Now ex-Scope Editor!

It’s been two years and four months since I first took up the post as Editor of the ASC newsletter, Scope. A lot of things have happened in that time… Ebola outbreaks, Royal births, water on Mars and Australia on its fourth Prime Minister for the period. Closer to home, the previous 28 months have seen my world turn upside down too (or up the right way, depending on how you look at it)!

In June 2013 I was working as a Communications Officer for CRC CARE in Adelaide – a Cooperative Research Centre focusing on the measurement, prevention and remediation of environmental contamination. I had some spare time on my hands and had decided to get involved in some community activities, so when the chance to step in as Scope Editor came up I thought I would give it a go.

The Editor role is a great one. You get to work with ASC members all over the country (and occasionally the world). You also work with the ASC communications team which is a committed bunch of people – all very good at what they do. Of course, as with any role, there is some hard bits too! A lot of chasing for content and deadlines… but for the most part the job is certainly a good one.

But, as is often the case when things are tonking along nicely, I had a proverbial spanner thrown in the works. Although to call it a spanner is probably a little misleading… a spanner suggests it is something bad. This spanner certainly wasn’t bad, but it sure was disruptive!

My background is in medical research – I completed a PhD in Craniofacial Biology at the University of Adelaide in 2011. I have always loved bones and loved working with skulls in research. I honestly couldn’t tell you why I love bones so much, but I have blogged about my childhood favourite bones in my blog Craniophiles. (As a side note, my blog Craniophiles was started as a project for my Masters in Science Communication at ANU. The subject was Science Communication and the Web – which was advertised in the previous issue of Scope. I highly recommend it!)

My spanner came in the form of a job opportunity. It was the job of my dreams – I would be partly in the lab, working with bones, and partly working my scicomm skills talking about bones. The downside… it was on the other side of the world. Now this might not sound scary to some, but for me – a cheerleader for team Radelaide being the best place in the world to live, and a total mummy’s girl – it was pretty scary. But, with the job of my dreams on offer I decided it was time to throw off the security blanket that was little old Adelaide and move over the sea to live with the queen. Turns out you can’t just move in to Buckingham palace… but that is a story for another time.

In addition to not being able to move in with the Queen, you have to cook your two minute noodles for three minutes here!

In addition to not being able to move in with the Queen, you have to cook your two minute noodles for three minutes here!


And sometimes mysterious white powder falls from the sky

And sometimes mysterious white powder falls from the sky

My job over here is as wonderful as I had hoped it would be. In addition to getting back in to the lab, I have been responsible for creating a website and social media for the project. I had been involved in a few website redesign projects (with Puratap and CRC CARE) previously, but starting from scratch opened my eyes to a different set of challenges and has been a great learning experience. You can check out our website, facebook and twitter if you want to follow where we are up to!

Don't let the look on my face fool you, I do love it here!

Don’t let the look on my face fool you, I do love it here!

Even when things like this happen...

Even when things like this happen…

Because when I'm not destroying gloves I get to do cool things like this!

Because when I’m not destroying gloves I get to do cool things like this!

Sadly, working as the Scope Editor long distance has become a bit too challenging so I decided to hang up my hat. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time as the Editor of the ASC’s Scope newsletter. Thank you to everyone who has been of assistance along the way and made contributions. I am confident that you are in great hands with the new co-editors Tara and Jessica and that the newsletter will continue to grow and improve from here.

If you want to keep in touch and follow what’s happening over here don’t forget to look up the Origins of Bone and Cartilage disease project website, twitter and facebook, and Craniophiles blog, facebook and twitter.

Laborastory wants you for 2015!

Thanks to Natalie Bedini for the invitation.

Share the story of your science hero at The Laborastory
On the first Wednesday of each month The Laborastory brings together five scientists from diverse fields to share the story of their science hero. They share the stories of the tragedies and triumphs of the men and women who made science their passion and inspire the scientists of today. The shows are hugely popular; every show is a sell-out. You can hear some of the past stories, including those by some ASC members, online here.

