Science Communication Conference 25 & 26 May 2011 report in partnership with:
Summary............................................................................................................... Networking .......................................................................................................... Introduction to public engagement................................................................. Keynote address by Tim Radford....................................................................... Libel reform and science ................................................................................... Evaluation: Asking the tricky questions ............................................................ Iâ€™m a scientist, get me out of here! .................................................................. Democratising technology: Makers, hackers and DIY engineers ................ Talking about e-science in a virtual world: Communicating EU research .. Working with policy makers .............................................................................. Using games to explain science, using science to create games .............. Diversifying your audience ............................................................................... Panel discussion: The future of online research ............................................. Science podcasting: Moving beyond the usual suspects ........................... The tyranny of the web .................................................................................... Growing concern: Engaging the public with issues involving GM .............. The future of public engagement ................................................................... More than friends: Turning online engagement into empowerment ......... Public attitudes to science .............................................................................. Citizen science: Public participation in research .......................................... Working with journals ........................................................................................ Social media & public engagement workshop ............................................ Bright Club .......................................................................................................... Further information about the conference ....................................................
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summary This report provides a summary of the sessions at the Science Communication Conference, 2011, held at Kings Place, London, including some background on the conference through links to relevant websites and tweets issued during the conference itself.
In addition to the talks and workshops offered during the conference, there were numerous opportunities for delegates to engage in their own communication exercises. A structured networking session allowed people to join in a speed-dating type activity whereby they would be introduced to fellow delegates from diverse backgrounds. The second networking event was a very relaxed affair; a drinks reception at the end of the first day, supported by the CREST Awards Scheme.
A returning feature of this year’s conference was the Twitter screen in the main foyer which proved very popular with The central focus of the conference this year was online delegates as Twitter users shared their thoughts about engagement; using online resources to communicate with conference sessions and even held discussions within this virtual a variety of different target audiences, ranging from school space. A selection of tweets appear alongside the relevant children to government agencies, in an effective and engaging manner. Over 400 delegates from the varied public engagement sections throughout this report. After the conference, sessions were disseminated and discussed through a wide variety of field attended including representatives from science centres, online media including podcasts and blogs. outreach staff, press officers, policy makers and science communicators. The conference was organised by the Science A range of bursaries were on offer for MSc science in Society team at the British Science Association in partnership communication students, freelance science communicators and with the Wellcome Trust and supported by the Department for scientists/engineers involved in public engagement. Business, Innovation and Skills and the CREST Awards. The first day of the conference opened with a session giving an introduction to public engagement, by Simon Burrall of Involve, followed by the conference keynote address by veteran journalist Tim Radford. The rest of the day was taken up with parallel sessions on a diverse range of topics running from an introduction to “I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here!” to a briefing on how to work effectively with policy makers. The second day of the conference featured two excellent plenary sessions on the future of online engagement and the future of public engagement. Parallel sessions again covered a diverse range of topics covering everything from a discussion about how online engagement can potentially go wrong to a hands-on workshop where delegates could familiarise themselves with the latest social media applications.
The overall report has been compiled and edited by Mark Sergeant, Nottingham Trent University and was designed and produced by Toby Shannon, British Science Association.
“I just wanted to thank you all so much for such an informative and enjoyable conference last week. I learned so much and really appreciated the networking opportunity. This was the most useful conference I have attended in a long time so congratulations to all for putting on such an interesting and diverse programme.” 2011 conference delegate
networking Summary by Amy Lothian, British Science Association
CREST is Britain’s largest national award scheme for project work in the STEM subjects and last year 25,000 11-19 year olds achieved either a bronze, silver of gold CREST Award, learning valuable practical science and team building skills. CREST is celebrating its 25th birthday this year and has launched a free alumni network for anyone who has received a CREST Award.
‘To network’, is the answer most science communicators give when asked for the main reason they come to the conference.
On Thursday the bar was opened and people could mingle over a drink whilst enjoying comedy from Bright Club.
With lots of delegates and limited time however, it can be hard to find the person you’re looking for. Science communicator Ben Craven has used science itself to find a solution to this and devised a formula for the perfect speed networking session. In Wednesday’s structured networking session, delegates moved to different stations in an order that meant nobody met the same person twice, providing a great opportunity to meet lots of new people, chat about work and form new collaborations.
“The structured networking session and the generous provision of informal networking time, combined with the range and calibre of the attendees is what makes the conference genuinely unique and useful”
The list of delegate’s job descriptions and contact details meant that people could be contacted easily and the literature table meant there was plenty of space to display flyers about new projects. Extended lunch and coffee breaks allowed people to talk over tea and free Wi-Fi meant that anyone could contribute to the thriving conversation on Twitter. New to this year was the ‘lonely hearts’ board, a space for delegates to advertise their skills and research the expertise and experience of others.
Very much enjoying the science communication conference. Lots of good networking! #SCC2011
Further networking took place after the conference. On Wednesday evening delegates gathered in the gallery for a free networking drinks reception, supported by the British Science Association’s CREST Award scheme.
2011 conference delegate
The speed networking session has been brilliant. Many interesting people around... Ace!!!! #SCC2011
introduction to public engagement Summary by Jia-Ou Song, University of Kent
Simon Burall, Involve Why would you want to engage the public? Who does it anyway? How do they do it? The introductory session to the Science Communication Conference 2011 was led by Simon Burall with the aim of presenting the ideas behind public engagement of science to those unfamiliar with the field. The session started with the question: why engage the public in science? The short answer was tweeted by enthusiast David Waldock: “Six reasons to engage: governance, social cohesion, improve services, learning, ownership (good for [David Cameron’s] Big Society (!)), law & regulations“. Engagement doesn’t just happen in science and technology; it can also be applied to other fields including aspects of health, youth services, criminal justice and environmental planning. Also, engagement can happen at different, discrete levels, local, national and international. It can happen for a number of different purposes. These have been traditionally represented as a ladder, running from inform at the bottom, through consult, involve, collaborate to empower at the top. This implies a hierarchy and many people now present this as a spectrum; Burall stated that this is acceptable, as “informing has to be the basis of public engagement. The number of people reached as you move from inform through to empowerment decreases. There are a plethora of methods used to reach the public including education, new media, science festivals, public debates and online forums.
Bearing in mind the range of ways that the public can be engaged, we need to remember that we are rarely working alone; when working with others, be it educational institutions, charitable organisations or financial stakeholders, it is important to figure out what you are trying to achieve and what changes you hope to make. This is the time to make a list of: the purpose (why), context (where), people to involve (who), media (how), and finally goals of your project (what). In this light, we were introduced to the ‘three corners of engagement’ (on a triangle): Transmit (to inspire, inform, change, educate, build capacity and involvement or influence decisions of others), Receive (use experiences to transmit or build your own capacity for decisions) and Collaborate (consider, create or decide something together). This shift in framework is what takes us from a “deficit” to a “dialogue”; a shift from one-way to two-way methods of engagement. Engagement itself can be an end, a means to an end, or an external requirement, such as a pre-requisite of a grant, so there are many ways for different groups of people to profit from science communication efforts. Matthew Taylor of the RSA has compared public engagement to other public services, such as schools. Public engagement depends heavily on quality: a good school is better than a mediocre school, which is better than no school at all. However, mediocre (or poor) engagement can damage the relationship between science and the public, leading to a lack of trust and bad communication practices and is worse than no public engagement at all. The consensus was that engagement should not be approached merely as an attachment to research, but an opportunity to bring about positive changes to the many key players, including government, scientists, schools, universities, specialist organisations, and of course the public.
The session finished with some “lessons learned” from previous engagement activities: • • • • • •
Do not try to engage unless you mean it Resource properly; if there is no money, go back to the drawing board and re-allocate funds Support your staff, develop their skills Understand the participants in your project, both transmitters and receivers Communicate clearly The easier it is to get people into a room to debate, the more tension there is likely to be; sometimes the problem is not engaging the public, but how to deal with the resulting tension. Six reasons to engage: governance, social cohesion, improve services, learning, ownership , law & regulations #scc2011
keynote address Summary by Becky Hothersall, University of Bristol
Tim Radford, journalist Chair: Sue Nelson, Boffin Media Science matters a great deal, but people are thrilled by its individual stories and not by science as an abstract concept. Now more than ever, funding for research also goes hand in hand with public support. In his keynote address, veteran journalist Tim Radford talked about how our relationship with the mass media has changed since his career began over 50 years ago. Tim emphasised the power of telling science stories well: powerful communication can help to save science from budget cuts but more than that, it can shape the future of research and of our lives. Tim Radford spent 32 years working at the Guardian newspaper, including periods as the Letters, Arts, Literary and Science Editor. An award-winning science writer, his journalistic career began as a reporter for the New Zealand Herald. This was a time before television news, when he says no one went into journalism to be a science reporter or worried about having science qualifications. “Science journalists used to be regarded by editors as a necessary evil”, stated Tim. But the following decade was one of huge scientific advances, of moon landings, transatlantic flights and the discovery of tectonic plates, where “the thrill of discovery seemed so glorious it would be criminal not to share it”. Tim recalled that it was headlines that attracted him to science journalism: the satisfaction of being able to condense stories into just one perfect sentence. Capturing people’s attention was a theme he touched on repeatedly throughout his address; science must compete with sex and scandal and while scientists have a duty to explain what they do, people have no obligation to listen.
