Econnect Communication > Newsletter > August 2019 – Emotion and Science Communication
 

August 2019 – Emotion and Science Communication

Good science communication engages the senses. At Econnect, we focus on awakening curiosity, fascination, enthusiasm, and a desire to know in our audiences.

Science communication that leaves audiences feeling confused or bored, or even excluded can be worse than no communication at all. At Econnect we start by discovering what excites our intended audiences.

This month’s newsletter looks at the role of emotions in science communication:

We hope you enjoy this newsletter, and welcome your feedback.

Regards from the @EconnectTeam: Jenni MetcalfeToss Gascoigne, Claire Heath, Michelle RiedlingerMadeleine Stirrat & Jas Smith.

The aha! moment

By Claire Heath

Although some people may prefer to focus only on facts and reasoning in talking about scientific inquiry, we know there is plenty of emotion involved, too – and there probably was long before Archimedes supposedly leapt out of his bath shouting “eureka”.

A researcher at the University of Melbourne, Dr Margaret Webb, is exploring emotions in a serious scientific study, and employing a playful means of communication to invite all of us to help her.

She and her colleague Dr Simon Cropper want to understand the workings of the “aha moment”, that instant of insight when a solution that has previously escaped us suddenly appears and spikes an emotional response of joy.

They’ve teamed up with ABC Science to invite anyone who is interested to take part in the Aha! Challenge as part of National Science Week.

The challenge takes about 15 minutes to complete. Participants solve problems and give information on how they felt about any aha moments they might have experienced.

Dr Webb told the ABC: “They’re all brain teasers, and puzzles and tricks that are designed to elicit an aha event.”

The researchers say that scans show that there are distinct neural patterns in the bran when a person suddenly “gets it”, even though everyone gets different things.

So, here’s an opportunity to let loose your emotions – curiosity, frustration, confusion, elation, playfulness – in the cause of science.

Let’s talk about science failures

By Jenni Metcalfe

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the world of scientists is about breakthroughs, cures, solving mysteries, and world firsts, as that is what media – social or not – tends to highlight.

But the reality is far from this. Most of what happens in the lab never gets reported. Why? Because it’s generally about trying something and failing. The scientific method is based on testing hypotheses, and if these tests fail, as most do, this increases our knowledge of what works or what doesn’t.


Moments after lift-off on 28 October 2014, a commercial Antares rocket explodes. Image: Skeeze from Pixabay

Our focus on scientific successes can have ramifications for young scientists who don’t expect to have so many failures, as Emily Dreyfuss discusses in a recent Wired article.

As the wife of a scientist, she writes: “I’ve watched my husband and his colleagues and friends across various disciplines lose sleep, lose hope, lose perspective when an experiment fails, a machine breaks and kills all the data, or a grant application is denied.”

Science is partly about perseverance in the face of such failures.

We need to communicate more openly about science failures so that people will:

  • better understand the nature of science, and that success is built on multiple failures
  • engage on a more emotional level with scientists and science, which will help build trust
  • accept that science is not all black or white, and that there are nuances of grey
  • appreciate the resilience of scientists in the face of repeated setbacks.

Social listening for better science engagement
By Michelle Riedlinger

For over 25 years, Econnect has held focus groups, conducted interviews, and monitored mainstream media reporting to get insights into the emotional landscapes of our clients’ audiences. More recently, we’ve turned to social media to see what particular audiences are saying about science and the environment.

We know that emotions drive action. For example, the authors of a recent paper published in the Public Understanding of Science found that female-hosted scicomm (science communication) YouTube channels attracted a significantly higher number of critical, hostile and negative comments.

YouTube is growing in popularity as a medium for communicating about science, so putting time and effort into understanding and combatting viewer hostility could have significant positive benefits for encouraging young women to enter STEM (science, technology, engineering, and medicine) fields.


The Australian Twittersphere in 2016. Taken from Bruns, A., Moon, B., Münch, F., & Sadkowsky, T. (2017). The Australian Twittersphere in 2016: Mapping the follower/followee network. Social Media + Society, 3(4), 2056305117748162.

