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.


Event review: Laborastory

Thank you to Sean Elliot for sharing his experience presenting at Laborastory.


One of the biggest challenges I have found in science theatre is how to gather a crowd. All the passion and production on stage may be for naught if there isn’t an audience to play to.
In October I participated in Laborastory to a packed room of people who had come to hear tales of science. Laborastory has been running since 2013, and over that time has gathered an enormous following. The format is five speakers, each telling a tale of a figure from science. The theme of this night, being near to Halloween, was ‘villains’.
My talk was on Edward Orange Wildman Whitehouse; a 19th century surgeon who blew up the first transatlantic cable with electricity and hubris.
The other speakers waxed lyrical on MMR vaccine doubter Andrew Wakefield; hydrogen bomb inventor Edward Teller; Louis Agassiz and his racist theories on human ancestry; and a controversial look at Silent Spring author Rachel Carson.
For me, the picture painted by the evening seemed to be how to do science right by hearing tales of science done wrong.
The organisers are always on the lookout for new story tellers. If you’ve got tale to tell about a science hero, Laborastory has an excellent and friendly audience who will loved to listen to you.

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!





Lessons from bootcamp: Best practice digital media for science communicators

bootcamp boemski

 Image thanks to Boemski on flickr

I came, I learned, I made a listicle

I’ve been to boot camps that hurt me. Yes, they hurt me a lot. Fortunately, my recent attendance at the Walkely Foundation Digital Media Bootcamp wasn’t in the same category. Rather than aching muscles, I came home with a renewed understanding of how digital media can be used for communicating science.

10 Digital Media Tricks and Tools for Science Communicators: in brief

  1. Get multimedia happening
  2. Make the story king
  3. Know how people read stuff
  4. Get social. Right now
  5. Flog that phone
  6. Search with intent
  7. Help people find you
  8. Don’t publish and walk away
  9. Develop your digital identity
  10. Keep an eye on trends

Shaping up with Bootcamp: a longer introduction

In 2014 I was fortunate and very grateful to be awarded the inaugural Peter Pockley Grant for Professional Development in Investigative Journalism through the Australian Science Communicators. I would like to thank the ASC for this award, as well as Jim Plouffe from The Lead South Australia (who provided input for my application).

I used the grant monies to attend the Walkley Foundation Digital Media Boot Camp held in Melbourne over November 22 and 23 2014.

Rather than give you a blow-by-blow description of each session, I created a list post – also known as a ‘listicle’ – of useful tips and tricks I picked up. For the record, listicles are one of the most highly clicked on and shared styles of copy (see this post from Copyblogger for more) – something I learned at the course. And they’re easy to read and digest.

The list post appears in brief at the top of this article; see below for more detail on each item. Whether scientist, journalist, blogger, communicator, producer, manager, business leader or student, I hope you find some or all of these points useful.

At the bottom of this article I’ve also provided a snapshot of the program from the Digital Media Bootcamp, and some background information on Peter Pockley.

10 Digital Media Tricks and Tools for Science Communicators: the details


Incredible multimedia stories are now published online. The potent mix of words, fixed images, sound and moving footage that made up Guardian’s story Firestorm resulted in a Walkey Award. With interviews, maps, and mountain fly-overs, The New York Times story Snowfall launched a new digital direction for that newspaper, which now has invested heavily in its audiovisual production team.

These two stories required months of work from multiple staff members with diverse skills, and are clearly way beyond the means of most publishing houses (let alone freelance operators like me). But that doesn’t mean you can’t do your own version of multimedia. Small commercial digital story producers, science writers and bloggers can feature layered content to add interest and depth.

Writing a story about a new museum exhibition? Use a stand-alone camera or your phone to take well-lit images – people are great, but unusual objects are also worth grabbing – and use them to break up your text. If you can’t take good photos, go online to find relevant creative commons images on sites like flickr (but do make sure you attribute the photographer somewhere in your article).

 “Be sparing with images. The impact is greater if they’re well chosen, relevant and enhance rather than distract from the story.”

Madhvi Pankhania, Producer at The Guardian

What about some sound? Use your phone to grab an audio file that conjures up visions of noisy kids filing in and out of the museum, and immerse it in your article using a program like soundcloud. Audiovisual content is also doable – borrow a friend (or even use the ‘selfie’ approach) to capture footage of yourself walking around the exhibit, or do a vox pop with another person visiting the venue. Perhaps use an App like Vine to make short, snappy, looping clips to add colour and movement to your blog post. (See Item 5 below for how to get best use from your phone for capturing photos and moving footage.)

