President’s update

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

I’m writing this ‘on deadline’  for the editor of SCOPE as I needed her to ‘just give me a few more days’. The reason for this wasn’t entirely the usual pressure of work, but rather the moribund state into which I fell after the Commonwealth Budget was delivered. My worry stems from the emails, the social media, the analyses that I’m trying to get my head around. I have shaken this off and had the opportunity to talk with a range of ASC members. Of course, the budget plans are not yet finalised and there are many uncertainties. We’ve started collecting views and experiences of members on our new ‘members only’ LinkedIn pages; there are also some good links on the open LinkedIn group to impassioned responses from our science sector. Please get online, join us on LinkedIn and help me (and the rest of the ASC) make sense to any impending impacts (positive or negative) you see in your area/organisation/sector. I’ll be advocating as loudly as I possibly can for science communication and for science communicators.

In the short term, I’m going to follow some inspiring advice I heard last week at the “Women in Science Communication Breakfast” in Brisbane, organised by Pahia Cooper for the SE Qld branch. Professor Suzanne Miller, CEO of Queensland Museum and Director of the Queensland Museum Network very wisely talked about the need to keep pushing the ‘value proposition’ of science communication. The political and institutional contexts of our work change. That doesn’t mean that our work no longer has value; it means that we need to re-interpret our value for these changed contexts. She said that she makes it a priority that each week there is some ‘story’ about her work context that articulates the value of what her team does. Now, of course, ‘good news’ stories can make their way in the world quite readily. But, even complex and difficult stories about our work can articulate the value of science communication.

Her example was as amusing as it was instructive. When she was working at the National Museum of Scotland, they were moving a bit of their collection around. The ‘bit’ they were moving were the elephants and elephant skeletons and they needed to be bubble-wrapped and removed from sight. This caused quite a bit of disappointment to people (including determined 4-year olds desperate to see elephants). So, she took one of these determined 4-year olds to view the bubble-wrapped elephants. The boy was amazed at the size and asked (as you would), “how much bubble wrap does is take to wrap an elephant?” This question caused a buzz at the museum and around Scotland—it was a question that resounded across media, across ages, among a range of audiences—and it gave the Museum an opportunity to articulate the value of its collections even as they were being wrapped up and becoming temporarily unavailable. If you want to know how much bubble wrap it takes, Professor Miller gave the equation and promises a reference to a peer-reviewed paper.
Now, I don’t want to see science communication under bubble-wrap, but the key message I took from this story is that sometimes you need to reconsider your situation and re-articulate the value of what you do accordingly. I’m once again grateful to ASC members, in this instance for the inspiration and pep-talk that I received at that breakfast. In Australia, we have a seriously talented pool of professionals in Science Communication at all levels. That will not be difficult to communicate.

Rally for Research – Adelaide

This article was originally published here with pictures and video.

In Australia at the moment there is a real fear that our Government (who are supposed to be on the left side of that political line) is going to cut $400 million from medical research budgets. To protest this rallies are being run in most Australian capital cities to advertise the role of scientists in the community and to show all scientists that collectively we have a voice that can be heard, you just have to start shouting.

A couple of days ago the rally in my city was held and whilst I couldn’t make it (due to teaching obligations) my good friend Thomas Tu, with whom I started Disease of the Week (on which he has also written a post about this) a few years ago, has been heavily involved. You can find a radio interview he did on one of Australia’s largest radio stations, Triple J, here (about a third of the way in) and there is a video of him giving a speech at the rally. He is standing on the steps of our city’s Parliament House.

So what can you do if you can’t make a rally or are in another country but want to show your support? Jump on the Discoveries need Dollars website or the Facebook page and ‘Like’ or follow the Twitter page and at all these places there is more info.

We are trying to make it a big issue to protect medical research, our livelihoods and encourage more students into science careers and it makes it very difficult when not only is money taken away but when its predicted to affect early career researchers hardest.

If you can help and you care about medical research I implore you to do as much as you can.

I’ll get off my high-horse now.

James Byrne

Associate Lecturer at University of Adelaide
Bacteriology PhD student and writer at Disease Prone