President’s update: Waiting for Science Comms to be rocked to its underpants…

Waiting for Science Comms to be rocked to its underpants…

So some really significant research was released in the last few years – and I have been patiently waiting for science communications globally to be rocked to its underpants.

But nothing has happened.

Let me explain. The first research was conducted by a collaborative effort of over 270 psychology researchers who got together to try and replicate the findings of 100 key psychological studies.

What did they find? – They could only replicate about a third of them.

The implications of this are pretty profound (to quote Back to the Future III), as it has potential impacts across lots of social science research – including science communication research – that is rarely replicated.

And why is that?

It is key tenant of good science that an experiment be replicated to ensure it is valid. But in the social sciences, not only are there no rewards for replicating research, but you can actually be subtly punished for it – most often through not achieving publication because your work was deemed not new.

And this means that research that is conducted at a particular time with a particular audience is held up as the gold standard to how all audiences at all times and in all places will undoubtedly react or behave.

But what if that is not the case? What if the gold standards of Cultural Cognition and Values and Biases and Framing and so on are not very replicable, or are very dependent on particular situations? Can you hear the collective Uh-oh?

And that brings us to the second study that I referred to.

The key researcher, Joe Henrich, had been doing work amongst people in South America and Africa and noted that social experiments conducted there obtained very different results from the ones that were conducted in North America. And where are the majority of social science experiments conducted? 70 per cent are conducted in the USA, and a huge number of those are with undergraduates. And I would argue that that is not the most typical of audiences to extrapolate data from.

With his colleagues, Heine and Norenzayan, they started applying studies more widely across different cultures and they found that over and over there was one group of people who were particularly unusual when compared with the broad population of the globe. They even called their research paper ‘The Weirdest People in the World’

And you have probably guessed by now that the weirdest people were North Americans! And yet they are the main core for global social science experiments.

They stated, “American participants are exceptional even within the unusual population of Westerners—outliers among outliers.”

They concluded that social scientists could not possibly have picked a worse population from which to draw broad generalizations about how we might all behave.

Granted, we in Australia can sometimes be more like North Americans than we’d like to admit, but we do have some distinct differences. And of course for researchers working in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, South America and the Pacific and so on, the differences will be much, much greater.

Individually, the findings of these two research projects are quite startling, but when you mix them together, they are like the Mentos in the Coke bottle that all science communicators have tried at one time or another.

For when it comes to science communication research gold standards (or even the silver, bronze and other less Olympic metal standards), we really don’t know how much science communication wisdom might not be replicable, nor how much is not relevant in other cultures than where it was undertaken. I don’t think I’m going out a limb here to say – probably quite a bit.

And just maybe that is exactly why nobody wants to talk about it!

If you want to read more on the studies, fasten your undies from a rocking, and check them out here:

Dr Craig Cormick


Australian Science Communicators

President’s update

Thank you to ASC President Craig Cormick for the update. Below is the transcript from his first address at the 2017 ASC National Conference.

Let’s talk about these times we are living in.

Times of False News and times of Alternative facts.

Times of popularist politics and times of contested truths.

Times of polarised opinions and times of diminished trust.

Times of intuitive knowledge and times of reinforced biases.

Times of denial of scientific truths and approval of scientific falsehoods.

Times of anti-science and times of silencing of scientists.

Silencing of Scientists!


Let’s talk about these times.


Times of growing alternative beliefs and times of self-styled experts.

Times of decreasing impact of the media and rampant impacts of new media.

Where everyone is an authority and strength of opinion is confused with being correct.

Times of diminished funding for science and science communication.

And times of such very creative science communications being created,

But not always seen nor heard by vast numbers of the population.

Not seen nor heard!


Let’s talk about these times.


For we are also living in times of great enthusiasm for science communication.

Times of growing numbers of talented communicators,

Across a very wide range of disciplines and knowledge and mediums.

Times of a focus of understanding in the challenges facing us.

Times of an imperative to do better.

To do more with less.

To measure impacts, not smiles.

To convince not oppose.

To nudge not unsettle.

To find new tools and new methods and new understandings

Based on solid research into how communication works

–  and how it does not.

And how it does Not!


Let’s talk about these times


And be the voice of reason, not of antagonism.

To listen before we tell

To educate rather than indoctrinate

To be right rather than righteous.

And to accept that not everyone is going to get it.

And that for many our science-centric view is not the way they see their world.

Not the way

They see their world.


Let’s talk about these times.