Online publishing platforms like WordPress and particularly Medium allow writers to easily insert many types of content to support their written material.

 “Try to get the pacing right. Ask yourself, ‘do the pictures fit, do they sit alongside the right block of text?’”

Madhvi Pankhania, Producer at The Guardian

Sound, audiovisual and photographic elements can also be added to any social media you create related to the article, and mean that readers are more likely to: (1) visit your article, (2) read your article, (3) share your article and (4) hang around longer on your page (all of which impact on your Google ranking).


As discussed in Item 1, the Internet is replete with audio-visual magic. Images, moving pictures, interactive graphs, surveys and sound overlays make digital content snazzy, catchy and eye grabbing. That’s all fine. But it’s close to useless unless underneath it sits a good story. No matter how many additional features you can squeeze onto your web page, the story is still key.

 “Multimedia journalism is still journalism – the choice of the story is critical.”

Madhvi Pankhania, Producer at The Guardian

Isabelle Oderberg is Social Media Lead at Australian Red Cross. With extensive journalism and social media experience, she believes the following elements are critical for a good story:

  • Make people feel something
  • Speak in the right voice
  • Have a sense of humour when appropriate
  • Know context
  • Feed into existing trends.

 “Stories that have longevity are worth doing, so pick your topic well.”

Madhvi Pankhania, Producer at The Guardian

It’s also worth remembering that stories posted online attract two types of interest (i.e. clicks) – an initial peak, followed by a longer tail that stretches into the future. Your content does not necessarily have to have an immediate news story-like impact to be worth doing – if you write a quality article that has longevity, it will be found and shared.


We all complain that we don’t even have time to read our emails, let alone delve into cool-looking articles we find online. You must assume your readers also have this problem.

As a science writer and publisher you must make your content not only relevant, but also easy to find, read and manage. You can do this by:

In essence, writers must help their readers stay in control when confronted with long or complicated articles. This has particular relevance for science, when the content can be inherently complex.

 “Subheadings and tags allow people to scan the article quickly and go to the section that they want, and book-mark so they can return later.”

Madhvi Pankhania, Producer at The Guardian

Writers must assume that readers will open articles and perform an initial scroll up and down – usually on a smartphone – before they begin to read. Unless an article is well laid out into sections with subheadings, images and other points of interest, you may lose the reader immediately (see articles like this and this for more on this topic).

 “People immediately scroll down to see what the article looks like, to see how it’s formatted, to see if there are comments at the end.”

Front-end Web Developer James Coleman


There’s no way around it: social media is here to stay and it’s shaping the way content is created, read and shared (see this recent article: How Facebook Is Changing the Way Its Users Consume Journalism). In Australia, the most commonly-used social media platform is Facebook, with twitter in 4th place and Tumblr in 8th position.

what we use copy

Figure captured from 2014 Yellow Social Media Report

Social media is important not just because it allows you to send out your own material and to converse with people who read it, but because it allows others to share your stuff. And there are ways you can maximize the chances of this happening. Surange Priyashantha (SEO strategist and social media manager at Fairfax Media) relates the following information relating to sharing:

What type of content is most frequently shared via social media?

  • Long form content
  • Content with images and infographics
  • List posts, or listicles (especially with 10, 23, 16 or 24 items)
  • Question format, as it drives better engagement: how to? why? what?
  • Articles with a byline, because it makes the content more believable
  • Content that is chosen to match days and times
    (eg video/image posts on weekends, and written posts on weekdays)

Radio National’s Tim Ritchie recommends that short and snappy clips from audio files like podcasts and interviews should be created to use in conjunction with media connected to the long-form content.

“Find the ‘social duration’ – it’s short!”

Tim Ritche, Radio National

As examples, the ‘social duration’ for a 10-minute audiovisual story might be a 3 minute YouTube teaser, or you might chose to extract 30-90 second grabs from a 50-minute audio documentary. These short clips can then be attached to Facebook posts and tweets to maximize rates of click-through and sharing.