Tim said, about himself, “my brain glazes over at something I cannot tell you in a sentence”. Journalism has changed a great deal and while science journalists are now more likely to have a degree in science, they are much less likely to be able to rely on newspapers for steady employment. Recent advances in technology have allowed a huge increase in the volume and variety of information sources available, but with some worrying consequences. Young people in particular no longer read newspapers but turn instead to online resources. “Some of the best science writing is now delivered by bloggers. But, so is some of the most ignorant reporting”, Tim stated. He then went on to explain that while the same variation in quality is true of newspapers, at least the buyer entering a newsagent was exposed to other viewpoints and issues on the front pages of other publications in the shop. When people follow particular websites or blogs that accord with their own opinion they are less likely to “get what they didn’t ask for”, either in terms of subject matter or in having their thinking challenged. If it is now becoming more difficult to reach or sway readers, listeners and viewers, then that represents a great challenge to science itself. Tim noted that the public engagement movement first originated as a backlash against cuts during a previous financial crisis, when the government of the time viewed science as a luxury. A great historical perspective of science journalism from Tim Radford (inc. interesting anecdotes!) #SCC2011 Now, perhaps even more than in the 1980s, politicians are influenced by public support when selecting research areas for spending cuts. Research Councils will be expected to cut funding to expensive fields that cannot demonstrate that their
work is perceived as vital. Tim argued that slashes in science spending will in time affect press officers and outreach activities, even if funding for public engagement itself is initially protected. With each study not performed and its story not told, people’s knowledge and interest in science will diminish. Protest will then be less loud at each round of cuts. Scientists and communicators therefore need to plan ahead to ensure strong campaigns and good PR early on. There is a positive side to this relationship. Tim spoke passionately about the power of communication to drive forward scientific advances. Important lessons have been learnt from the massive hostile public response to genetic modification of foodstuffs. Extensive but careful engagement is credited with helping ensure public and legal acceptance of stem cell technology, opening the gates to future advances in its use. Scientists and journalists worked together to overcome the “yuck factor” inherent in many medical advances, linking the techniques involved to the benefits they could provide. Stories were illustrated with examples of celebrities like Muhammad Ali and Christopher Reeve, whose treatment depended on just this sort of science. Tim described himself as being both “up to date and completely out of touch”, saying he had “never blogged uninvited”. In a discussion with audience members at the end of the session, he emphasised that however our sources of reference change and however ubiquitous online information becomes, nothing beats getting out and talking to people in the flesh. It is in doing this that we find unexpected stories, insights or angles. This tip is related to writing science news stories but is probably worth remembering for anyone in the audience, whatever their role. We’re enjoying @SciCommConf today! Lots of interesting arguments on science funding and implications for liberal democracy #SCC2011
libel reform and science Summary by Tom Crick, University of Wales in Cardiff
Simon Singh, writer and broadcaster Sile Lane, Sense about Science Chair: Roland Jackson, British Science Association How have the English libel laws affected scientists from across the world? Just ask Simon Singh, who had a two year battle with the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) costing upwards of $500,000 when they sued him for libel regarding an article he wrote in the Guardian in April 2008. Increasingly, individuals and companies are using England’s out-dated libel laws to suppress legitimate scientific debate and discovery. Simon Singh hosted this session with Sile Lane, who coordinates the Keep Libel Laws out of Science campaign led by Sense About Science. Simon first presented an overview of libel and the key issues: defamation, protecting reputations, privacy, free speech (including the impact of the Human Rights Act 1988, along with “reckless” free speech), as well as the distinction between slander and libel: it is also possible to get sued for spoken material that is recorded live, such as a radio interview or conference talk. This is obviously an important issue for scientists and researchers. The law as it stands is very much in favour of the claimant: you do not currently need to show proof of damage; in essence there is a reverse burden of proof, you are guilty until you can prove you are correct (not guilty). Furthermore, it is horrendously expensive to defend yourself; in the majority of cases, people settle early because of the prohibitive cost of going to trial. This has created the libel “chilling effect”: many people are now scared of invoking a libel threat, providing an undesirable form of editorial control. Simon also clarified that a company or organisation has the right to reputation and can sue to protect it (a primary example being his case with the BCA), which pits the significant resources of organisations against individuals. Legal Aid is theoretically possible for libel cases, but in practice appears hard to access. He cited the famous “McLibel” case, a lawsuit filed by McDonald’s Corporation against two environmental activists over a pamphlet critical of the company. The case lasted ten years, making it the longest-running
libel case in English history, but was only a partial libel victory for the “The McLibel Two” (although they later won damages against the UK government in the European Court of Human Rights). Sile Lane then introduced the ‘Keep Libel Laws out of Science’ campaign, which is working with English PEN and Index on Censorship to drive libel reform in the UK. More than 60 societies and organisations are members, including scientific bodies, professional institutions, journals and lobby groups. Libel reform became an election issue at the last UK elections, with all major parties making manifesto pledges to libel reform before the elections in 2010. She highlighted some key libel cases: Ben Goldacre’s article in the Guardian about Mattius Rath’s promotion of vitamin pills for the treatment of AIDS; David Colquhoun, a pharmocologist at UCL who was threatened by herbal and Chinese medicine practitioners due to a blog post; Peter Wilmshurst, a consultant cardiologist who is in the fifth year of being sued by a medical devices company over remarks he made on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme (even though the company have since gone into administration); even to the absurd: the parenting community website Mumsnet has had to pull down discussion posts about a certain childcare company due to threats of libel. At this stage, an interesting point of order was raised by a barrister in the audience: you need to be careful with using the terms innocent and guilty, as it is not a criminal case. They continued by agreeing that libel reform is important, but some of the problems discussed are wider problems with the entire English legal system. Simon then gave an abbreviated history of his case with the BCA, highlighting some key issues. The case hinged on the following phrase in his article: “The BCA happily promote bogus therapies...”. Did bogus mean deliberately fake? Did happily mean willingly? To Simon, it meant incompetent and dishonest: he cited claims by chiropractors of treating colic, asthma and other chronic illnesses with no scientific evidence to back these claims up. During the preliminary hearing, it appeared that an opinion ruling was easier to defend than a justification of fact or scientific evidence; when Simon’s statement was ruled to be a statement of fact and required Simon to prove dishonesty by the BCA, he seriously considered giving up the case. When the case finally went to appeal (at the third attempt, two years after the article was published), they finally agreed with Simon’s defence. It was the opinion of the three judges that if you are criticising
a conclusion in a science article, it should be assumed it is a matter of opinion. Unfortunately, this decision was not binding and has yet to be tested, as the existing case law is still fuzzy. While this was a victory for Simon, he lost over a year of his life and financially it was a disaster. So why is this relevant to all of us? Essentially we are all publishers now and is especially worrying for bloggers. What do you do if you receive a threatening letter? Sense About Science provides an advice guide, but you should always obtain legal advice. Due to the prohibitive cost of libel actions (anywhere from $200,000 to $1m) and the difficulty of obtaining Legal Aid, it is sad that withdrawing the article from the public domain may be the easiest thing to do. Simon finished the session by summarising the latest libel reform work with the draft Defamation Bill that was published in March 2011. We need new libel laws, but the balance has to be fair, serving both journalists and the general public. We must ask why the cost of defending a libel case in England is 140 times the European average and why 90% of cases are won by the claimant. The draft Bill is a good start, but needs to go further. There needs to be a stronger public interest defence (especially beyond investigative journalism to blogging, etc), as well as a notion of “substantial and serious” if you write something that is in the public interest and you were careful but made a genuine mistake, you should not have to receive the ultimate punishment. Libel tourism is an increasingly common problem, with individuals and organisations with little apparent ties to the UK using this jurisdiction to silence their critics. The changing mode of publication in the digital age also needs to be considered: as it stands, every single download or viewing of a web article refreshes the one year defamation window. Furthermore, from a scientist’s perspective, it is important that peer reviewed research should also come under qualified privilege. We should all be concerned about the libel laws and Simon and Sile finished the session by urging us to feedback during the Bill’s scrutiny period, as well as supporting the Libel Reform campaign. Please support the Libel Reform campaign and sign the national petition: http://libelreform.org/
The (frightening) reverse burden of proof of the current libel laws - guilty until you can prove yourself correct (innocent)! #SCC2011
evaluation: asking the tricky questions Summary by Bella Williams, Understanding Animal Research
Mark Dyball, People, Science and Policy Diane Warburton, Shared Practice; Sciencewise-ERC Laura Grant, Laura Grant Associates Chair: Karen Bultitude, University of the West of England Three evaluators gave a presentation outlining what they consider to be the ‘tricky questions’ they face when evaluating projects. Following the presentations and comments from the floor, session participants were asked to break out into groups of around 12 people for discussion around some of the key themes and to consider how they might apply some of these ideas to their own work. Mark Dyball gave a presentation focusing on assessing the impact of science communication on policy. He emphasised that ‘policy makers’ can be any people with the power to make decisions and set policy within their organisations (not just government). These policy makers are influenced by a combination of evidence, dogma and belief. Dyball told the session that science communication could have an impact on policy, but will only ever be one factor among many. Research-based dialogue projects were cited as an example of an attempt by policy makers to underpin decision making with evidence from different sources. Dyball also told the session that less discursive science communication projects have the potential to affect science policy (perhaps termed promoting policy-makers understanding of science).
Evaluation - think about what success looks like from the start as well as how to evaluate #SCC2011
Evaluation of communication is important because it gives an understanding of audiences, activities that work and who the effective communicators are. This in turn can influence those who work in science communication policy. We can only know whether we have had an influence on people by researching it, and Dyball gave examples of methods used in policy evaluation, such as document trails, interviews and observation of relevant events. He concluded that if the project aims to influence policy, then a policy-focused evaluation would be worthwhile, but in many cases it may not be. The most important people to influence are those who commission evaluations, as these people have the potential to bring about change within the science communication arena, and urged that when project managers request evaluations they should ensure that they use them. Diane Warburton introduced Sciencewise; a government programme funded by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) to help policy makers understand and use public dialogue on policy issues around science and technology. She focused on a method for looking at the value for money delivered by a project: Sciencewise has looked at many existing ways of calculating value but found that they tended to be too complex, too detailed and placed emphasis on monetising value. They found that different audiences perceive value differently: policy makers value evidence, while the public value learning and being listened to. Experts value direct contact with the public and developing new skills. Using appropriate elements of some existing approaches, Sciencewise has developed a framework based on assessing four different types of impacts: on policy and policy making, on policy makers, on public participants and on scientists and others involved.
