Quote of the month

‘The more elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate.’

Joseph Priestley (1733–1804)

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Welcome to our March 2013 newsletter: Science communication networks

Whether you’re an active participant who loves to work the ‘room’ (virtual or otherwise), or a passive participant who just checks the newsfeed now and again, being a member of a professional network can be enriching.

This month we’re sharing some of our positive experiences of science communication networks. Tell us about yours – we’re on Facebook, Twitter or email us.

Regards from the @EconnectTeam:

The give and take of volunteering 

By Robbie Mitchell

Two years ago, I attended my first Australian Science Communicators AGM. I wanted to ‘suss out’ the science communication scene in my new state and network.

By the end of the night, not only had I made useful connections but I had been elected the branch’s Regional Coordinator.

The job was a mission and, in hindsight, I perhaps should not have been so carefree in raising my hand.

But in the two years that followed, I enhanced my network far more than I would have if I had taken a back seat that night.

I’ve had meaningful discussions with politicians, chief scientists, and local and national directors and managers.

I’ve had the privilege of interacting with up-and-coming science communicators and getting them in touch with the people they need to know.

I’ve been able to connect with our branch’s national panel, voice my concerns and help to make changes that I and many members have continually asked for.

I’ve been exposed to the people I need to know and this, in turn, has helped me to build my own profile.

It hasn’t been easy and has required more work than I had bargained for, but it has been worthwhile.

Consider helping out with any professional association—not just to lend a hand but to further your career.

Speed-dating the weatherman 

By Tom Dixon

While in the UK last year, I attended the British Science Association’s science communication conference, and met people from all areas of the discipline—from BBC meteorologists, to science writers from The Guardian and editors from Nature.

The conference started with a night of science in the pub, followed by two days crammed with talks and demonstrations about topics such as engaging different demographics, collaborating internationally and measuring the impact of informal learning.

The sessions were great, but for me the highlight was an hour of ‘speed dating’—a session dedicated to networking.

Delegates were split into groups, and we moved around spending 5 minutes with each group of 6 people.

Less than a minute isn’t long to find out someone’s background, but it’s the perfect way to chat to people you’d never normally encounter, especially if you’re a little shy, or starstruck by well known people (in my case, Peter Gibbs of BBC weather fame!).

Peter Gibbs, BBC meteorologist
BBC meteorologist Peter Gibbs impressed starstruck Tom during a speed date.

During the session, I also met the editor of People & Science, the magazine of the British Science Association. We discussed the relative merits of the Australian Science Communicators, the British Science Association and the Association of British Science Writers and, later, our experiences in science communication in Australia and Asia.

The encounter resulted in me writing an article about communicating science in developing countries for People & Science.

Science communication networks can be great ways of investigating employment, intern and freelance opportunities too. And their conferences are great for professional development and a lot of fun.

If you’re thinking of organising a conference, I’d highly recommend having a speed-networking session—it’s a great icebreaker and really helps delegates to extend their networks.

Global connections through PCST

By Jenni Metcalfe

The International Network on Public Communication of Science and Technology is known as the PCST Network.

It aims to bring together science communication researchers and practitioners at its biennial conferences to share ideas and discuss new issues and trends.

At Montreal in 1994, Australia won the bid to hold the 1996 conference in Melbourne and, ever since, I have been a member of the PCST Network’s international scientific committee.

The committee currently has 22 members from 19 countries, including Turkey, Brazil and Thailand.

Getting to know my committee colleagues is an ongoing highlight of my career.

Colombia’s Lisbeth Fog once invited me to speak at a conference in Medellin, Colombia. Canada’s Bernard Schiele asked me to run a workshop at the 2012 conference in Nancy, France. And I’ve participated in workshops in Venice and Florence, courtesy of my Italian colleagues and the European Commission.

Last month, I was a plenary speaker at the PCST symposium on communicating climate science in the face of climate disasters, held in Christchurch, New Zealand.

My association with the scientific committee has also given me opportunities to collaborate and take editorial leadership of several science communication books, including a chapter on science communication research in Australia in the recently published Science communication in the world: Practices, theories and trends.

Some PCST conferences succeed more than others at achieving interaction during the formal part of the conference. But you always get the opportunity to interact with colleagues from around the world.

Until now the PCST Network has been run by an informal group of colleagues, but on January 29 the scientific committee incorporated the organisation and formally elected office-bearers.

We will shortly be inviting everyone to join the Network.

The 2014 PCST conference in Brazil will give delegates their first opportunity to have a voice in PCST operations and elect the scientific committee.

I hope to see you in Brazil!

Communicating the science of natural disasters

By Toss Gascoigne

[Toss is President of the PCST Scientific Committee. See also Jenni’s article on global connections through PCST.]

The second symposium of the International Network on Public Communication of Science and Technology (the PCST Network) held in Christchurch in February attracted 100 delegates including groups from Italy, Singapore, China, Japan and Australia.

Organised by a team from the Science Communicators of New Zealand (SCANZ), with advice from PCST committee members, the symposium was held against the spectacular backdrop of a city devastated by a series of earthquakes.

The centre of the city is still fenced off as the safety of whole city blocks is assessed.

90% of the buildings in this area will be demolished, and the damages bill is estimated at $US50 billion.

But life goes on in Christchurch.

The presenters at the symposium spoke about:

  • the jailing of 6 scientists and officials after the earthquake in L’Aquila, Italy
  • the rescue of seabirds caught up oil slicks
  • media coverage of climate change
  • using social media to communicate at the time of emergencies
  • trust, government and disasters
  • communicating climate change science in the face of disasters
  • disaster museums in China and their role in training
  • training communities in how to respond to emergencies
  • the challenges of writing computer games on disasters across different Asian cultures

The New Zealand Minister of Science and Innovation, who in an earlier life was a journalist, urged us to aim for simplicity, clarity and directness in our communication with the public.

The conference reception was held at the International Antarctic Centre in Christchurch, where we experienced a 4-D film (real rain, fake pigeon poo) adding to the normal 3D images of the icy continent.

Papers from the symposium are posted on the SCANZ website.