We will stand upon the shoulders of giants to see further

And we will see far beyond the dusty monolith of the deficit model.

We will see how people’s values are the key to understanding their choices and behaviours.

We will see how framing can be used to unpick and alter perceptions

And we will see genuine engagement with publics is integral to two-way communication of science and to social licence.

Genuine engagement.


Let’s talk about these times.


For above all these are times for standing up for what you believe in.

For fighting the good fight.

For calling out bad science

And vested interests

And dangerous bad medicine

And piss-weak government decisions

And anti-science scare campaigns

And fear mongers and dick-heads,

And Haters of all kinds.

Of all kinds.


Let’s talk about these times


Without being superior or arrogant or dick-headed ourselves.

For we have so much to do.

And so much still to learn to be able to do it.

So we can look back over what we have seen and heard and shared and learned and taught, and then say, with a humble sense of pride:

‘We are science communicators. And we are making a difference!’


Let’s talk about that.




President’s Update

Get ready for #ASC2017
After reviewing some fantastic bids for our 2017 conference, I am excited to announce that the Royal Institution of Australia (RiAus) is our host.

ASC will come together on February 23-24 next year in Adelaide at the Science Exchange. Right in the middle of the Adelaide Fringe Festival, if you’d like to make a week of it.

We’ll be hard at work confirming sponsors in the coming weeks and looking to our program, so if you have any suggestions please let us know.


President’s update

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

Ever had that deja vu all over again feeling? Overseas colleagues sent me a link to an article in The Conversation (probably to wind me up—you know who you are!). You can find the article here.

What can I say? First, let me be clear—I find the research by Besley and Dudo to be interesting from afar. But, I don’t think it reflects reality in the Australian context. In short, I’ll argue here for American exceptionalism in science communication—as in Americans are exceptionally obsessed with science literacy and have been for a long time. And there’s nothing wrong with improving science literacy. However, I would guess that a repeated study in Australia would not find that Australian ‘trainers’ gauge success by ‘giving people information’ and ‘correcting misinformation’. Now, I know this is just anecdote from the ASC perspective, but the training I’ve seen is about a lot of other things—dialogue, engagement, awareness, wonder, reframing—you name it. Anybody want to join me in a follow up study on this from an Australian point of view?

President’s update

Thank you to Joan Leach for the update.

Still taking the conference in…

I’ve attended a lot of conferences over the years and fashions in conferencing certainly change—there is a ‘pre-conference’ mania, the 4 day multi-streamed headspin, the International plenary shock-and-awe—and this year the ASC went for a one-day plenary with wide but high-quality programming, association with the World Festival of Science, and opportunities for networking. I haven’t had that much fun and been so engaged in a conference in a fair while.

I am still sitting with a copy of David Throsby’s “Economics and Culture”—in a great session curated by Lisa Bailey at RiAus, Professor Throsby and colleagues, Professor Julian Meyrick and Dr Tully Barnett—really put the question to science communicators about how much our industry is worth and how best to express that (hint:  not in dollars).  This question of the value of science communication and value in science communication is just so important.  I’m reminded of Dr Melanie McKenzie who said to me, “and who decides what value science communication has, anyway?” Indeed. I’m sorry she isn’t alive to help me in my reflections on that conference session, but for me, it was a turning point for the field. WE need to articulate our value—in a narrative—and not be bullied by dollar signs.

I’m also really appreciative of the session Heather Catchpole curated with the best of new modes for doing science communication—in video, through art, in journalism, with obvious passion.

You can read our Chief Scientists opening speech here, but what you can’t read is the obvious affiliation he has with science communication. Sometimes we need to recognize when we have an advocate who ‘gets it’. Our current Chief Scientist ‘gets’ science communication.

What next?

We’d like to come off this high of this conference with a plan for the next.  So, if your organisation would like to make a day-plenary conference happen again, let us know. We’re looking for bidders for the next ASC conference.  Multi-streamed, shock-and-awe, plenary…pitch us!

President’s Update

Thank you to Joan Leach for the President’s Update

Happy 2016!

Having just completed an interstate move and changed jobs, 2016 seems like a rather fresh start — I find myself more optimistic than usual (academics being prone to a bit of cynicism, I suppose).

Going into the holiday, I was buoyed by a quick trip across the Tasman for the SCANZ conference. The program was smart and engaging and it was also well attended by ASC members so it was great to catch up in Wellington. Plans were already afoot for the 2018 PCST conference in Dunedin. I look forward to talking with ASC members to see how we’d like to get involved.