Here’s your chance to share the story of your science hero. The Laborastory are on the hunt for speakers for 2015. If you would like to share the ten-minute story of your science hero, contact Natalie Bedini.

The next show is at The Spotted Mallard on Wednesday 6 Mayl. You can get your tickets here.


Book review: D’harawal

Thank you to Denis Warne for the book review.

We are accustomed to science communication being the depiction of scientific concepts, by the scientific community for an external party. There are, however, instances where it is the conventional scientific community that needs to do the listening. There are also communication lessons to be learnt from ways in which others convey science-related knowledge. Both situations apply in the growing recognition of Aboriginal peoples’ valuable knowledge of the Australian landscape and climate, and the environmental management strategies embedded in their culture.

D’harawal Climate and Natural Resources is a compilation of such knowledge of the D’harawal people. D’harawal country extends south from Sydney Harbour to the Shoalhaven River. The compilation represents methodical research by Frances Bodkin who is both an Aboriginal knowledge holder and a “Western” trained scientist. Her expressed motivation is “proving that the Australian Aboriginal people possess cultures that are … based on the scientific premise of observation and experience, and the results recorded, through stories, in the memories of future generations.” In short, here is a body of scientifically relevant knowledge, spanning a long history. It comprises much more than simple observational facts, extending into effective management and conservation practices. If we let ourselves go there, it also embraces alternative environmental values.

As with seasonal calendars published elsewhere, climate can serve to bridge the cultural gap. Everyone can talk about the weather – it is a tangible common ground that helps make knowledge comprehensible. Bodkin goes further than most calendars. She addresses climatic cycles beyond the annual cycle in some detail. She also delves into subject matter where cultural practice may have lessons for scientific management of the environment.

Four primary cycles are documented: the daily cycle, the annual cycle (comprising six seasons), the Mudong cycle (spanning 11–12 years beginning with “the appearance of the Southern Aurora over D’harawal lands”), and the Garuwanga cycle with four seasons encompassing historical knowledge of long-term climate change – stories which may have significance in this era of climate change. Additionally, of particular interest to those involved in land and biodiversity management, Bodkin describes fire management, through both annual and Mudong cycles, and management of special places such as the Wirrimbirra, or sanctuaries, which played a role in species conservation.

For scientists concerned with the natural world, how can they learn from this body of knowledge which is expressed in ways to which they may be unaccustomed? There are cultural differences. Indigenous knowledge is always in a holistic context, it is not compartmenalised into scientific disciplines, nor even are social implications separated from the science. Bodkin shows us many instances of this and demonstrates how the cultural embodiment provides the means of both knowledge preservation and application of sustainable management practices. The knowledge is not expressed as abstract models but as stories told in appropriate context. Little is numerically expressed – nothing occurs on strict dates but in response to environmental circumstance. If you wished to date the historical sweep of the Garuwanga cycle, the stories would need to be correlated with science from other sources. Clearly effort is required on the part of the scientific audience.

Bodkin’s work like many seasonal calendars has proven popular – it has been discussed on ABC radio, depicted on the Bureau of Meteorology’s Indigenous Knowledge website, and underpinned a major project of Sydney’s VIVID Light festival 2012. For the science communicator, there are lessons to be learnt from the tools of Aboriginal communication of knolwedge: story told in tangible context, cultural integration, and artwork.

The book is short and Lorraine Robertson’s illustrations have made it a work of beauty. However, it can challenge the thinking of both natural scientists and science communicators.


Book details:

D’harawal Climate and Natural Resources
Compiled by Frances Bodkin
Illustrated by Lorraine Robertson
Published 2013 by Envirobook, Sussex Inlet, NSW

President’s update

Thanks to Joan Leach for the President’s Update

Debate about Debate
I recently returned from a conference where a hot topic of discussion was on just that—discussion on various social media platforms. Now, I have zero credibility in this area. I lurk and consider and admire those who are out there making pithy and insightful comments and throwing the best of the interwebs our way. But, the conference discussion was about the best way to set up networks to benefit specialist groups—like ASC. There is a camp that insists on strong rules for such social networks, and making sure that members understand the context of their posts and are posting for the benefit of the group. There is an alternative camp that says this approach weeds out the spontaneous, the interesting, the to and fro of difference that makes social media, well, social media. And then there are people like me, very engaged and interested, but lurking.

