Despite an extensive and exciting history, science communication as a career is still something quite a few of us have to explain.

As our current practice evolves with technology, professional associations, and peer-reviewed evidence, science communication is advancing.

This month, we step back and consider this ‘forward march’:

As usual, we welcome your feedback about this (or any) topic.

Regards from the @EconnectTeam:
Jenni MetcalfeSarah ColeJane Ilsley, Toss GascoigneClaire Heath



Characterising science communication

By Jenni Metcalfe

Science communicators do so many different things, and for most people it’s still a novel profession to hear about. It’s much easier to tell people you’re a journalist or a science teacher; they know exactly what you do.

How do you explain your job as a science communicator?

Initially, I found it tricky. 28 years ago, this month, I first started as a science communicator with CSIRO, working with the then division of Tropical Crops & Pastures.

I was appointed a communication manager, which was a new position that replaced the ‘Scientific Editor’ role. Not much later, people started talking about and advertising for ‘science communicators’.

In a nutshell, here’s how I answer that question today: “I help scientists to share their knowledge and interact with people who don’t have scientific expertise.”

“Oh, how interesting,” people generally reply. “That’s really needed.”

There’s a lot embedded in my answer which I think helps to define the essential role of a science communicator:

  1. We work with scientists; we don’t replace them.
  2. We help scientists to share their knowledge using simple and direct language that laypeople can understand (this is NOT about ‘dumbing’ down the science, it is about distilling it – like fine whisky).
  3. We promote two-way communication – sharing and interacting – between scientists and laypeople.
  4. We understand that scientific knowledge is valuable to those without it, and it can help them to make more informed decisions.
  5. We recognise that those without scientific expertise are integral to the process of scientific research.

field of barley
Image: © Pixabay



Is science communication getting more complicated?

By Toss Gascoigne

The Beijing Association for Science and Technology held its annual science fair and round-table conference last week.

Gerrit Faust of Munich’s Deutsche Museum gave a fine example of science communication at work: start with a challenging problem, think about the practical implications, and design an event to challenge and involve visitors.

The issue is energy. Germany is turning off its nuclear reactors, moving away from fossil fuels and towards renewables. But how can all the arguments about ecology, profitability, social justice and jobs be reconciled?

The centrepiece of the exhibition is a game where visitors are invited to step onto the ‘political dancefloor’ and into the central exhibition space. There they encounter big screens with key figures in the energy turnaround played by actors.

Everyone is there: from the nuclear power lobbyist and the farmer, to a woman involved in building hydroelectric plants and a technician who works on the electric power network.

Visitors try to sort out the slogans and arguments and decide what kind of energy turnaround they want, replicating the experiences of politicians and recording their decisions on a punchcard where they discover which energy-transition type they are.

Gerrit said science communication is getting more complicated, and it’s harder to build the emotional bridges needed to make a successful exhibit (‘somewhere between school and Oktoberfest’).

The ‘energie.wenden’ exhibit, aimed at adults rather than children, encourages people to build their own opinion by providing facts. That’s got to be an advance in science communication.

science exhibition at a museum
Image: Deutches Museum energie.wenden exhibit



Screencasting: online presentations, evolved

By Claire Heath

In an era when millions of people watch video online every day, it’s worth thinking about how you can make video or an online how-to or presentation more interesting.

One such different way to make how-to videos captivating is to create a screencast. A screencast is a recording of something happening on (usually your) computer screen, and most often includes audio.

At the recent Institute of Professional Editors conference, Dr Malini Devadas and Dr Hilary Cadman showed us how easy it is to make a screencast using a free tool for recording simple computer-screen videos.

You don’t need any special equipment: to record sound, use the microphone built into the computer. Once you’ve made your video, you can upload it for millions of viewers to watch. Then, share the link to the uploaded video with anyone.

If you’re making a lot of videos to share, the presenters recommended setting up a Vimeo account in preference to YouTube. Although you have to pay for most Vimeo accounts, there are two big advantages over YouTube:

  • There are no ads.
  • You retain ownership and copyright of your content.

Malini and Hilary shared some handy tips for making great screencasts:

  • Keep it short and tight – no more than 5 minutes long, and write a script (and practice it before you record).
  • Break it into manageable chunks, by using verbal or visual ‘signposts’ within, to make it easier for viewers to follow.
  • Repeat your main points.
  • Keep it simple.
  • Don’t ramble – who has time for stream-of-consciousness digressions?
  • Don’t talk or move too fast through the steps you present.

a person working on a laptop
Image: Pixabay



Link of the month

1200+ Aussies had their say about science recently: Science is beneficial, they reckon, but moves way too fast. But, please let us have drugs before their clinical trials are completed! But, scientists do contribute enormously to society! We’re wildly paraphrasing, of course, but thought the survey results were fascinating.