The SCANZ conference was kicked off by the Minister for Science and Innovation, the Hon Steven Joyce. I was struck by how central science communication was in his innovation vision for NZ. He also discussed awards and incentives for great communicators and for science communication initiatives. His message seemed very much in line with the innovation message we’re currently hearing in Australia.

My hope is that after a strong presence by the Prime Minister at the 2015 PM’s prizes for science and the appointment of Alan Finkel as Chief Scientist who is well aware of the value of science communication and science journalism, our advocacy for science communication and recognition for quality work will not fall on deaf ears!

Back to the topic of the SCANZ conference — the plenary sessions focussed on citizen science as well as NZ’s myriad programs communicating environmental issues, Antarctic science, and basic research. It was inspiring — and the plenary format meant that science communication and journalism colleagues across sectors could respond and discuss questions and issues all together. We’ll try to follow our Kiwi colleagues lead in March in Brisbane. I really enjoyed the interaction across the diversity of science communication, journalism, policy, academic research. Congrats to Christine Ross, outgoing President of SCANZ, for a great conference.

Since I am overwhelmed by the listicle at the moment (‘5 ways to really stick with your New Year’s resolutions this year’) I thought I’d share my own: 3 top trends (in addition to the “innovation agenda”) I look for in science communication in 2016:

1. Citizen Science is hot. Now, most of us have been involved in some way with initiatives for a long time, but now the rest of the world loves it! As I unpacked my boxes from my move, I found my 1995 copy of Alan Irwin’s Citizen Science: A Study of People, Expertise, and Sustainable Development. It will repay another read! The idea has morphed in the last 20 years, but even a scan while hunched over a pile of books was revealing. So, if we love the idea of citizen science, why is citizen journalism more problematic (I think it is)? Does the current focus on getting people to do scientific activities preclude getting people to think about controversial science? Anyway, these discussions are coming our way and I look forward to them.

2. ‘Engagement’ may be a dead metaphor by the end of 2016: For a fun read, try

3. Native content advertising is going to drive a lot of science communication: OK, so this is a special interest of mine so I see it everywhere at the moment. But, some of the journalists I most respect are doing very good work… but paid for by Universities and other institutions (and of course, corporate sponsors). I’m not willing to say ‘this is terrible, this is the end of the world…’  but it’s a trend. I want to understand it. So, I hope this year we can have an open discussion on this… the good, the bad, the ugly… the science listicle.

I hope ASC members had a great end to 2015 and are optimistic about 2016.

Professor Joan Leach

ASC President

President’s update

ASC—its future

  • Conference! Brisbane, 11 March 2016
  • We are focused on serving members better
  • Fees to rise following epic audit

Executive Summary

Australian Science Communicators is the national forum for science communicators and science journalists. We are independent from government and run by members, for members.

Going forwards, our mission is to:

  • Better support our national network of science communicators and science journalists by providing professional development and networking opportunities;
  • Increase our direct support for branches and members located in both metropolitan and regional areas; and
  • Strengthen partnerships and relationships with our corporate members, partner organisations and key stakeholders.

In recent times, volunteer-driven associations like the ASC have come under pressure from growing operating costs and a greater need for regulatory compliance. Some have failed to overcome these challenges and have ceased to exist.

For this reason, throughout the past year we have invested a lot of time and effort into ensuring our finances and regulatory compliance are robust and up to date. Recently, this process came to an end and we have been given a clean bill of health after a professional audit and bookkeeping services.

Free of risk and uncertainty in these areas, the association has a strong platform on which to grow, but we do have some challenges to overcome.

This month the ASC executive, along with nominated representatives from state branches, met in Canberra for a special general meeting, a 2-day strategy meeting and our 2015 AGM. During these discussions we scrutinised the ASC’s operations, reworked the constitution and developed a strong plan for the future. I thank the branch and committee representatives for their time and energy in helping define the future of ASC.