This has become more of a hot topic for ASC in the past 6 months as members have belonged to each of the camps above—strong regulators, strong freewheelers, and a large body of interested onlookers. We’ve so far tried to take the middle ground. We have our robust freewheeling public LinkedIn account. And, we have a members-only LinkedIn space. Now, we’re thinking about our approach to Facebook. If you have a view of how ASC should proceed in the social media space, let us know. We’ve had some very valuable and thoughtful feedback so far, but I’m keen to hear from more people. While I tend to take a laissez faire approach, I agree with members who indicate that there are just some things I don’t want to read about in an ASC context. And yet, I’m happy to read about differences in approach to communicating all sorts of science—and actually enjoy a bit of a robust discussion about this. Is that the balance we want—and if so, how do you think we get it?

If you have a view, can you let us know, either on our LinkedIn or Facebook channels?

Launch of Scimex

Thanks to George Aranda for telling us about the Scimex launch.


The launch of the Science Media Exchange, also known as Scimex was on the 25th of November at the Bio21 Institute in Melbourne. The launch featured a panel discussion hosted by Robyn Williams, with Alan Finkel, Susan Greenfield, Peter Yates (Australian Science Media Centre), Jim Carroll (SBS News) and John-Paul Syriatowicz (Squiz).


Scimex “will allow scientists and research institutions to connect directly with journalists to share embargoed stories, images, video and expertise. Scimex is a project of the Australian Science Media Centre and is supported by Inspiring Australia.“


The event was well attended by an enthusiastic audience who were keen to see how this new service would be of use to journalists, science communicators and scientists alike.


For more information about the Scimex and to view pictures from the launch, visit the launch Facebook page.

Tend your backyard first

Thank you to Abbie Thomas for sharing her training experience.

I recently did a two-day course with the generous support of an ASC Professional Development Grant. The course on using Social Media was run by Tim Holt, a social media trainer from Melbourne whose runs the social media company Net101.

Over two days, Tim took us through the basics and the more advanced aspects of Social Media and how to use it for marketing and communications.

The students attending the course were a diverse bunch: a guy who owned an educational music business, the communications manager of a research centre for contaminated sites, the media manager of a medical research institute, while my neighbour was editor of a regional South Australian newspaper.

What this told me is that no matter what area of communication you work in, we all need to know about social media. How big a role it should play in our work, how much effort we should put in to it, and what rewards it can reap we hoped to find out.

Over two days, we were bombarded with a wealth of tips and tricks for improving our use of social media: how to write great tweets, how to discover which Facebook posts your fans have shared the most, where to find cheap cool graphics, and how to write website text that will get the Googlers landing on your site.

But among all the jargon flying around, Tim put it to us that, actually, social media isn’t the main game in town.

While it’s easy to get all excited and puffed up about how many people have Liked, Reposted, Retweeted or Shared your content, there’s a more important thing that is easily overlooked: your own website. Social media is all very well, says Tim, but it will always be ‘rented real estate’ – somewhere you occupy for only a short time and over which you have no control. By contrast, your website is all yours: no-one can change it, no one can take your content off it, and it will, if nurtured, grow into a valuable asset.

‘Websites are like a garden – if you don’t tend it, it will degrade,’ says Tim.

‘Treat your front page like the lobby of a successful business: it should always look sparkling, clean and fresh.

‘Allocate time every week to checking links, adding new content and keeping the site looking its best.’

For the total time you spend on social media and web management, Tim suggests allocating 80% to your website, and just 20% on your social media activity.

Because internet fashions in fonts, colours and design are constantly changing, a website can start looking out of date quite quickly. Tim’s rule of thumb is to refresh the look of your site at least every 2-3 years, otherwise it will start looking daggy and uncool.