Sentiment analysis provides good tools for social listening. Looking for positive terms such as “best”, “love”, “amazing” and “perfect” and negative terms such as “bad”, “worst”, “hate” and “disappointed” to determine the kind of social media content that particular audiences respond to, and specific areas of concern.

Try a simple sentiment analysis yourself on Twitter. Search for #scienceweek and love and look at the key topics or themes trending in Australia right now. Search terms such as “should”, “must” and “need to” can help us determine what particular audiences are advocating for – or the changes they’d like to see happening in the science or policy arenas.

Encourage others to respond to science on an emotional level with curiosity, creativity, appreciation, enthusiasm or wonder by using positive emotive terms in your own professional social media posts.

Building emotion into participation
By Jenni Metcalfe

“Satisfying and enjoyable” is how one of the scientists involved regularly in the Climate Champion Program described his participation with farmers. Another talked of the friendships made between scientists and farmers, which continue after the 7-year program ended in 2016.


Image: Jake Heineman from Pexels

The Climate Champion Program, part of the Managing Climate Variability R&D program, was designed to support leading farmers from around Australia to find out the latest science on managing their climate risk so they could share it with their peers. Climate Champion farmers interacted regularly with leading scientists at workshops and events, and informally.

A major part of our role at Econnect was to support the farmers and the scientists in their interactions with each other. I used the program as a case study for my PhD, and found that scientists and farmers developed relationships of mutual trust, where they felt they could be open with each other and critically reflect on what was happening in science and in agriculture.

Supporting relationships of mutual trust in participatory science communication activities means there are greater opportunities for shared learning and for creating change. As science communicators, we can help make this happen by:

  • ensuring there is plenty of time for informal social interaction between participants
  • creating opportunities for face-to-face interactions
  • making sure dialogue opportunities are greater than presentation opportunities in workshops
  • treating all participants as equal, i.e. acknowledging that farmers have valuable knowledge they can share, just as scientists do.

Art and science
By Claire Heath

All sorts of people – not only science communicators – communicate science. Among them are artists, who share with scientists finely honed skills of observation. Part of their creativity is in communicating what they see, together with their responses to their observations, in a way that elicits a strong emotional response in the viewer.

A US artist whose work I admire is Chris Jordan, who uses statistics to shock the viewer into understanding the scale of the waste that we humans create.

There is often a direct relationship between the material he uses to make a panel and the type of consumption he is shining a light on. Take, for example, “Carbon” (made in 2018). It depicts 2.4 million pieces of coal. This is an estimate of the 2,400,000 pounds (1,088,622 kg) of carbon dioxide that humans burning fossil fuels emit into the Earth’s atmosphere every second.

He began this series of work, “Running the numbers: an American self-portrait”, in 2006.

Closer to home, Brisbane artist Sophie Munns began a very different exploration of an aspect of science in 2009, with her project “Homage to the seed”. Her curiosity about seeds and deep thoughtfulness about their natural and cultural importance has informed her work for much of the past decade and led to residencies at several scientific institutions.

Among her most important pieces is “Antipodean inheritance II”, which, Sophie says, took “weeks to paint, with hours in meditative silence contemplating all that has been revealed to me over the time I have spent on the seed project”.

Sophie’s art is another way of seeing and interpreting what botanists also observe. Both open windows onto understanding and the intricate beauty of nature.

“I look at seeds through different lenses. It is not about literal meaning, because art is an interpretive medium that has the capacity to represent multiple complex layers: the poetic side of life, the science, the history – our culture,” she says.

“However, every motif came from engagement with a seed: from scientific processes used to observe and understand seeds, from conversations, and from my interpretation and beliefs about seeds. There’s a precious fascination binding all who have toiled, one way or another, to preserve seeds for our common inheritance into the future.”


Detail of “Antipodean inheritance II” (2015), acrylic, pigmented ink and Irish linen thread on linen, by Sophie Munns. Image: Sophie Munns 

 

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