A variety of questions examined costs (including budget, value for money and reducing monetary costs) and Diane concluded that evidence of value is vital but that numbers can be hard to pin down, and different types of evidence are needed for different audiences. Laura Grant finished with a presentation on long term impact. The key problems associated with this work were that tracking people can be difficult, that impacts diminish over time, other factors have time to intervene and securing funding can be difficult as most projects are funded for a short period. These ideas were examined using examples from her own work, principally the evaluation of the Royal Academy of Engineeringâ€™s Ingenious grants scheme. This evaluation explored outcomes on engineers and on the public engagement community over two years. Grant emphasised that for long term evaluation it is really important to understand what â€˜success looks likeâ€™ for the project: in the case of Ingenious the intended long-term outcomes were for engineers and the public engagement community, rather than members of the public. Building relationships with participants is also really important, as it helps to ensure people are interested enough to respond after time, and the difficulty of collecting contact details should not be overlooked. In conclusion, participants were asked to consider how to clarify and identify the impact of their interventions, and importantly, to consider who would be prepared to pay for the study.
i’m a scientist, get me out of here! Summary by Blanka Sengerova, University of Oxford
Shane McCracken, Gallomanor Communications Sophia Collins, Gallomanor Communications Dan Hannard, Physics Teacher, Woodkirk High Specialist Science School Chair: Anthony Tomei, Nuffield Foundation How do you begin to engage one of the most challenging audiences, school children, and get them to take an interest in science? I’m a Scientist, get me out of here! may be one of the options, as panellists Shane McCracken and Sophia Collins of Gallomanor Communications and Dan Hannard, a Leedsbased physics teacher, introduced the project during this interactive workshop. Firstly, what is I’m a Scientist...? In a video outlining the scheme an excited pupil explained that scientists, ranging from graduate students through to professors, are linked up with classes of school students ranging from Year 7 though to Year 12. The two groups interact online, with students able to ask the scientists any question they like. This is something completely new to the students as in most lessons they are the ones asked questions, not the ones to set them. Scientists do not have to travel anywhere because they can answer questions from their own computer screen and in their own time.
#SCC2011 #imascientist engages pupils - not only through chat with scientists but also through talking about science with each other Additionally, there are live chats, where scientists and students are scheduled to be online at the same time and the messaging can occur in real time. The panel gave workshop participants a taste of what a live chat session would feel like by linking up to three past scientist participants, one in the Antarctic, another in the jungle and yet another in an industrial research lab, and allowing members of the audience to ask them not only about the experience of taking part in I’m a Scientist..., but about pretty much anything else. “Why is the sky blue?” and “What’s it like to type in mittens?” were amongst the many questions raised. This exchange felt rather chaotic at times, but it cleverly brought across the excitement and interactivity of the communication form and how it must feel to the students. After the questions have been answered, both in live chats and in longer question formats, the students vote to decide which scientists get to leave the event and which stay on. Some people may deride this reality television audience-voting style of decision making, but this is a format that the current school students are familiar with so it puts science learning into the context of something they can easily relate to. Once again, it is entirely up to the pupils to decide who stays, empowering them and engaging them through the interactive nature of the scheme.
Dan Hannard, involved with the project since its inception, gave a very enthusiastic address. He likened science communicators to the mouthpiece of science and teachers to the receiver, arguing that sometimes communication between the two can be quite disconnected. I’m a Scientist…, in his eyes, is a great way of connecting these two groups. The added advantage is that it engages pupils, but not at the expense of dumbing down the science. It wasn’t just the usual suspects that were coming up with questions for the scientists; in the online environment the usually quiet and subdued students at the back of the class were suddenly asking well-argued questions, giving a voice to those who at other times feel too intimidated to speak. Importantly, the project worked with all abilities, from those aiming at Oxbridge university places to those who were doing vocational courses and would not be continuing their academic studies. The question was raised whether the students would not go for rather superficial qualities when voting out scientists, such as whether they are good looking, they come from a particular background, or their project sounds cool just because they’re based at the space station. Hannard, however, argued that in his experience the pupils cut through these superficial qualities very effectively, concentrating on whether or not the scientist was a good communicator, how significant their contribution was and similar criteria. I’m a Scientist… is a very popular scheme and is going from strength to strength. Follow-up schemes like “I’m an Engineer, get me out of here!” and “I’m a Scientist, decipher my data!” are already in development. #SCC2011 #imascientist not about recruiting new scientists but supply kids, future decision makers/voters, with understanding of science
democratising technology Summary by Mark Sergeant, Nottingham Trent University
Ian Simmons, The Centre for Life Cory Doctorow, Technology Writer /Blogger/ Novelist/Open Source Activist Georgina Voss, UCL Chair: Natalie Ireland, Manchester Science Festival The central theme of the session was whether or not technology actually democratises us; whether technology makes us more or less free. This is a poignant question given the use of social media applications to organise activities during the recent political unrest across the Middle East. Cory Doctorow pointed out that technology encourages freedom by lowering co-ordination costs; is makes it easier to organise individuals into a group with a specific goal. Before the days of the internet organising groups was laborious, requiring activities such as the distribution of fliers and forming of mailing lists. As the formation of groups can now be accomplished very quickly through social networking, it gives a group additional time to spend working towards their goals. Keeping an online record of group activities will also build up an archive of information outlining how to deal with specific issues and problems that even novices can effectively utilise. This has also created a role for information curators, who organise data from various sources to create a coherent narrative (think along the lines of adding hyperlinks to Wikipedia). Technology can also be used to increase ‘crypto’ (cryptography); specific terms that allow group members to create messages that can’t easily be interpreted by those in power or those who work against the goals of the group. This has improved the ability of individuals and groups to keep secrets.
Ian Simmons began his talk by stating that companies at school engagement events tend to promote science as a career choice rather than actively promoting scientific knowledge in itself. Simmons suggested that instead, engagement events should focus on getting people interested in science as a subject or area of knowledge. Science and technology has now become a lifestyle choice. An excellent example of this is maker communities, who create technology purely for the enjoyment of doing so. Events organised by makers tend to be extremely popular with the general public, particularly in the US although they are spreading in Europe. There are a lot of interesting things at these events ranging from motorised skateboards to jet powered carousel rides. Interestingly most science communication groups and organisations donâ€™t really acknowledge or engage with these groups. There currently exists a huge opportunity to engage with makers and communitybased scientists. Georgina Voss continued this discussion of makers by pointing out that they often become successful entrepreneurs. Examples of which include the first wireless operators who formed clubs to enjoy being radio operators and extreme sports enthusiasts who began to design and make their own equipment. These groups typically develop privately and are usually not immediately concerned with financial gain. Instead they make things for reasons such as expressing their creativity, socialising or the development of a group identity. Making is a complex process; a creative experience, time-consuming and with possible entrepreneurial applications. Interestingly, maker communities also tend to be fairly gender-balanced.
#scc2011 great talk from @doctorow on the power of the Internet to inform and coordinate.
Following these insightful presentations the audience took part in a hands-on activity; making LED throwies. These are small battery powered LED lights fixed to a tiny magnet. These throwies can then be stuck to metallic objects to brighten them up; a good example would be using throwies to illuminate a dull public sculpture made of metal. In a concluding Q&A session, the issue of maker communities was further explored. Makers summon up the idea of crazy inventors working in their sheds; a possibly stereotypical depiction of a scientist or inventor that mainstream science is, to some degree, trying to distance itself from. Nevertheless, creating technology is all about imagination, innovation and problemsolving. You also produce a concrete end product. Mainstream science, on the other hand, is more focused on publishing findings in peer-reviewed journals, particularly for scientists working in an academic environment. Lots of makers, however, really want to understand the basic science behind what theyâ€™re doing. There is quite a bit of cross-over between making and academic communities; makers can drive innovation in scientists, while scientists can improve efficiency and refine ideas among makers. A true opportunity for a beneficial collaboration.
Science is becoming more of lifestyle choice e.g. Makers Faire #scc2011
talking about e-science in a virtual world
Summary by Nayyera Aslam, University of Teesside
Olivier Battini, Virtus, NewWorldGrid Jacqui Hayes, iSGTW Editor, CERN Facilitator: Catherine Gater, EGI.eu How can you effectively engage policy makers, scientists and the general public? Europeâ€™s e-infrastructures support scientists tackling some of the greatest challenges that face us today. One of the biggest of these challenges is communicating e-science across European and international borders. In this session, discussions took place on e-science and online engagement, addressing key issues facing science communicators in the UK and highlighting latest releases of new innovative online communication tools. e-ScienceTalk is a communications project funded by the European Commission (EC) that brings the success stories of Europeâ€™s e-infrastructure to policy makers in government and business, to the scientific community and the general public. Over the past 10 years, the EC and European governments have invested substantial funds in scientific grid computing. Scientists have access to state-of-the-art computational and data resources located around the world, putting European research into a leading position to address key issues such as climate change, pandemic diseases and sustainable energy. The e-ScienceTalk project coordinates the dissemination outputs of European e-Infrastructure projects such as the European Grid Infrastructure (EGI) and others, ensuring their results and influence are reported in print and online using tools including blogs, websites, forums, twitter, videos and electronic magazines.