I’m still not convinced social media can generate big profits, but Tim has convinced me that the cornerstone of any social media strategy must start, and finish, with a cool, up to date, well looked after website.


Tim Martin at NET:101 Social Media Courses has generously offered a 20% discount to any NET:101 course up until the end of 2015 for ASC members.

To redeem your discount use the promo code ‘science’ when registering.


Mt Burnett Observatory Visit

Thank you to Kathleen Hayes for sharing her experience.

Recently I was fortunate enough to be able to visit Mt Burnett observatory, located conveniently close to Melbourne, and learn about astronomy through hands on experience!
The  big 18 inch telescope, originally built for the Monash University physics department in 1972 was unfortunately out of action but we were able to go inside it and look around. There are plans to turn the observatory into a planetarium very soon, so even on cloudy nights visitors will still get to experience the stars.

After the tour we got to use the portable dobsonian telescopes set up outside. Some of the highlights were Mars, a beautiful cluster of stars aptly called ‘the jewel box’ and my favourite sight, Saturn! It was amazing to look through the telescopes and see the wonders of space, with my feet still on Earth.
This is a community run project and all the organizers were enthusiastic, friendly and very knowledgeable. Astronomy is rather a unreachable science topic for many, so it’s great to have a place where people can get involved with some hands on science without the hefty price tag. For those interested in attending the kids night is on every secondary Saturday and adult members meet weekly on Fridays.

Membership is $50 for an adult. Partners and children over 12 of full members join for $25 and children under 12 belonging to full members are free.

Science in a glossy mag? Tell ‘em they’re dreaming

Thank you to Sarah Keenihan for preparing this piece.

There’s no doubting Professor Rob Morrison’s science communication credentials. With more than 40 years of experience as a broadcaster and author, he has also won many national and international awards. In 2002 he received the Eureka Prize for Critical Thinking and the Michael Daley award for science journalism. In 2004 he was awarded an Order of Australia Medal, in 2007 a Eureka Prize for Science Promotion and in 2005 the South Australian Premier’s Award for Excellence in Science Communication. In 2008 he was South Australian Senior Australian of the Year (see this RiAUS profile for more).

As members of the Australia Science Communicators and active consumers of science, many of us already know this. But what about the rest of the world? Sure, they’ve seen Rob as one of the starring duo in The Curiosity Show. But other than that, how would they come across the guy? Indeed – to take it further – how do most Aussies even read about science, just as something interesting to consider and perhaps reflect on?

To my great surprise, I stumbled across science and Rob in an unexpected setting during my 2014 Easter holiday reading. Lounging in a sunny spot at the bottom of South Australia’s Yorke Peninsula, I noticed Rob was the subject of the regular “One Hour With” interview segment in the Autumn edition of the glossy Adelaide Hills Magazine. Adelaide journalist Lainie Anderson asked him about his history with The Curiosity Show, touched on the place of science and technology in Australian life and explored his role as an expert witness in the Azaria Chamberlain Royal Commission (he contributed evidence relating to how wide a dingo can open its jaws, in case you were wondering).

When I purchased my Winter edition of the magazine a couple of months later, there he was again! This time he presented his own article. With the title ‘Gone – and almost forgotten’, the piece described the loss of native mammals from the Adelaide Hills due to habitat destruction and the introduction of feral predators.

As a former scientist and lover of science communication, this made me very happy. Somebody outside of science was actually publishing this stuff for a general readership.

But how did this happen? Was it a deliberate choice to feature science amongst the other stories? Did the magazine see a desire for such articles in its customers? I was keen to find out more, so I contacted the editor of the Adelaide Hills Magazine, Max Anderson. I had met Max at a workshop he ran at the SA Writers Centre in late 2013. I started off by asking him about the magazine itself, which has a readership of more than 10, 000 both in and out of the region.

“Adelaide Hills Magazine is a glossy regional mag focused on the Adelaide Hills,” he explained. “That however comes with a qualifier: the features we run are firmly rooted in a wider context. From an editorial point of view I aim to run features that would satisfy or interest anyone anywhere in Australia.”