Isabelle Oderberg from Australian Red Cross recommends writers using social media need to think about when people are using their devices to access written content. Articles we read whilst commuting (when we have a large block of time available) are likely to be different from those read during work (when we snatch a couple of minutes here and there). You should think hard about when and how you send your content out.

social media when copy

Figure captured from 2014 Yellow Social Media Report

The only way to know social media is to do social media. Go now. Get started — watch and follow others, think it through carefully, spend time and do it properly. And analyse how each experiment works out – we’re scientists, after all. Look at and apply the data.

Twitter tips from Flip Prior (Twitter Australia’s Partnerships Manager)

  • You can now upload up to 4 photos per tweet using the twitter App – simply upload your first image, then click on the small landscape icon again to add further images
  • Apply to have the Twitter Verification ‘blue tick’ placed alongside your twitter handle to indicate the authenticity of your identity or brand
  • Use Twitter analytics to see organic impressions, view charts of performance, access detailed engagement metrics and export files for reports
  • Try not to rely on scheduled tweets. Analysis shows that engagement increases when real people construct and send out tweets in real time.


So we know we can jazz up our written material with photos and audiovisual elements (see Item 1). But where can we get such content? Actually, from ourselves. Most of us are carrying around a $1000-$2000 high quality camera in our pockets, and yet we don’t use it to its full potential.

 “Why is your phone so useful? It’s always with you, and it’s a good camera.”

Tom McKendrick, Senior Producer Fairfax Media

Tom McKendrick (Senior Producer at Fairfax Media) is full of fantastic tips on how to use your phone as a journalistic tool. Here is a just a portion of what he advised, written in the format of Q&A.

When should I shoot?

  • At press conferences
  • For pieces to camera
  • If you come across crime sciences
  • If you witness incidents such as fires, explosions or fights
  • To capture vox pops and witness reactions
  • When you’re travelling.

How can I best prepare my phone to capture stuff?

  • Turn on flight mode to eliminate audio interference
  • Always, always, always turn the phone horizontal (‘landscape’)
  • Don’t hit record until the view has settled into ‘landscape’
  • Plug in a microphone if you can (this might just be a headset microphone, which you can loop over the shirt buttons on your interviewee to get good sound capture from the mouth and chest).

How can I get shots and footage that is well composed and nicely framed?

  • Practice what looks ‘right’
  • Get to know the rule of thirds
  • Let movement happen within your shot, not by moving the camera
  • If shooting a person up close, get their eyes in line with the camera, ask them to look into the frame (not out of the shot) and capture their head and shoulders (not whole body).

How do I get the focus and the light right?

  • Outside is best for vision; iPhones love sunlight
  • A bright overcast day is optimal
  • Make sure there is no backlight (i.e. a light source behind the subject)
  • Look for lights/lamps/reflection in front of the subject to throw light on them
  • When setting up, use finger pressure on your screen to tell the camera where you want the primary focus to be (see this post from Mia Cobb, who has already explained this process very well).

My sound quality is always bad! How can I improve this?

  • Get as close as possible to your subject
  • Do everything possible to reduce background noise, especially wind – if you can’t get away completely, turn your back to it or put your body in between the noise and the microphone
  • Remember that some subtle background noise can add interest (eg traffic, roadworks or wildlife)
  • Use a plug-in microphone for best quality. As an alternative, ask the interviewee to hold the phone, or you can use the phone headset as a microphone.

How can I fake it as professional audiovisual camera operator?

  • Rule of three: get 3 different angles from the same location: one wide, one mid and one close
  • Keep it steady: use 2 hands if needs be, pin your elbows to your hips
  • Keep it straight: look at the horizon, and make sure shot is level
  • Try not to pan! Compose a nice shot and let the movement happen within it
  • If you do need to move, keep it in one plane, keep it slow and know what your start and end frames will be.

Most of all, practice! And invest in editing software if you’re really serious.


Most websites have a search function; that’s fine for basic stuff, and if you kinda already know what you’re looking for. But for detailed research-grade searching, you should be working within Google (or another search engine of your preference).

Did you know you can tell Google to search within a specific url, and to look for particular terms at that site? For example: if you type ‘ intitle:Peter Pockley’ you’ll pull up articles on the ASC website with the name Peter Pockley in the title. More information on how to conduct advanced Google searches is available at Google help. A more general summary of advanced Boolean searching is available here.

 “Don’t think that just ‘cause you’re on the internet, searching is necessarily going to be quick. Good research takes time.”

Isabelle Oderberg, Social Media Lead at Australian Red Cross.

