the Student Contact Centre on 13CQUni (13 27 86)

Posted on behalf of Emily Franke, e.franke [at]

WA seminar: UWA Science Communication Seminar 23 October 2009

This week we have two students, Sunita Pradhan and Andrew Mills, who will be presenting a summary based on a detailed literature reviews completed for the unit COMM7402 Specialist Research Topics.

Sunita has been teaching high school science and maths for about 5 years, before coming to Perth to do a Masters of Science Communication and Education.  Her talk is entitled: ‘The Role of Excursion in School Science’.

Sunita will be talking about what formal and informal learning is and how  informal learning from excursions help students in learning science.  She has looked at how the excursion helps in the progress in students’ learning,
attitudes towards science learning and social outcomes, and the teacher’s role in facilitating learning outside the school and what are the constraints faced while implementing this.

Andrew Mills will be taking a detailed look at the communication between GPs and Alternative Medicine Specialists. Specifically the values and attitudes of GPs (General Practitioners), Complementary Medicine Therapists and
patients and the impacts of acceptance of complementary and alternative  medicine.



WHO: COMM7402 Literature Review Students: Sunita Pradhan and Andrew Mills

WHEN: Friday October 23, 2009 at 4pm

WHERE: The University of Western Australia, Crawley campus Centre for Learning Technology; Ground floor Physics building, near Fairway entrance #1. Enter via ramp between Physics and Geology, go down stairs to basement.



The schedule of upcoming seminars and events can also be found on the UWA Science Communication blog:

(Please note that some events later in the semester are still tentative but will be finalised closer to the event date)


Stephanie Watts
On behalf of the Science Communication Seminar Coordinators
Email: uwasciencecomm [at]

Science communication qualifications at UWA

The University of Western Australia UWA has been offering science communication qualifications since 2002.

Courses cover a broad range of topics including writing, presenting, performing, media, creating displays, consulting and practical work experience.

Campus: Perth

Offerings: Undergraduate and Postgraduate

Most courses can be undertaken in a flexible part time format to fit around work or other commitments. Students may enrol in the following programs:

Undergraduate Bachelor of Science (with a major in Science Communication)

Bachelor of Science Honours Degree Bachelor of Science (Science Communication)

Postgraduate Graduate Certificate in Science Communication

Graduate Diploma in Science Communication

Master of Science Communication and Education (Graduates are qualified to teach science in high school or work in any science-related organisation that has an education mandate. People who have completed a Graduate Diploma of Education or equivalent can apply for up to one year of credit towards this degree.)

Master of Science Communication (by research and coursework)

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

For more information:

Contact: Associate Professor Nancy Longnecker, Program Coordinator | nancy.longnecker [at] | +61 8 6488 3926

Evidence-based science communication workshop, 10 June 2009

Getting the Message Across

ASC NSW event, 10 June, 2009

By Shannon Fong, ASC NSW event reporter

Carol Oliver enjoying a finely made point during the workshop discussion

Carol Oliver enjoying a finely made point during the workshop discussion

How effective is science education within Australia? Dr Carol Oliver, from the Australian Centre for Astrobiology, said this will be an open question until adequate research is done into the subject. Carol emphasised the importance of understanding one’s audience in communicating knowledge effectively yet highlighted the lack of evidence that audiences are taking away the intended messages.

“How is it that the Australian Government can spend millions of dollars on science education when they do not even know what the outcome is?” she said. Longitudinal studies have demonstrated that by the time children get to high school, much of the scientific information that they have learnt in their primary years has since been forgotten.

In Australian universities, a substantial proportion of science students did not do science in Years 11 and 12. It appears that many are opting to get into university with a low UAI by choosing a science degree, and this could be lowering the quality of science students. With the Australian adult scientific literacy rate being approximately 15% (figure derived from a pilot study by Dr Oliver), our democracy is facing less informed decision making for an increasing number of science related issues. Perhaps a key to developing a more scientifically informed electorate is for science educators to make far greater use of changing modes of communication.