The GridCafé website was launched by CERN in 2003, to provide a broad and balanced introduction to grid technology. The goal is to inform, rather than to convert the uninitiated, and so critical viewpoints are included alongside optimistic scenarios. Building on the award winning GridCafe website, the team at e-ScienceTalk have recently launched a new e-ScienceCity that is located on a virtual island. This innovative virtual venue has been dedicated to e-science and e-learning. Founder of Virtus, Olivier Battini believes the virtual city will bring many unique benefits for online engagement. GridGuide provides an innovative introduction to the sites and sights that contribute to global grid computing, a technology that connects computers from around the world to create a powerful, shared resource for tackling complex scientific problems. The GridGuide website allows visitors to explore an interactive map of the world, visiting a sample of the thousands of scientific institutes involved in grid computing projects. Aiming to show “the human face of grid computing,” the GridGuide was developed to demonstrate the global reach and variety of grid computing, in terms of the countries and organisations involved, and the scientists and engineers who work to make it happen. Grid computing is more than just a technology: it provides capacity for all-new forms of e-science, allows researchers from all over the world to work together, and fuels the research that is bringing us advances in medicine, clean fuels, high energy physics and more. The GridCast blog explores novel web technologies as well as integrating closely with GridPP’s Real Time Monitor to combine live views of grid activity with the human aspects of computing.
International Science Grid This Week (ISGTW) is also part of the e-ScienceTalk project. This free weekly on-line publication aims to highlight the importance of grid computing, cloud computing, distributed computing and high-performance computing by sharing stories of science and scientific discoveries in a variety of disciplines including physics, biology, sociology, earth sciences, medicine and disaster management. Now reaching mass audiences and with exciting interactive features and user generated content, the newsletter reports about the people and projects involved in these fields and how these types of computing technologies are being applied to make advances in the scientific field. Users are able to host a profile and blog and can also use the site to disseminate announcements and information about events and network with colleagues. e-sciencecity on screen. Will virtual worlds be useful for science communication and public engagement?
working with policy makers Summary by Kristine Hill, Cardiff University
Alaster Smith, Government Office for Science Chris Tyler, Centre for Science Policy Hilary Leevers, Campaign for Science and Engineering in the UK Chair: Jack Stilgoe, Royal Society Alaster Smith emphasised the importance of considering how science is used in government. The government is not just about rational decision-making, it operates in an ideological space and it makes political decisions. â€œScience is consumed in government â€“ it is not driving governmentâ€?, and although science provides the facts it does not provide the decision framework. Drawing on the examples of swine flu and volcanic ash, Smith highlighted that although science is critical to understanding the problem, the questions that challenge policy-makers are often not scientific in themselves. One of the characteristics of government is that it makes contingent decisions, for example the government questions on climate change are not about the hard science, but about human systems and how best to navigate through a problem as it is posed. In government there are processes by which solutions are generated, people are called upon and evidence is drawn from. However, solutions are often constrained by ideology (i.e. differing perspectives) and therefore implementation options are limited in practice. Hilary Leevers spoke on behalf of the advocate organisation for UK science and engineering. The main areas CASE works on concern improving policy on science education, obtaining more research funding, and advocating the best use of scientific advice by government.
CASE recently worked on the ‘Science is Vital’ campaign leading up to the spending review, the general election last year, and the devolved elections this year. Part of this entailed getting policy commitments from the politicians and ensuring people knew what these commitments were. CASE was also instrumental in securing the maintenance of visa provisions for non-EU scientists. CASE advocates high quality scientific advice to be available to government and have consistently asked for a chief scientific advisor in every department. Possible ways one can work with policy-makers include working with CASE or other organisations, directly inputting in to government processes or working through political parties. Politicians are constantly drawing upon personal examples and it can be very salient and useful for them to have individual input. Leevers concluded her presentation by requesting science communicators think about including messages about the importance of science policy. For example, in press releases mention how public funding was so important and how beneficial it will be in the long run. Chris Tyler discussed science and policy from the perspective of someone sitting between the two. When communicating science to a politician it is important to remember that they have loyalties to their political party and their constituencies to consider. Furthermore, policy-makers are inherently risk adverse because negative outcomes of policy decisions are highly detrimental to the career of a civil servant. From the outside, academia can appear rather haphazard, and it is not easy for policy-makers to determine where to go to for the best evidence. What bodies like the Cambridge Centre for Sense, Science and Policy and the Royal Society do is endeavour to bridge some of these gaps. The real take home message was that there needs to be an onus on scientists on getting out there and communicating with policy-makers.
Tyler listed eight points to help scientists’ engagement:
1. Advise on science and evidence, but don’t leap straight into policy headfirst 2. Keep caveats to a minimum 3. Don’t be all doom and gloom 4. Be brief. Policy-makers are always short of time and if you cannot get your point across in 10 minutes you are not being brief enough 5. Avoid jargon 6. Face-to-face meetings are the best. It is important to communicate in a way that makes sense to policy-makers. Send a very short briefing prior to the meeting and follow up with an email outlining future opportunities 7. Narrative is important, so try to frame things in the context of a story for maximum impact 8. Don’t assume that policy-makers don’t know anything. For example, a policy-maker who is working on energy will have read diligently in that field.
During the discussion a question was raised regarding the purpose and value of a chief scientific adviser. If the job entails ensuring the best evidence and expertise is being drawn upon, then why does this position need to be held by a scientist rather than an economist, or is science a particular voice that should be privileged above others? In response it was pointed out that as a discipline, science, compared to law, economics, and other professions, is not well represented. Therefore science is underrepresented in the decision-making arena, yet the treasury is ultimately making decisions about science funding. Another question concerned how science could be better involved in government. To the final question “is the future bright for science policy?” all guest speakers agreed in one way or another that yes the future was bright for science policy.
Henson, Wellcome Trust using games to explain Martha Kim Blake, Blitz Games Studios science, using science Chair: Sue Nelson, Boffin Media to create games Summary by David Robertson, Imperial College London
Computer games are big business, and science should ignore them at its peril. Two speakers, from very different areas of the gaming industry, made the case for science and science communication to actively engage with games, at both technical and creative levels. Martha Henson, Multimedia Editor at the Wellcome Trust and games producer, explained that games can educate, engage and create space for experimentation and research, as well as being fun. Henson has been developing small, online-playable games with a scientific or educational component, and she explained that online games reach a very broad audience, far beyond the stereotypical male teenage gamer. There’s a range of different approaches to deploying science in games, from games with a scientific flavour or principles, such as Launchball, to those with more overt science themes, such as Pandemic 2, and others that are outright research, like Foldit. Games in general, such as poker, also teach us about risk and probability. We must learn how the rules work and apply them by taking action strategically to do well in games: science is, at its heart, a similar process, but with the aim of understanding reality rather than ‘winning’. Henson pointed out the surprising, and encouraging, success of Foldit as one of the best examples of a science game. In the game, users are trained to manipulate 3D shapes of ‘proteins’. The representations in the game are tied to real scientific data, and harness the ability of the human mind to solve complex puzzles in ways that are different to computer models.
The game enabled an online community to grow, crowdsourcing solutions to tricky problems and producing a relatively small but very highly skilled group of experts in protein structure. Such a model for building expertise relevant to real scientific research is innovative and rare, and speaks to the potential power of harnessing games for science and science communication. The second speaker, Kim Blake of Blitz Games Studios, approached the session from a very different perspective. The computer game industry requires programmers and designers with strong maths and physics backgrounds. While physics in games is different from reality, creating today’s ever more complex virtual environments is technically challenging and draws on a wide range of skills. Despite this, Blake said, there is a discrepancy between what the gaming industry needs and the current level of tertiary training. Many maths, physics and computer science graduates, and even teachers and students at secondary school level, are unaware of the recruitment demands and pathways available in the game industry. The skills are complementary to, or even fall within, classic Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) disciplines, but there is a common misconception that Information and Communications Technology (ICT) studies is the best pathway to take to enter the industry. The reason STEM skills are needed, Blake argued, is that ICT trains students to use software and code, but not to be creative and make things from the ground up. The fundamental approach of science is creative and ideas-based, which is more valuable when innovating and devising games and game engines. What is needed, amongst other approaches is greater awareness of the existing Skillset accreditation system for games-related courses, to ensure the gap between the industry’s needs and the actual courses available is closed.