You can also ask Google to help you find content published on social media ( and to verify images (

Isabelle Oderberg (Social Media Lead at Australian Red Cross) recommends the following online tools to find what people are talking about in real time:

If you can tap into trending topics, you’ll more than likely attract readers. Sometimes this might mean re-editing or re-framing existing content as new moods and trends arise.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that differences exist within individual languages across the globe. In English, key words in Australia might be different from those in the USA (e.g. ‘bin’ versus ‘trash-can’ or ‘footpath’ versus ‘pavement’).


On the flip side of searching is being found. You can do many things to make sure that Google (and therefore readers) have the best chance of landing on your content. Your basic goal here is to make sure that your urls are amongst the top answers that pop up when people search for the kind of science that you write.

Surange Priyashantha (SEO strategist and social media manager at Fairfax Media) advises the following:

How can I make sure I’m found on the internet?

  • Use key words that match your content; find these with &
  • Make sure your headlines and titles are carefully crafted
  • Insert relevant and useful links in your copy (links build your authority)
  • If you’re referring to celebrities/famous people, use their full names
  • Embed content like tweets into your article
  • Increase the amount of time people spend on your pages by making your content attractive (images and graphics) and engaging (put in a poll or a quiz)
  • Encourage readers to post comments
  • Maximise opportunities for sharing of your content through social media

Imagine a robotic human that is trained to find good stories, and that has a reasonably good capacity to mimic human reading and comprehension patterns: in essence, this is Google. Recent updates to Google mean that it now incorporates semantics. Now searches occur with consideration given to the context of a term within the copy, and whether related terms appear in the same article (see here for more on this).

“Don’t put layers between you and your readers.”

Isabelle Oderberg, Social Media Lead at Australian Red Cross.

The bottom line is this: if you’re creating well-developed written material which uses key words but also more subtle indicators of your expertise, AND you include links to well-known articles and names in your field, then Google will find you.


You spend days crafting an article or blog post, hours finding the right images and blood, sweat and tears getting the edit just right. Finally, you hit ‘publish’. Done, right?

Nope, not done. So not done. Your content is likely to get lost if you simply leave it to sit on your website at this point. Isabelle Oderberg (Social Media Lead at Australian Red Cross) recommends there are simple ways to ensure your content is found and is interesting over a long period of time (whether over the course of a day, a week, a month or a year):

How can I prolong the life of my stories?

  • Choose the topic and related key-words wisely
  • Remember there may be a peak and then a longer tail of interest
  • ‘Refresh’ the story over the course of the day by adding extra details, embedded tweets relating to the topic (perhaps from celebrities), links to other related content, new images
  • Send it out via social media many times: do it manually and with personality, and tweak your language and your hashtags each time
  • Find the ‘social flow’ by using social media usage data to work out the best days and times to post material (see Yellow Social Media Report).


Whether you work in a research institution, for the government or are crammed into a tiny home office as a freelancer, you must develop your own digital identity. Nobody else will do this for you. Your reputation, your visibility and your own personal brand are in your control, and you can easily apply tools that help you to maximise this.

In the book-publishing world, developing your own brand and online identity is often referred to as your ‘author platform’. There are many online articles that address the pros and cons of taking this approach: check out this one from Allison Tait, and another from Brooke Warner.


Because we work in the science world, it’s tempting to just focus on the hypothesis, research and data side of things. But as communicators we must also stay in touch with cutting edge media trends. I believe science writers need to be able to ‘match it’ with other content generators in order to remain relevant and to maximise the chances that our online content is found and shared.

Isabelle Oderberg (Social Media Lead at Australian Red Cross) mentions two main current trends that journalists must be aware of:

  • Multi-screening – the idea that people are usually using more than one screen at a time. For example, TV watchers are often concurrently using their social media platforms to share and discuss content (think ABC’s TV Q&A and associated twitter hashtag #qanda)
  • That soon most — if not all — online content will be viewed via phone screens. For example, of those Australians that access social media, 71% currently do so using their mobile devices.

how we access copy

Figure captured from 2014 Yellow Social Media Report

Many other commenters agree with Isabelle. Double screening appears as one of six emerging trends in media and communications in an Australian Communications and Media Authority article published online by Australia Policy Online recently. The move to mobile is not just restricted to social media, but for all content (see this recent piece All Journalism Will Soon be Mobile for more).

Another important trend is data journalism, or the use of numerical data to create content.