In America, more than half of the audience in search of scientific information look towards the Internet. In Australia, 92% of the population use Google as their search engine, and as of December, 2008, one fifth of Australians over 18 used Facebook. “This certainly says something about where to aim information, as well as where to gain feedback from the audience on the impact of such information,” Dr Oliver said.

Question time during the workshop

Question time during the workshop

However, numerous questions remain. To encourage general public interest in science is it more effective to promote information from science experts or provide access to a less expert but more populist knowledge source? And should scientific information be aimed at all of the population or only those who are interested? If the Australian Government undertook research into the effectiveness of scientific education, then maybe we would know.

The importance of evidence

There are many ways of communicating science. But what evidence do we have that any of it is effective in improving the understanding of science? The answer is very little. When it comes to engaging students or the public in science, we may be doing no more than moving deck chairs on the Titantic.

Sless and Shrensky characterise the situation perfectly “…the evidence for the effectiveness of (science) communication is about as strong as the evidence linking rainmaking ceremonies to the occurrence of rain,” Sless, D. and Shrensky, R. (2001) Science Communication in Theory and Practice, eds Stocklmayer, S., Gore, M.M. and Bryant, C.R., Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Some years ago a leading American science communicator, Dr Rick Borchelt, led a team of ‘blue ribbon’ science journalists and communicators to produce a best practices roadmap for NASA’s Marshall Spaceflight Center. A key finding of the 2001 report was that it was surprising that science, as a data-driven enterprise, did not demand evidence of the effectiveness of science communication.

There are several reasons why evidence does not exist beyond simple evaluation.  One is lack of funding to gather the evidence. While the resources required may be less than that needed for science research, it is still significant enough to need substantial funding.

Another aspect is the value of science communication, especially in a university environment.  No ‘research quantum’ (monetary value to a university) is assigned to science communication successes because Government funding does not include it. For example, I led a team in collaboration with NASA to produce a science-related project, which in 18 months attracted five million hits on the associated wiki.  Why is that not worth quantum for the research centre it was done in?

Science communication is still – more often than not – included almost as an afterthought in relation to science research. I’ve been involved in a major report on a specific area of research where for more than two years I fought for the education and outreach to be recognised as more than the required add-on with little or no funding.  We are reaching out to tomorrow’s scientists – and with three decades of decline in interest in science in our high schools, goodness knows we need it.

Scientists are frequently called on to do more in communicating their science to the public. But what evidence is there that it does anything to improve the public understanding of science?

Borchelt and his team found, after two years of research, that the principle reason scientists communicate with the public is not the one they intend. The actual aim is to please their bosses in getting column or airspace to promote their institution’s science. The Borchelt team recognised there is nothing wrong with this kind of promotion of the awareness of science. Nevertheless, it is not the same as improving the public understanding of science. And in either case there is no evidence of success (beyond pleasing an institution’s boss).

One of the key tenants of good communication (science or otherwise) is ‘know your audience’. On this rests the most serious issue of all for Australia. Unlike the US, Europe, and elsewhere, we do not test public audiences for their understanding of science. We also do not test our students leaving their high school science education for that understanding of science. We do not test for the effectiveness of science curricula. And the proposed Australian science curriculum is based on…you’ve got it…nothing – at least in the box that says ‘how effective are current science curricula?’

How does this impact on public audience consumers of science in the mass media? Journalists have little but intuition to make assumptions about reader/listener/viewer understanding of science, let alone know how information via the mass media shapes personal world views about science. But as a past science journalist, I know the response: we do not aim to educate: we inform – based on the evidence that science provides.

Perhaps the Australian word for a type of camping gear – a swag – is actually an acronym for the effectiveness of science communication: “Stupid Wild Assumptions and Guesses”!

More seriously, how can we understand what we are doing (or achieving) in science education, outreach, and the public understanding of science, unless we have the evidence of effectiveness in any of those areas?

We need significant change to happen if we are going to do anymore than what seems to be intuitively good to do – from high school science education to science communication in the public domain. We have a lot of work to do.

•    Dr Carol Oliver is a science communication specialist with the Australian Centre for Astrobiology at the University of NSW.