  1. We now have a legal constitution – over the years and in response to all kinds of issues, the constitution had been ‘tinkered with’, with parts added and removed. Unfortunately, because of the shape it was in, our not-for-profit status was very much at risk. Thanks to Toss Gascoigne for his time in helping us craft a compliant constitution and lodging it.
  2. We have had a robust audit of the ASC finances (18 months in the doing). We’ve updated our processes and identified areas where we need to change or even eliminate suppliers and services. Importantly, we now know where we stand financially and at this month’s AGM were able to present the financials and show that the ASC cannot survive based on its current membership dues. Thank you to Pete Wheeler, our treasurer, and Kali Madden, our executive officer, for getting ASC in a much better place after a white-knuckle ride.
  3. The strategy meeting was incredibly useful for talking about what members want and how, as a volunteer organisation, we can deliver that. Here were the key discussions and outcomes:
    1. Networking. The ASC is a valuable network of communication professionals, academics, freelancers, students, and journalists.  We want to better support the network and bolster the channels through which we communicate as a network. ASC has one of the best mailing lists (as in listserve) in the science engagement world.  Through it our members announce events, job opportunities and occasionally have heated discussions. We also have a Facebook group, individual Facebook pages, and 2 LinkedIn groups (one public, one private). Then there’s the ASC website which supports members and we’re also currently hosting various other sites with premier content that our members want (sciencengage, no funny business etc.). These activities all have associated costs for which we now need to budget.
    2. Conference. We’ll be holding our next conference in 2016 on March 11 at QUT’s fabulous ROOM360 (for the views it has over Brisbane) during the World Festival of Science.  The conference is an extremely valuable networking and professional development activity, but it is volunteer driven and like any national conference has significant costs involved to make it happen.
    3. Professional Development. In the past year we have initiated a professional development grants program that has already generated benefits for members around the country. We want to expand this, and again it requires time, energy and some funding to make that possible.
    4. Webinars. ASC has the capacity to host web based events on topics of interest to our members. As part of our commitment to delivering benefits to members wherever they may be, we will be rolling out 6 of these across 2016.

However, our finances reveal that the ASC has been operating at a loss for some years, propped up by extraordinary and unsustainable volunteerism generating some profit from conferences.  We cannot continue to do this—it undervalues the ASC and the important work that our members do.  This means the cost of membership needs to increase for the ASC to be a viable association that can actually support branches and members.  We are still committed to our non-profit status, but it is illegal for non-profits to operate at a loss. We need to be sustainable and set the membership fee at a sustainable level.  So, as of 1 January 2016 the new membership fee will be $185.00 for members, $85.00 for students and associates.  We will honour current rates until then.

We appreciate that some members will be disappointed by an increase in their membership fees. But at this critical time for the ASC, we hope that the majority of members will choose to show their support by renewing their memberships and in so doing, help us to build a better, more sustainable and professional association that can deliver greater outcomes for professional science communicators and science journalists throughout the country. Of course, we would like to be thoughtful about our approach and we invite comment from members by emailing

Thanks to all for your ongoing support.

Professor Joan Leach

ASC President


President’s update: Rocketing towards the end of the year, AGM and members abroad

Thanks to Claire Harris for the President’s update.

It is that time of year. The pace quickens with everyone trying to get things out before Christmas and some of us, no doubt, fall in a heap (but hopefully only momentarily).

With so many work activities on my plate, I’ve been flitting from one thing to the other and to be honest, I have not found this very fulfilling. While I like variety, I miss the days of really being able to get my brain power going within a particular project or challenge to see it through and feel a sense of shared accomplishment.

Recently, however, I was very lucky to travel to Indonesia as part of my work on an international project. I have been part of the project team for two years leading the communication and engagement strategy and initiatives.

Connecting with others on the project—mainly soil mapping experts hailing from Indonesia, New Zealand and Australia—was very fulfilling and we achieved a lot in the few days we were together. I again reflected that having a shared vision of objectives and motivations for an initiative or collective is very important and helps to garner momentum in a particular direction.

This is perhaps a natural mindset for many communicators as whoever or whatever agency communicators are working with, they are trying to understand objectives and nut out stakeholder needs so they can then tie these together to deliver activities; hopefully achieving change of some description.

Also on my trip, I was lucky to accidentally connect with Michelle Kovacevic, an ASC member working in an international research agency. She has been in Indonesia for two years and has kept up her membership with ASC over this time.

We talked about our communication experiences; how communication is something that research agencies are often struggling to structure, resource and evaluate effectively to address research and societal outcomes; and the increasing focus on communicating online.

She told me how important the network of ASC is to her.

“As an Australian who works abroad in science communication, my ASC membership has been really valuable in connecting me to all the latest advancements, events and hot topics going on at home,” said Michelle.

It’s great to hear from members all over the place about what they value. Recently I, with the Executive, reworked some of the pages on our website including the Membership Benefits page, based on what members and Branches tell us. I welcome your comments on this.

And in addition, you’ll see in another Scope article that we are inviting stories of where ASC has had an impact in your life. Let us know. Bizarrity encouraged of course!