Through the fog of Greenhouse Gases… clearing the sky with better Science Communication

Tying together the recent posts by myself and my fellow colleagues of what we are affectionately calling the Com Sci 7020 gang (#cs7020) I believe that the Research Institution of Australia (RiAus) is  making a brave and flying leap into the world of social media in science… and moving leaps and bounds ahead of those not yet willing to join the ride.

 A Clear Night

                                                                                                                                                                                               Original image by: lrargerich

In the words of Paul Willis, Director of RiAus, the challenge of today’s scientists and its leading community is to ‘bring[ing] science to people and people to science’ (riaus.org.au) and we have our work cut out for us. RiAus are leading the way into a strange and scary world, but one that I am personally finding exciting and challenging.

Image the world of science communication is the sky and the stars are the different messages and pieces of information. As scientists we have our work cut out for us. Not only are we stepping into the unknown, a place which changes constantly and carries many risks to those who dare, but the people to whom we communicate (i.e the planets) are all unique. In the beginning we must first convince them what is ‘real science’ and what is not.

Our ultimate challenge is to present our message to as many people as possible, but in a way that is engaging for people who have no prior understanding, and who may or may not have an interest in the topic. It is important to entertain the audience, engaging them from the outset and maintaining that interest throughout the conversation. The people have a right to accurate information and the scientific community has the responsibility to deliver it. It stands to reason that the more entertaining we are, the more they will absorb and remember in the future and hopefully pass onto others.

However, while the entertainment value will assist in drawing the audience in and maintaining their interest, the information that follows must hold truth. Despite their lack of understanding,  it remains important that the right message, with scientific evidence to back it, is the message that gets through. The study of climate science, for example, has been surrounded by varying opinions, cloudy evidence and a lot of strongly spoken views and overall, the general population tend to be rather confused. A study in the US in 1997 showed that for the most part, people had not seriously thought about the issues, and better communication would most likely improve their understanding of the issue (1). And according to Rod Irvine in a session at RiAus on the dilemmas of scientific writing, the problem today remains that not enough in the science community are presenting their opinions and facts (start 5:19).

This is where RiAus is taking a stand. They are providing the all important platform for scientists to open up those communications with the public and beyond. By bringing the findings of science to the broader community, engaging with people, engaging with the arts, and with industry, RiAuis opening the door and will hopefully one day clear the air of the GHG’s of bad communication.

1. Kempton, W (1997). “How the public views climate change”, Environment, Vol 39, No 9, p. 12.

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7 Comments

  1. Just for perks check this out.. a short speech by one of the gang on explaining to 7 year olds about her research in reproductive biology…

    (function() { var po = document.createElement(“script”); po.type = “text/javascript”; po.async = true; po.src = “http://d15mj6e6qmt1na.cloudfront.net/assets/embed.js”; var s = document.getElementsByTagName(“script”)[0]; s.parentNode.insertBefore(po, s); })();

    1. Great to see a link to an audioboo. As you may have noticed, putting hyperlinks in comments is somewhat limited. My advice would be to place a link like this in your blog post rather than in the comments.

  2. However, trhe US education system can be really shocking. I was once asked while traveling in the US whether Thailand was in somewhere in North America. A few of them thought that China was so closed to the US, and that was why they have imported a lot of ‘Made In China’ goods.

    1. Yeah true. Unfortunately, we are still seeing so many people in the world who don’t really know what any of these important concepts in science are about. They get to vote in the government leaders but they don’t know which leaders will make the right decisions for the environment. They also are generally happy to complain loudly about the negative effects of government policies (like the Carbon Tax) but they don’t have the knowledge or understanding about what would eventuate if those policies were not put in place. I guess this is where we of the Comm Sci gang may one day be able to make a difference… you know with all this tweeting and blogging we are so enthusiastically undertaking 😉

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