Ultimately, Blake said, what is needed is for a coalition of interested parties to build capacity for excellence in computer game design. Science communicators have a role, in making the role of STEM in such a major industry more clear and accessible to the public. A perceived division between the technical skills (programming, maths) and the creative skills (art and aesthetics) is hindering the industry and needs to be addressed. Science actually spans this divide if taught well. STEAM is the way forward. The question and answer session was broad-ranging and touched on issues from the technical to the ideological. One early question cast doubt on the ability of games with a scientific theme to actually communicate something meaningful. After all, once game mechanics are learned, the ‘flavour’ can fall away as the player just attempts to complete objectives. Henson acknowledged this, but pointed out that no game will be right for every audience. For any game, the audience and objectives must be considered, and any educational/scientific component must be judged against these. There’s no point having brilliant science if the game fails as a game. After some discussions of the difficulty of getting more women involved in game programming, the session concluded with a return to the broad question: can games really be genuine learning tools? Henson thinks it’s possible, but at different degrees. Small, online games have a casual audience, but are cheap and have broad reach. Any game requires learning, and therefore has scope to include science communication. Blake said that ‘serious games’ is a concept which could be sold much more successfully, and needs to escape the stigma of badly designed educational games. “Foldit”: Protein folding game. Tests genuine scientific hypothesis - human strategy would be better than computer #SCC2011
diversifying your audience Summary by Monique Tsang, ARCHIVE
Audrey Cameron, University of Edinburgh Gary Quinn, Heriot Watt University Tracey Letts, Science Museum Chair: Dom McDonald, Science Oxford This session aimed to address how to diversify your audience. Session chair Dominic McDonald, drawing on his experience organising public science events at Science Oxford, acknowledged that science communicators have been trying to reach many different audiences, but they often end up only reaching people from well educated, middle class backgrounds. This session explored how science communicators could access other groups. How would you talk about thermodynamics when there are no words for ‘exothermic reaction’ in your language? This is a problem that Audrey Cameron and Gary Quinn have been trying to solve for the deaf community to aid deaf and hardof-hearing students studying science. Many deaf learners use British Sign Language (BSL) to communicate, yet the 700 or so signs used for scientific terms are only enough for communicating science up to GCSE level; there just aren’t enough signs for higher levels of study. Cameron and Quinn’s solution: if there’s no way of saying something, then you’ve got to invent it. Cameron and Quinn are part of a team at the Scottish Sensory Centre in Edinburgh which is working to make science learning accessible to the deaf. Diversifying audiences: Did you know there were no actions in sign language for science terms? Until now thanks to the SSC #SCC2011
Since the BSL Science Glossary project started in 2007, it has developed many new BSL signs for chemistry, physics and biology. The signs, searchable on the Centre’s website, are shown in video format in BSL and their definitions in both BSL and written English. Since the launch of the glossaries the team has promoted them in schools, at British Science Association shows, conferences and workshops. The BSL Science Glossary team are filming video clips that explain laboratory experiments in sign language to learners. Teachers of deaf students may be poor at signing, and students may feel embarrassed to ask teachers to repeat something when it is unclear. To prevent this from disadvantaging deaf students during exams, the BSL glossary team don’t rely on the teachers to act as BSL interpreters, but instead are working on producing video recordings of the exam questions in BSL. During exams students will be able to click on the video for each question so they can go over the questions as and when they like. Students will hopefully also have the option to sign their answers for these to be video-recorded and assessed by the examiner. This year, Cameron and Quinn’s team are developing a glossary for physics and engineering with the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Royal Society, the Institute of Physics and the Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine. On how to better engage with deaf people, they offered the following tips: Be visual; this is often the only way that the deaf can take in information. Find out which mode of communication the deaf person prefers, whether it is through an interpreter or lip-reading. Allow time for a message to be translated and put across. Also consider including sign language in podcasts. For many of us, going to the museum with our parents is a fond childhood memory. But for kids whose parents are in prison, museum visits could be out of the question. At London’s Science Museum, Tracey Letts and her outreach team figured out a way:
if the family cannot go on a visit, then why not bring the museum to them? The team came up with two types of events, based on existing museum programmes, for families with a relative in prison. Science Night invited children to sleep in and experience the museum. Families would ordinarily be charged, but in this case children and their carers get to attend for free, and the museum provides all food and funding. The museum also brought science events to prisons. The outreach team hosted family day events in several London prisons such as Slime Time at Brixton and Pentonville prisons, and Kitchen Science at Holloway Prison. The Science Museum team set out to open up access to science, but they achieved a whole lot more. After the event one male inmate, reflecting on how he enjoyed the day, said: “It was good to see my son smile”. For another, it was very informative “I learnt that my daughter can actually read and write”. Similarly, prison officers who were initially only involved in making sure the event ran smoothly, started to help the families do the science. One officer was hopeful that such events could help with inmates’ long-term recovery. The strict security control and regulations in prisons posed a host of logistical challenges. Cameras, computers, memory sticks, and mobile phones were not allowed in, and glass and sharp objects were strictly forbidden. One prison officer was even reluctant to allow slime to be brought in as he feared it could be used by inmates to make keys. To work around these challenges Letts offered some learning points: plan early, work with officers well in advance and be flexible. The Science Museum and the Scottish Sensory Centre have shown how science can successfully widen its access. As Dom McDonald remarked, science communicators can reach new audiences if they are made to feel welcomed and comfortable.
panel discussion: the future of online Summary by David Waldock, The Open University
Vicky Reeves, Chameleon Net Shane McCracken, Gallomanor Communications Chair: Sue Nelson, Boffin Media Social media is here to stay, and whilst people have become very good at selling on the Internet, actually engaging with the public, developing the brand and establishing credibility is very different. Vicky Reeves predicts that the future will be focussing on engaging with diverse audiences, be that social minority groups, different age groups or international groups. Shane McCracken spoke about trends in government and civil society. The Martha Lane Fox Report proposed a single domain for the government so that citizens can find what they’re actually looking for rather than trawling through a lot of information irrelevant to their query. Alpha.gov.uk is the result of an intensive development project focussing not only on information ‘findability’, but also on exposing data so that it can be consumed in mash-ups and other applications. For example, local governments have to publish details of any spend over £500, and the progressive councils are using XML (a format computers can use to convey data to other computers) to expose the information. This is being exploited by Openly Local to hold councils to account for their spending. The issue of internet searches was also discussed; Google and Facebook are currently engaged in a face-off because of hidden content on Facebook which you can only access if you are a member (and which is therefore invisible to the Google search engine). Google have introduced Plus One to capture the social dynamic of the Facebook ‘Like’ button.
Mistakes people make online: they jump in feet first. Need to have strategy, find your audience & ease in #SCC2011
It’s vital to ensure that your information is findable, and if you want to publish data then publish it: the BBC’s blog syndication (RSS) feeds only include the first paragraph of stories, which will limit the amount of people who will read the full content. The main error people make when moving into social media is to jump in with both feet, starting with the premise “we need to do some online engagement”, but without identifying objectives or understanding their audience. For example, Barnado’s advert in 2009 caused some controversy by people who were upset at seeing the effects of child abuse. However, instead of wading in and defending the advert to all and sundry, Barnado’s held back, listened to the contributions from different people and were able to post an appropriate response from an individual within the organisation. In contrast, when developing their website, the BBC’s online editor lost thousands of hits by responding in a way that appeared to alienate the audience. By ensuring you have a clear set of objectives, you can focus on the message you are intending to convey and the audience you want to hear it. Daniel Glaser outlined some of the work being done by Wellcome Trust in the online world. All papers produced as a result of Wellcome grants now have to be placed into a public repository so anyone can access the information generated. Wellcome are also looking at how to ensure accreditation of work by using a system which manages the identities of researchers, even where there are name collisions. Wellcome Trust also found it difficult to write the blog post in which they celebrated 10 years of the Human Genome Project (HGP). There was plenty to write about, but the outcome and benefits of the HGP are still unrealised, the genome being more complex than originally thought. Glaser also highlighted the decision taken by Cancer Research UK (CRUK) which showed that one of the first places that people go for information about cancer is Wikipedia. CRUK therefore decided to commit resource time to maintaining the accuracy of relevant Wikipedia pages.
Wellcome aren’t sure if the time investment needed to maintain personal profiles on all of the available networks has a good return on investment, and they’re not sure how to exploit the existing networks to their maximum potential, or whether they should build their own. Reeves pointed out that 5 years ago she’d probably have advised developing their own network, but now expectations for social networks are so high that the investment isn’t worth it. She recommended that people engage with people where they are (i.e. Facebook), and that this is part of the “never leave Facebook” strategy. In addition, Reeves said there was talk of developing a single sign-on identity which would allow a single profile to be managed across multiple social networks simultaneously. Regarding tweeting, Fiona Fox, Science Media Centre, said she felt like a rabbit in the headlights; that she must tweet. She likened this to the Today programme’s message boards: they were excited when they started, but soon nobody had the time and it rapidly became an echo chamber for one or two contributors. She asked “What two things should we do before diving in?” Reeves stressed the importance of firstly identifying why you’re doing it, and secondly how you’re going to measure its success. Reeves also stressed the importance of ensuring that if it’s someone’s job to manage online media that they are given the time to do the job; just because the tool is free doesn’t mean there are no time implications. An alternative to being on Twitter all day is to schedule tweets to go out periodically, and then to monitor Twitter to engage in conversations. Whilst Twitter may run its course, social media as a concept will continue, whatever its new format is. McCracken summed this up as “listen first, talk second”. The Research Information Network highlighted the availability of their report on using social media effectively, and asked about the idea and benefits of sharing data using an open access model, particularly when raw data is not usable, so it would have to be published as a translation or interpretation. They also asked about trust and attribution issues around such sharing. McCracken pointed out that trust increases with openness, and that a Creative Commons licence requires attribution if the data is reused.
Summary by Heather Doran, University of Aberdeen
Martin Austwick, Bright Club podcast, Answer me This! podcast Frank Dondelinger, EUSci podcast Elizabeth Hauke, Short Science podcast Ben Valsler, Naked Scientists broadcast and podcast Martin Austwick began this session by talking through the ‘what and why’ of podcasting. He explained that podcasts classically were speech-based, in an mp3 format, downloaded from iTunes and described as ‘regular on demand internet radio’. Podcasts now can incorporate video, are not necessarily in an mp3 format, can be hosted on YouTube, live streamed and can be available through apps. Updates can also be given through RSS/XML feeds which instantly update listeners when new material is available. Ben Valsler talked about the purpose of podcasting. Valsler’s view was that podcasting can extend your audience reach, leave a legacy of innovation and can provide a method of support for individuals and organisations. A podcast can reach a worldwide audience which radio programmes or events alone cannot. His legacy is that there are over 1000 podcasts on thenakedscientists.com and these form a reference archive of different topics, guests and questions. Podcasts can be treated as part of a suite of material alongside social networking, stage shows and printed press.
Elizabeth Hauke spoke about the ‘5 Ps of podcasting’; Planning, Presenting, Production, Processing and Promotion. Podcasts should be well planned and follow a regular format (like a magazine) to allow listeners to find and listen to the features they consistently enjoy. Podcasts need a strong host and presenting presence. Podcast production is easy, there is plenty of information on the internet to support podcasters and their editing. Frank Dondelinger spoke about collaborative podcasting. How do you manage a podcast with many different presenters and collaborators? The key is to have one host who leads the podcast, and it’s useful to use Google groups to discuss the script between the different podcasters before recording the podcasts. You also need a very good producer to organise all the contributors! In the question and answer session, it was asked ‘who is paying for the podcasting?’ Elizabeth’s ‘Short Science’ podcast is free, and her tip was to beg, steal and borrow equipment for the podcast whenever possible. Frank said the team at EUSci had taken advantage of science communication grants to buy their equipment. Ben added that funding streams are open to funding part of a package that can cover different aspects of science (such as a podcast) but finding funding can be very difficult and it is very time consuming to apply for. The next question was is there a ‘podcasting guide for dummies?’ and ‘what are the rules for using music’? Boffin Media was suggested as an excellent resource for potential podcasters, and there is also free editing software available on the internet. The podcasters also commented on location, suggesting that would-be podcasters avoid anywhere that has a persistent echo and intermittent background noise. One handy tip was that you can stand in front of a curtain (or underneath a duvet) to create the right environment for recording.