Want to tackle a little data journalism? Try the following free tools:
(thanks to Jack Fisher, UTS Journalism)

Program from the Walkley Foundation Digital Media Boot Camp held in Melbourne over November 22 and 23 2014.

 Day 1: Multimedia Production and Online Publishing

Multimedia Storytelling for the Web, Madhvi Pankhania, producer, The Guardian

Data Visualisation, Jack Fisher, UTS Journalism

Podcasting and Audio Downloads: The Whys and Hows of Time-Shifted Content, Tim Ritchie, Editor, Music & Presentation, ABC Radio National and ABC Jazz

Mobile Journalism: On the Road with your Smart Phone, Tom McKendrick, Senior Producer, Fairfax Media

Day 2: Social Media for Getting Stories and Engaging and Measuring Your Audience

Social Media for News Gathering, Developing a Community, and Promoting Your Site and Stories, Isabelle Oderberg, Social Media Lead, Australian Red Cross

SEO Strategies for Content/News Publishers, Suranga Priyashantha, SEO and Social Media Manager, Fairfax Media

Why Journalists Should Learn to Code, and How to Get Started, James Coleman, General

Twitter Best Practice, Flip Prior, Twitter Australia’s Partnerships Manager – News & Government

Who is Peter Pockley? (taken from the ASC website).

Dr Peter Pockley, a life member of the Australian Science Communicators, passed away in August of 2013. He is widely acknowledged as making an incredible contribution to the field of science communication and scientific journalism.

In 1964 Dr Pockley was the first scientist to work full-time as a science reporter and producer in the Australian media, and became founding Head of Science Programs at the ABC. He established the Science Unit for TV and Radio.

After leaving the ABC, Dr Pockley was appointed Head of the Public Affairs Unit at the University of New South Wales from 1973 until 1989. He then joined the Sun-Herald as a Science and Education Columnist.

As a freelance journalist Dr Pockley wrote for most of Australia’s major newspapers and many overseas, including Nature as Australia’s correspondent.

Dr Pockley established the Centre for Science Communication at the University of Technology, Sydney and was a Visiting Fellow at the National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science in the Australian National University from 1996-2006.

In 2010 Dr Pockley was awarded the Australian Academy of Science Medal; only the seventh winner in its 20 year history and the only journalist to ever receive the award.

Read more about Dr Peter Pockley at ‘Vale Peter Pockley’ in Australasian Science.


ASC members can access a discount for this training by joining the Copyright Agency, which is the major sponsor for the training program. Membership is free and CA members get 25% off our courses and some of our conferences and other events too. See



Six questions for outgoing SA Chief Scientist Prof. Don Bursill AM

Thank you to Abbie Thomas for sharing this interview.

After three very successful years as SA’s Chief Scientist, Don Bursill is looking forward to doing a bit of fishing. During his time leading the South Australian science community he has established a State Science Policy, set up Future Fellowships to keep SA’s best researchers from heading interstate or offshore, and founded an Early Career Researcher Network where people from different science disciplines can connect with each-other and with industry.

How much influence does a state Chief Scientist actually have?
When I was asked if I wanted to do it, I thought I’d like to have a go, but the cynic in me said people probably won’t listen to me. But I was very pleased to see that the Chief Scientist position is regarded highly by the government and the beaurocracy. One thing about being a Chief Scientist who has finished their career is you’ve got no career aspirations; you can talk frankly to the premier and the ministers without worrying about your future. I have sat in meetings and heard very senior public servants tell ministers absolute rubbish, and I’ve had to pipe up and say ‘well, I don’t believe that’s right’. I think it’s important that more people understand that science and innovation are really fundamental to making sure that our productivity is fuelled by new ideas and doing things smarter and doing things better in the future. I thought we needed a new Science Strategy which I started working on soon after I was appointed. There were 41 recommendations put through to cabinet this year and they were all approved.

How could Australia do better in building innovation?
I think our culture – not just in South Australia but all of Australia – has a bit of a ‘branch office’ or colonial mentality – we think we are too small and too far away and too insignificant to really matter, and we think that any of the real things that are going to happen will happen somewhere else and we can just buy them. And a lot of our big players – the decisions are made by Boards in other countries, for example in the automotive industry, and our small to medium enterprises are often family businesses that don’t have the technical capacity to really know how to lift themselves out.