The fact that Rob lives in the Adelaide Hills factored into his initial inclusion in the mag, but it soon went way further than that.

“Rob was suggested to us as a perfect ‘One Hour With’” said Max. “He was well known to South Australians for his work on the ABC and — as it transpired — had a remarkable trove of experiences and stories that most people knew nothing about.”

So was science a sellable part of Rob’s appeal? Max said yes.

“I reckon sharing a story is a colourful way of making a case,” he told me. “Science makes great stories and brilliant, often demonstrable, cases. Climate science, environmental science, social science, the science of electric cars and how to train a chicken; what’s not to like?!”

Of course I agree. I wanted to get Rob’s thoughts on the matter as well, so sent him a quick email with some questions. He admits he was initially quite surprised to be of interest to a glossy publication.

“Before having anything to do with Adelaide Hills Magazine, I would have thought it was a lifestyle publication,” he wrote. “I am impressed with their scientific inclusions, and not surprised any longer to see that they seem to have a pretty strong interest in such material.”

So is it important that science pops up in the general media like this? “Extremely important,” Rob stated. “Science should be as much a part of the spectrum of civilised people’s interests as art, music and politics. We have let it become a specialised topic that people don’t always feel they can embrace as they do these other subjects. We need it back among the ‘dining room’ conversations, and that will only happen if it is as much a part of everyday media as the many other subjects that one expects to find there.”

I’m completely with Rob. (In fact, his thoughts reminded me of similar words I chose in a review of The Curious Country which I performed for George Aranda’s excellent website Science Book a Day).

Adelaide Hills Magazine has recently published its Spring edition. Once again, science features among its panel of articles. The first is a piece on climate change, including an interview with BOM scientist Darren Ray (also an ASC member) and anecdotes relating to how warming and water access is impacting on producers in the region (I wrote this particular article). The second looks at a local chess grand master, who is working with children on the autism spectrum. In Max’s words, “It’s a story with science lurking discreetly at the edges – and hopefully it’s packaged in a way to make people connect.”

I believe this idea of connection is a key one. If we can help people find a way to relate to science, offer them a ‘foot in the door’ so to speak, then maybe one day they might be prepared to become advocates for science. Or at the very least not reject it on political and social grounds.

Rob describes the problem thus: “We are now in a lamentable position where science is politicised (evolution, climate change, genetically modified food, vaccinations) on almost every topic, with more and more people who have no science taking increasingly dogmatic and scientifically unfounded positions because it suits their beliefs or lifestyles.”

Can featuring science in popular publications help to counter this? I say yes.

Should we as a society be looking out for publications that support the general relevance of science? Again, my answer is in the affirmative.

And what do I actually do with my science-containing copies of glossy magazines? Straight to the pool room, of course.





Inspiring Australia update – Evaluation

Thank you to Nancy Longnecker for the update.

As many ASC members know, the government’s Inspiring Australia program provided funding aimed at building the evidence base that underpin science communication efforts. In a national audit conducted by Metcalfe, Alford and Shore (2012), some providers reported using feedback forms and surveys but relatively few used systematic methods to critically measure the impact of their events. In order to assist event providers to collect consistent and useful information, a set of evaluation tools were produced, trialled and reported on. Tools include surveys and bean polls.

In 2012 1,508 surveys were received from 36 events held in the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia during National Science Week. In 2013-2014 2,177 surveys were received from 23 events held in South Australia, New South Wales, Western Australia and Tasmania. Bean polls were conducted at five public events in 2013 and 2014 eliciting a total of 6,259 responses.