A performing rights licence is also a handy thing to have, as well as not too expensive, allowing you to play some music. The discussion moved on to the frequency of podcasting. Valsler suggested that a podcast that doesn’t upload regular content is not a podcast and is just online audio. You need the regularity of the podcast to build up an audience of subscribers. If you post podcasts less regularly you would need to promote the podcast each time it is launched. So if you launched a new podcast, how would you promote it and get it ‘out there’? Suggestions included using word of mouth, and building a Facebook page and email list; it is helpful to have everything linked to one place on a website. Austwick shared a story of how Answer Me This podcast team took a trip to Luxemburg on a quest to get their podcast into the Luxembourg iTunes (Luxembourg is the smallest country with its own iTunes chart). They managed to get onto the podcasting front page on iTunes in the UK (after leaving a present of chocolates at Apple HQ!). Other important points and views that were raised about podcasting included, for areas of the world where the majority of people access the internet via a mobile phone, smaller file sizes are needed to allow them to download podcasts. The best way of doing interviews where the person is not in the same location is via Skype. Seeing series of podcasts as a suite of educational resources, and potentially a legacy #podcasts #SCC2011
the tyranny of the web
Summary by Helen Czerski, University of Southampton
Jonathan Sanderson, StoryCog Ltd. Pippa Hyam, Dialogue by Design Ed Yong, Not Exactly Rocket Science Chair: Sue Hordijenko, British Science Association What goes wrong with online communication, why does it go wrong and how can those mistakes be prevented in the future? These questions were answered by the three panellists followed by a general debate based on audience questions. The session started with a straw poll to find the approximate proportion of the audience who use online media for various purposes. Almost everybody said that they use the internet for personal interactions, but very few had used online methods of engaging in debates or feeding back into consultations. Only a couple of people in the audience had an example of online engagement being a mistake, and the problems raised were possibly the result of personal vilification and the amount of work required to maintain a successful website. Pippa Hyamâ€™s approach is to consider questions that need to be faced when engaging through online media. Do you want or need to control the conversation? If a conversation is held by anonymous people, is the value of that conversation diminished? How prepared are you to be influenced by online conversations? And how much is our willingness to listen to people related to how much we agree with them? Hyam summed up her comments by saying that the real question is whether online media can promote a culture of dialogue and whether our culture is ready for the paradigm shift that would entail.
Ed Yong distinguished between problems with online tools and problems with the tool users. Yong highlighted “tool” problems such as the skewed demographic of the people who are online, and the fact that internet-related media look deceptively easy to produce. Yong’s example of a “tool user” problem is the inability of users to critically evaluate the methods available: “People stumble through the web like drunken magpies, looking at all the shiny tools”. Jonathan Sanderson discussed the project management difficulties of online media. If web tools are not built properly from the start, they may fail when they become popular if the prototype infrastructure is unable to cope. In addition, it is crucial to be specific about whom your audience is; when will they be listening, what other media do they watch and what’s the competition for their time? Describing your audience as “interested general public” is just not good enough anymore. Sanderson’s final point was that if you’re making anything worthwhile, someone will object to it (using the example of the “dislike” button on popular youtube videos). Accepting such criticism is an important part of putting material online. The debate that followed focused on the responsibilities of people who put material online and how to succeed with online projects. The panel’s consensus was that if you open the route to a conversation, by posting something on a specific webpage for example, you have a responsibility to take part in any ensuing conversation. If material is reposted to a new forum by someone else, you are not necessarily obliged to take part in that discussion. The panel answered questions about generating online communities by agreeing that genuine communities are formed from individuals who want to be in contact with each other. This means that it’s not possible to generate communities from using a top-down approach.
Furthermore, if you want people to visit your webpage, there must be high quality content which is updated regularly. You can’t tell people to form a community, but you can be ready to provide the required forum when a grass roots discussion starts. An example given was for the Wellcome Trust to be ready to host discussions about personal genome data, when that data becomes more widely available. The session closed with the panel’s opinions on the unique limitations of online media. Most problems with online communication are more general problems of communication, but online media raise some new questions. For example, how do you deal with misinterpretations coming from the lack of body language in online forums? How do you balance the need for anonymity among people who want to draw attention to problems with the tendency for anonymous comments to become snide? How do you divide your online presence between the personal and the private? Overall, the session message was that the problems of online communication are very dependent on exactly what an organisation or individual wants from their online presence. There are no easy answers to many of the questions posed during the session, but considering them before starting an online project could help prevent later problems.
Yong: Social media blends personal and professional, better for science communication as science explained by real people #SCC2011
Jack Stilgoe, Royal Society growing concern: David Baulcombe, Trinity College Cambridge Andrew Wadge, Food Standards Agency engaging the public Chair: Fiona Fox, Science Media Centre with issues involving GM Summary by Anne Osterrieder, Oxford Brookes University
In the late 1990s, genetically modified crops were the subject of a public debate which is widely regarded as a failure, with experts, policy makers and the public failing to communicate or understand each otherâ€™s perspectives. Are we doing any better now in engaging the public with GM issues? This session tried to answer this question with a line-up of three excellent speakers. Jack Stilgoe opened his talk with lessons learned from the history of public dialogue on GM crops. In contrast to representation in the media, most people were in fact not completely pro-GM or antiGM. Instead they adapted a more careful attitude, taking into account the complexity of the topic. It became very clear in this session that peopleâ€™s main concerns are the existence and effectiveness of agricultural and political governance and regulatory systems to deal with GM technology. Are appropriate systems in place to assess the potential risks of GM crops to consumers and the environment? What is the impact on agriculture in developing countries? If monopolistic companies are able to not only alter the genome of important crops but also patent these changes, do they gain too much control over the food chain and the food market?
Perceived risks and benefits weighed against each other - we accept risks of mobiles because they are so handy #SCC2011
Stilgoe pointed out that before embarking on any public engagement we first need to ask ourselves: which issue are we trying to engage with? Once we recognise that the public debate about GM is in fact not a scientific but a political debate, we can identify a whole range of issues which all need to be addressed in their own way. David Baulcombe spoke next about the science of GM and highlighted the major challenges we will be facing over the next thirty years. How are we going to provide sustainable food supplies for an increasing population in a changing climate and with limited resources? Plants have not evolved to produce big fruits but to survive and reproduce, and so carry a massive unrealised potential in their genome. By transferring specific genes between plants, we can create new varieties in a targeted way and yet preserve their original characteristics. Baulcombe said: “If we are prepared to think about GM, we can take on grand challenges like improving photosynthesis”. Photosynthesis, the process in which plants convert sunlight to energy, is actually a very inefficient process and scientists know its weak spots. New engineered varieties could be better equipped to deal with droughts and diseases. Perennial crops would have huge benefits, such as eliminating the need for plants to rebuild a whole root system every year. He finished his talk by posing important questions we need to ask ourselves: Will it be possible to feed the world with or without GM and can we do it in a sustainable way? The last speaker was Andrew Wadge, who brought GM into context with other technological advances related to food safety and production. Pasteurised milk for example was at first rejected by many people, although the scientific evidence for its health benefits was sound. Instead, the public’s concerns turned out to be based on morals, ethics and values. There is a clear discrepancy and it raises the question whether evidence-based policies work for a values-based public. A literature review analysing public attitudes on animal cloning, GM foods and nanotechnologies in March 2009 found that
typical responses were: Is it safe? What is in it for me? What is in for “them”? Will it harm the environment? Is it natural? Key issues in the acceptance of new technologies are their perceived risks and benefits, or as Wadge put it: “If I am not benefiting from it, why should I expose myself to any risk, even if it is very small?” A very good example is mobile phone technology. Mobile phones are now an integral part of our society because they are so useful, despite reoccurring fears about cancer risks. Similarly, most people nowadays would not hesitate to use a microwave oven for food preparation. The perception of the benefits of mobile phones and microwaves is overriding the perception of risks associated with exposing yourself or your food to such radiation. Experts agree that there is no substantiated evidence for GM food being harmful to health, or more harmful than its non-GM counterparts. So why does it remain such a controversial topic? A limited understanding of complex science means that the public will make judgements based on their values. People respond emotionally to new technology, even if scientific evidence proves it to be safe. Thus they might intuitively expect more and different safety studies than official risk assessors would deem necessary, such as clinical trials and long-term feeding studies. Following the thoughts of Stilgoe, Wadge suggested that it might be time to approach the GM debate differently: “All this time we had sciencebased assessments, but no value-based assessment of the issues”. Baulcombe added that scientists might often not come across credibly because they are not prepared to be perceived as having values. However, scientists do have views and values about the context in which a technology should be applied, such as making it publicly available in an open source technology framework, supporting small farms and enriching diversity in agriculture. In the GM debate, scientists were often put on the same side as large companies, although in reality they had very little in common. In his words, “science can speak with many voices”. Scientists can legitimately argue for or against different solutions, which leads to a more productive discussion. He also urged scientists to make a case for the benefits and effectiveness of GM - not angrily, but forcefully, because “when you are angry, you can’t think straight”.
the future of public engagement Summary by Alison Cooper, freelance science communicator
Kathy Sykes, University of Bristol Robert Winston, Imperial College London Paul Manners, National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement Current challenges in the process of public engagement with research (including humanities, the arts and social sciences) include finance and embedding research within wider culture and these challenges require brave leadership. Funding, advising government and linking with communities are critical. There is a need to assess impact of science and technology and learn how to use them ‘wisely’. These conclusions emerged during a debate between an audience of science communicators, and panellists Robert Winston, Kathy Sykes and Paul Manners. On the current state of science engagement, Sykes stated that “it’s about helping people make choices and nurturing a more mature relationship between science and society so that people from different backgrounds feel they can join in”. Manners followed this up with a comment that “we need to look at embedding a professional culture which values public involvement. While there has been tremendous progress, there is still a long way to go”. Winston stated that there was a need for organisations to take engagement activities more seriously, and to place them more centrally in their activities. At a government level, Winston stated that “we need to persuade the government to invest in and value science engagement”. Sykes concluded the opening comments by saying that there was a need to support scientists engaging with the public, by helping academics to write proposals and similar activities. The panel agreed on the importance of including the social sciences, arts and humanities in engagement activities. Sykes explained that the definition of science used by the department of Business Innovation and Skills includes all areas of research and that there is a risk of some areas “falling through cracks”.