Before becoming Chief Scientist, you were SA Water’s Chief Scientist for 15 years. How bad is Adelaide’s drinking water, really?
Every so often, the media set up blind taste testing in Rundle Mall (in Adelaide’s CBD) with water from the various states to see who picks out what’s what. Whenever there’s one that’s a bit on the nose, people always attribute it being from Adelaide! But in fact treatment has improved a lot, and most of the tests in last 20 years have rated Adelaide above average. We’ve come from behind and we don’t quite get to the top of the tree, but it is very high quality and definitely one of most reliable (Australian city water supplies) in terms of public health aspects. In fact we (SA Water) went over to Sydney and helped them when they had a problem with Cryptosporidium.

Australia’s population is projected to double by 2050. How are we going to find enough water for everybody?
We happen to have most of our population living on the coast, and desalination technology is becoming better and cheaper all the time. These have been installed in all the capital cities except Hobart in the last 5-6 years, and it can all be supported by renewable technology which has a very low carbon footprint – quite different from what is often portrayed in the media. But I personally have a view that it’s about time we started to develop a different economic model than the one we have which says GDP has to keep growing every year. This predisposes our resources will be bottomless pits. If any other organism was expanding at the rate of the human population we would call it a plague and we’d be out with the pesticides!

What are your tips for successful science communication?
The importance of science and the fun that can be conveyed in it are very important – to be honest with people is important. I do lots of talks to all sorts of community groups, especially on water issues, and there’s a lot of misunderstanding out there. So I do a list of dot points which I call ‘Your water supply – the myths and the realities.’
I show the things people think are true (based on what they’ve heard in the media), then I give them some of the facts – but I invite them to verify each fact for themselves. I bring them all along because they have the information to enable them to make the right conclusions.

Does Australia need a Science Minister?
The important thing about having a Minister for Science is that, come Budget time, they will argue for science even if no one else does. At least at the moment Ian Chubb is still there – he’s trying to establish things on a good strategic foundation and I think if he had more support this country would be doing better. But if he goes and isn’t replaced, then that would be a real disaster; it would be time for us to start getting a bit more active. We can’t not have a vigorous research and innovation program in this country – we are already right down near the bottom of the OECD with respect to industry participation in research. We can’t let that stay that way; we have to turn it around.


President’s update

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

Season’s Greetings

It’s that time of year when every organisation needs to get in its AGM, settle its accounts, and clear its books! While this is not the most festive of activities, it does signal the end of the year and time for a bit of reckoning. I’m very pleased to say that the ASC is going very well indeed. We held the AGM at ANU CPAS (Centre for Public Awareness of Science) in the famed green couch room on the 5th of December. Some highlights from the AGM:
  • On behalf of the membership, I thanked our voluntary executive for 2014—Pete Wheeler (Treasurer), Sarah Lau (Secretary), Claire Harris (VP and Communications team), Ian McDonald (Grants program), Will Grant (VP), and our amazing executive officer, Kali Madden.
  • We learned that we are solvent and our treasurer and executive officer (with help from our bookkeeper/auditor) are looking at the details of our tax situation and our status as a not-for-profit. We hope to finalise our books by the end of the year.
  • Ian McDonald announced the winners of our inaugural grant round (see more on this in this issue of SCOPE)
  • We discussed upcoming conference opportunities and an ASC strategy to give our members more chances to interact
  • We learned about some of the stellar events our branches have put on this year—this gave us a lot to think about as the most successful branches are hitting the sweet spot of offering members a few signature events each year, not overloading the calendar, but putting their best into some quality networking events.
  • I was delighted to accept the Presidential nomination and will serve as ASC president for 2015.
The year has ended on a very high note for me, though continued reports of cutting in the area of communications from many organisations is gloomy. I’ll address the ‘highs’ here and ASC will continue to try to tackle the lows by advocating for science communication at every opportunity. My ‘end of the year event’ was a science policy workshop run at the Academy of Science on the 5th of December.  You can check it out here. It was a rather incredible day where scholars, communicators, and policy-makers discussed some of the key features of using humanities and social research to effect policy and communicate effectively (spoiler: go to Cameron Muir’s talk about narrative; powerful stuff!). At the event, I was struck at the  number of science communicators in the audience and very pleased to hear sci comm concerns getting equal billing on the day. That day underscored for me the need for science communicators and this was clearly endorsed by the policy makers in the room.

I hope that everyone takes a bit of time out at the end of the year to recharge and connect with friends and family.  I look forward to starting afresh in the New Year.

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

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.

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