Key findings in terms of addressing Inspiring Australia’s desired outcomes:

  • a society that is inspired by and values scientific endeavour 
  • almost all respondents enjoyed science engagement events and found the topic of the event important and relevant to them. Events increased people’s interest in science and made participants feel more inspired by science.
  • a society that attracts increasing national and international interest in its science
  • this outcome was not measured in the survey because it is more appropriately captured through other measurements like media monitoring.
  • a society that critically engages with key scientific issues
  • a majority of respondents intended to take actions, talk to others, or search for information on science after attending events. People strongly agreed that science engagement activities should be available to the public, would recommend events to others and attend future events. Some events provided participants with new insights and deeper understanding of issues.
  • a society that encourages young people to pursue scientific studies and careers
  • students felt more inspired and confident about career options in science and events helped them understand pathways to science careers.

Our findings indicate that science engagement events provided across Australia represent value for the time, energy and money spent and that science engagement events examined in this study were achieving the intended outcomes of Inspiring Australia. By attending events, people stated they felt more inspired by science, interested in science and valued it. In many events that are designed to increase understanding, participants came away with new insights or different ways of thinking about the issue. Students attending career-related events said they felt more inspired by science and confident about careers in science.

Check out final info-graphic here!

NB: The author, Nancy Longnecker, is now Professor of Science Communication at the University of Otago in Dunedin. She is continuing to research about evaluation and is happy to discuss it but is not currently connected with an Inspiring Australia project.

President’s update

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

Controversial science
I’m writing this with my leg in a compression bandage covered in ice with a grade 2 tear in my medial gastrocnemius. I’m told that this is a characteristically Australian injury; many people get it at the beach when they have one foot buried in sand and then try to move too quickly and *pop* goes the calf muscle. Sadly, I didn’t get this injury on a luxurious beach holiday (or even a morning walk on the beach). But, from the moment I hit the pavement to now, there has been a rush of experts to tell me what my treatment regime should be. Shall I head to the GP for a referral for an MRI? Will I head straight to the physiotherapist for an assessment and some time on a TENS machine. Another expert has told me that TENS machines rely on a discredited ‘gateway’ theory of pain—no way they are going to work. A biochemist colleague tells me that getting some electrolyte balance is going to help healing (bring on the bananas?). This rather minor injury, though making me grumpy, does illustrate something important about expertise. Since this injury has put me on ice for a morning, I spent the time reading some science blogs on scientific controversy. Without exception, every controversial science topic forces one to take a position on the nature of experts. Which kind of expert do we want in a particular case—one that knows everything about the science? One that knows about the application of the science? One that knows about the context of the application? And on we go. My answer to the ‘many experts’ problem has always been to say ‘YES’; I want to know what they all say and then I’ll form my view. But my morning with the blogs (and my own helpful experts opining on my calf muscle) show me the folly of my thinking. Sometimes you have to choose your expertise and that changes what you think the controversy is about. For me, I chose the physio—not because I like the idea of an outmoded theory guiding my treatment (and to be fair, no TENS machine made an appearance though I saw one in a corner gathering dust)—but because an MRI seemed excessive, time-consuming, and unneeded. But, I’m not sure I can justify any of that. And I’m not sure that many of the blogs I read justified the reliance on expertise that they touted. Because we’re in the business of communicating, at least some of the time, what experts say maybe we should be a bit more forthright about why we pick the experts we do. Let’s hope my hunches turn out to be justified, but I may need to develop a better framework for consulting experts.

Thinking about evaluation
Also while on ice, I got to think about a nice piece that Jackie Randles, Inspiring Australia Manager for NSW wrote for the Inspiring Australia newsletter. In a conversation earlier in the month, she was reflecting on the challenges of evaluation and said one reason she hears a lot for why institutions don’t evaluate their communication programs is that they seem to be doing fine—people come, they seem to have a good time, the event has a good reputation and the organisation has little reason to change it. Why evaluate? I’d just like to tick off my ‘top 3’ to answer this one:
  1. Because you may not be as successful as you think; evaluation is an opportunity to get it even ‘more right’.
  2. Evaluating and sharing that evaluation can be both an advertisement for your good work and an encouragement for others to raise the bar on their activities.
  3. Because what your organisation thinks is important and working now could radically change; what is your plan going forward?
To think a bit more about this, Professor Nancy Longnecker (University of Otago) has given us some take-home messages from her work on evaluation.
Now, back to the ice…