An increased focus on the social sciences, arts and humanities will be needed to help solve global problems, and that these subjects need more support and encouragement to engage. Winston agreed that less funding for arts and humanities is a “sting in the tail”, finding it “extraordinary that in the UK every office of government has a science adviser, yet not a single social scientist is measuring and valuing impact. If you can’t trust governments to use science wisely we have to make sure we do”. Manners outlined the work of the National Coordinating Centre and the Beacons for Public Engagement (http://www. publicengagement.ac.uk/), exploring how to work with universities, community and cultural organisations to make research more accessible. Winston raised concern about standards and the need for a seamless transition from school education to university and community engagement, “the Russell Group Universities are traditionally seen as elitist and not interested in communities; that is critical and really has to change”. Winston also spoke of a need for greater collaboration with industry; not just aimed at recruiting school leavers as future employees but informing wider society about the science behind their activities. When asked about the effects of the economic downturn on engagement, Manners noted, “where money is tight Universities may be less inclined to take a risk”. Sykes commented that it is hard to be a leader when things are uncertain and it takes a brave leader to say they believe in it…while embedding is a way forward it will be important to stand up to funding panels seeking to cut it.” Sykes discussed the experience of public involvement in governance and decision-making. While this may be perceived as ‘threatening’ and ‘tricky’ by some, her colleagues described inclusion of members of the public in University discussion fora as incredibly useful. Sykes referred to ESRC open meetings as “a brave move to experiment with how to involve public interests in informing research strategies”, and a key lesson from Sciencewise public dialogues is that there needs to be “a real policy decision to make and a policy maker wanting to hear”. Winston concluded this question by stating that the government very much supports public engagement, although the Science Minister, David Willetts, had acknowledged that the
funding cuts are problematic. The onus is very much on scientists to demonstrate that they make a difference. When asked about what academia could do to reward public engagement, Sykes indicated that universities should offer more support for scientists doing public engagement. In the Concordat for Engaging the Public with Research (http://www.rcuk.ac.uk/per/ Pages/Concordat.aspx), funders ask universities to do this. It would also be beneficial for the universities themselves as activities such as the Research Excellence Framework (REF) are starting to recognise and reward the societal impact of research. Winston also stated that many universities are now starting to include public engagement training as part of their training for PhD students. In terms of careers, panellists encouraged those involved with engagement to stay working within the field of science. Winston stated “Two things you can do. The best science communicators have real science expertise, which means the public will trust them. Every PhD supervisor should aim for their students to explain even the most technical studentship in three sentences, this shapes their own thinking”. Sykes then added that people involved in engagement should “network, talk and listen to people; see yourself as an agent of change.” The panel concluded with a focus on the future; Manners: “I am optimistic. How people make sense • Manners: “I am optimistic. How people make sense of of thisthis wayway of working is excitingly unpredictable. It’s really important to to of working is excitingly unpredictable. It’s really important encourage this creativity, andand to encourage people to network their encourage this creativity, to encourage people to network learning, as the Beacons have been doing: it’sdoing: great it’s to see new their learning, as the Beacons have been great to see partnerships and waysand of working for instance between new partnerships ways ofemerging, working emerging, for instance research departments science centres”. between research and departments and science centres”. Sykes: “Mainstreaming is the right direction long • Sykes: “Mainstreaming is the right direction as as long as as wewe don’t don’t rush. Let’s make sure this territory becomes important we rush. Let’s make sure this territory becomes asas important asas we all all believe, believe,ininthe theminds mindsofofothers othersnot notjust justthose thoseininthis thisroom.” room.” • Winston: Winston: “Online is the one most powerful technology that will “Online is the one most powerful technology that affect future. need toneed look at particularly willthe affect theWe future. We to new look technologies, at new technologies, interactive ones,interactive proving they have valuethey andhave reallyvalue work”.and really particularly ones, proving work”.
turning online engagement into empowerment
Ian Brunswick, Science Gallery, Trinity College Dublin Aoife McLysaght, Trinity College Dublin Humphrey Jones, Saint Columba’s College, Dublin Chair: Dom McDonald, Summary by Ceri Harrop, University of Manchester Science Oxford Kick-starting a session which highlighted some great successes and remaining challenges in online engagement, Dom McDonald explained that Science Oxford were using “a lot of social media but in a simple way-essentially to tell people what we’re doing”. Ian Brunswick corroborated this: “A lot of engagement goes one way.” Brunswick expanded this idea by explaining that the current school of thought for engagement is ‘teach or take’. Using social media to ‘teach’ people what an organisation is doing fails to benefit anyone but the organisation. Brunswick emphasised the need to move away from the idea that, “we should just tell people what we’re doing and they’ll love us” and aim for twoway dialogue. That said, Brunswick offered a word of caution with reference to Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg: “You can’t create a community, you can merely give people the tools to create their own.” Brunswick’s own organisation, Science Gallery, edged into social media after noting that their current fans were on Twitter asking why Science Gallery had no presence on Twitter. Science Gallery joined Twitter, primarily to increase their online presence. Twitter proved to be a highly useful forum for questions, discussions and volunteer support, and through back-to-back dialogue, Science Gallery’s online presence grew and grew. Ian remarked, “We were participating in our community’s community.” In doing so, Science Gallery gathered questions and responses from Twitter and used Google Moderator to analyse responses which then fed directly into gallery exhibits.
“We were hunting for an old telephone box to use in one of our exhibitions which turned out to be extremely rare. After months of trying to track one down, it was the public via Twitter that located one for use in just a couple of weeks!” This is just one example of how online engagement led to public empowerment and a mutual benefit for the public and the organisation. The success story of Aoife McLysaght was next on the agenda as she explained how she made the transition from scientist to science communicator: “I came into this as a scientist trying to get involved,” shares McLysaght. “Gradually I realised I had something I wanted to say and wanted to find a way to say it.” McLysaght provided inspiration for anyone wanting to get involved in online science communication. “Go in little steps. I started tweeting about my sandwiches and my science and before long I was asked to contribute to a blog and write for The Irish Times.” McLysaght’s top tips are: make yourself ‘findable’ as this leads to opportunity; volunteer yourself, be it for print or radio and finally propose ideas to venues. The take home message: Make it happen! The final speaker was the science teacher we all wished we’d had at school, Humphrey Jones. In keeping with the conference theme, Jones recalled a tweet he’d seen from the conference: “Want a career in science communication? Become a teacher!” Jones challenged this idea by saying, ‘Teachers communicate facts about science, not science. Students are taught to answer questions, not ask them.” Jones was adamant, “Pupils need to see science as a process, not facts and definitions.” With this in mind, delegates heard about ‘Frog Blog’ which Jones set up with three main aims: to get pupils enthused, to encourage pupils to take control of their science education and to offer pupils a platform to discuss the topics in which they are interested. Jones’ top tips for setting up such a blog are: make it short and snappy; include links to extra stories; cover wide topics with wide variety of media, for example history of science and videos, recommend other good resources, including useful Apps for learning. After starting up the Frog Blog, the audience grew and grew and changed from the 11-18 year olds attending Saint Columba’s College to a much wider audience.
Jones explained how Frog Blog was empowering on many levels: on a personal level, Jones became engaged with a wider public and a whole new community in the science communication community; students became empowered to research their own areas of science and write about them, controlling their own science education. Since the launch of Frog Blog, 90% of students choose at least one science at further education and results improved with 42% of students getting A’s in physics. Although unplanned and unforeseen, the impact and empowerment of Frog Blog was very apparent and led the session seamlessly into group discussion to share our own experiences of using social media for engagement and linking these experiences to what we want people to be able gain from such engagement. In short, experiences of social media were varied in both type and success: blogs were commonplace and in general received reasonable levels of readership. It was noted, however, that delegates often found that people did not ‘talk back’ via blogs or other online communications so gaining feedback was difficult. Online question and answer sessions were another commonly used tool and seem to work well, for example preceding the launch of the Royal Society’s Summer Science Festival as a tool for the public to pitch questions to the scientists during the festival itself. It was highlighted by two of the five discussion groups that this may be a useful tool for public contribution to programming decisions from learning centres, galleries and other organisations. The representative from the Edinburgh Beacon described how they have successfully used LinkedIn to engage with researchers about Bright Club and in doing so have empowered researchers to get involved. In conclusion, making use of the many forms of social media available to engage with and empower the public is certainly a powerful tool and as online media grows even further, so will the contribution of public opinion to shaping everything from exhibition programming to science education and policy.
public attitudes to science Summary by Carla Washbourne, Newcastle University
Marilyn Booth, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills Sarah Castell, Ipsos MORI Jayesh Shah, Ipsos MORI Chair: Laura Grant, Laura Grant Associates Ltd It is an admirable intention to engage the public with science, but can this be done effectively without a detailed awareness of the public’s (or more accurately, publics’) feelings toward this engagement? Can we really speak to the public without knowing their opinions towards scientists and the role that science plays in our lives? To this end, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), and its previous incarnations, have commissioned four research projects at regular intervals over the last ten years to help understand public attitudes to science, scientists and science policy. Public Attitudes to Science (PAS) 2011, conducted by UK-based research agency Ipsos MORI, is the latest of these reports, collating contemporary literature and fieldwork undertaken in the Autumn/Winter 2010/2011. This session focussed in large part on the results of the PAS report, with the speakers guiding the audience through the project’s aims, research methodology and significant findings, as well as asking session participants to assess what the results might mean for their dealings with members of the public.
How do public engage with science and consultation? What do people think about impact of science on society and as a career choice? #SCC2011
The study built on the growing body of literature documenting public perceptions of science, not least the previous PAS reports. Fieldwork took the form of a face-to-face quantitative survey with 2,103 UK adults, as well as deliberative workshops and focus groups spread across the UK in Winter 2010/2011. Analysis of this data produced two main sets of results presented to the conference delegates for discussion; the ‘Key Indicators’ of public attitudes to science and the results of cluster analysis carried out to identify discrete attitudinal ‘clusters’ within the population surveyed. The Key Indicators, presented as a spider chart of eight attitudinal parameters, demonstrate the spread of public opinion across the key areas of: science in daily life, communication of science and public ‘information’ on scientific issues, and issues in understanding specialised concepts and resolving conflicting science information. This portrayed high levels of agreement with statements such as ‘science is such a big part of our lives that we should all take an interest’ (82%), and showed a strong positive perception of the impacts of science on daily life. Many respondents, however, felt that they were uninformed about science research and developments (57%). More discouragingly, large numbers of the people surveyed reported a feeling that science was too specialised for most people to understand (63%) and that conflicting information about science made it difficult to know what to believe (70%). Cluster analysis was used to ‘segment’ the research participants in to six attitudinal groups. These segments group together respondents who tend to have similar attitudes across a range of areas (but not necessarily identical attitudes in each area). The three most engaged segments are Confident Engagers, who were already highly engaged in science and feel sufficiently engaged and informed, Distrustful Engagers, who are highly engaged and informed about science but are less trusting of scientists and science policy makers, and Late Adopters, who tended not to enjoy science at school, but have returned to the subject due to its perceived importance in their daily lives
and policy making. The three least engaged segments are The Concerned, who tend to doubt the intentions of scientists and have reservations about the limitations of science, Disengaged Sceptics, who tend to be put-off or overwhelmed by science and have conservative, trust-based, attitudes towards science regulation and The Indifferent, who do not feel informed about science but do not really care! Group discussions at the end of the session allowed the participants to share their thoughts on the report findings, and to discuss the implications they felt these might have on the nature of public engagement in their field. Many people felt that this sort of data was crucial in approaching the most disengaged groups and understanding the endemic values and concerns that may be held against science. There was some disagreement between groups as to whether the ‘labelling’ of particular segments within the public sphere was a useful exercise, or simply increased the potential for inappropriate or insensitive engagement practises. However, it was generally agreed that some knowledge of attitudinal leanings was critical in appropriately tailoring engagement activities, so long as these groupings were not taken too literally. A general consensus within the group seemed to be that scientists’ attitudes to the public was just as important a consideration in these matters as the public’s attitude to science, and that further work on scientists’ perceptions of the public would be a useful tool in reconciling the two sides of the engagement process. The session was summarised with feedback from the group discussions and closing comments regarding the future after PAS 2011. Compared to previous PAS report findings, it was shown that the British public increasingly values science. A summary of key findings includes the fact that 79% agree that, “on the whole, science will make our lives easier” and over half agree that “the benefits of science are greater than any harmful effect”. Encouragingly, 51% of the research group felt that they heard and saw too little information about science, providing a great deal of scope for science communicators of the future.
citizen science: public participation in research
Summary by Emma Leedham, University of East Anglia
Chris Davis, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory Marek Kukula, Royal Observatory Greenwich Julia Wilkinson, Citizen Scientist Chair: Karen Bultitude, University of the West of England â€œFar too much data to analyse, even by PhD studentsâ€? is a statement an increasing number of scientists can empathise with. Many scientific techniques today produce immense amounts of data; modelling, mapping and environmental measurements are just a few techniques that can yield huge volumes of stats that need sifting through. And while computers may be wiser than ever before, have the ability to work 24/7, and never have the desire to stop for 30 minute tea-and-biscuit breaks there are some things that just need a human eye or intuition. And thatâ€™s where citizen science steps in. Citizen science is a response to this huge amount of data, a method to not only undertake masses of analysis in a short space of time but to do it cheaply and with scientific rigour. It works by throwing open the data to the public, who are invited to undertake a short training session before setting about some data analysis. The opening slides of the session showed the wealth of citizen science projects available. In fact, citizen science examples stretch right back to the early 1900s, but as the conference theme was online engagement the session dealt with some prime online examples before zoning in on what is possibly the flagship citizen science project; Galaxy Zoo.
Galaxy Zoo was launched in 2007 in an effort to sort and classify galaxies in the millions of images produced by satellites. Users signed up to the site, were given a brief “training session” to introduce them to different galaxy shapes and were then shown image after image which they could classify, stopping when (if!) they wanted to. A simple idea, but the results were staggering. Within 24 hours of the Galaxy Zoo launch the website crashed under the weight of 70,000 classifications and went on to receive more than 50 million classifications from about 150,000 people within its first year. It is now part of a suite of projects under the umbrella heading “Zooniverse”. During the session we heard from Chris Davis and Marek Kukula about the citizen science project created by the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich; “Solar Stormwatch” which followed similar lines to Galaxy Zoo in that ‘citizen scientists’ can scan satellite images and help recognise solar storms. There was also the chance to hear from a real-life citizen scientist Julia Wilkinson who gave an opinion from the other side of the system. Of course, the audience was ‘engaged’ and the floor was open to questions...and all of this helped paint the following picture of citizen science. It is not a panacea, and it does usually only deal with those already engaged. But, it does have an important role to play in keeping them involved in science; Wilkinson spoke of the enjoyment many ‘citizen scientists’ get from the feeling of involvement as the Zooniverse and Solar Stormwatch organisers provide regular feedback on how and why the data is being used. It also needs careful pre-launch thoughts about errors, rigour and even what the data will be used for. There is also the need to recruit users for the projects, but, as Solar Stormwatch shows, previous success of these projects has created a willing army of citizen scientists looking for their next project; all you need is a bit of publicity.
Benefits were also discussed, and they can be huge. For the scientists it provides data analysis that can be trusted. The sheer volume of replicate analyses undertaken by the general public are enough to reduce any errors created by individual mistakes. It also provides a method of public engagement that can be on-going and two-dimensional; it is not just scientists preaching to the masses but a dialogue that works both ways between citizens and scientists. These online projects run hand-in-hand with a forum allowing this interaction to occur on a regular basis. This can provide new avenues for research or unpredicted results and is also an outreach tool that can span generations; from retirees to teens (the video game format probably helps there). Those in the audience already involved in engagement projects took away an idea of the benefits of online engagement; slick public interfaces, wide-reaching impacts and fast results. For the scientists in the audience there was a call for more data to be opened up, with one speaker commenting that the advancement of sciences needs people to just get their data out there and analysed, no matter who it is analysed by. As President Truman said; “it’s amazing what you can accomplish when you don’t care who gets the credit”. Many hands make light work just hit the 21st century...
Wow! So moving to hear the joy the citizen scientist gets from taking part in the project - should be heard by those who don’t like public engagement #SCC2011
working with journals
Alexa Dugan, Wiley Blackwell Rachel Twinn, Nature Publishing Group Laura Gallagher, Imperial College London Chair: Ruth Francis, Nature Publishing Group This session was panel-based, with four speakers outlining their
Summary by Ollie Christophers, British Science Association thoughts on best practice for press officers wanting to get the
most out of placing research articles in journals and generating wider media coverage around the research for their authors and institutions. Alexa Dugan gave an explanation of the organisational structure at Wiley Blackwell and gave top line figures of the numbers of journals published by this house and the range of topics they cover. In terms of marketing the articles in the form of press releases, she conceded that not all pieces of research are relevant enough to seed to journalists, due to the sheer number they receive. Therefore, to decide which papers to specifically publicise, they consult the editorial board for their steer on which are the most timely/novel and ground breaking articles to push. Once the selected articles are written into a press release format, the releases are reviewed by the lead author, editor, the society and in house representatives. This process is very time consuming, hence the limited number of press releases issued. Authors are also asked to inform the press officers of their host institutions, but only around 5% of the press releases are issued on a joint basis between Wiley Blackwell and the research institution.
Dugan called for communication between the interested parties to be better. Authors need to tell their press officers when they are submitting to a journal, but this doesn’t happen regularly enough. The journal and the press offices need to have better discussions over the releases as well. Rachel Twinn ran through the procedures within her organisation and outlined the timetable of when press releases are sent and embargoes are lifted. This is formalised to a specific timescale to limit the chance of embargo breaking. Twinn also outlined a list of things to do; build good relationships with your academics to create an atmosphere of mutual interest and trust. She also advised press officers to pick and develop their media stars to ensure better coverage opportunities are generated. Press releases should be prepared as soon as possible to allow more time for amends and discussions about the most newsworthy factors. Furthermore, if press officers are unsure as to publication dates of journals, they should speak to university librarians who may have advance information. Laura Gallagher’s first piece of advice to press officers was to sign up for Eurekalert. She then advised press officers not to rely on journals for tip-offs about upcoming papers, as even well-resourced journals usually give tip-offs only a few days in advance. Instead, she suggested that press officers should be proactive about finding out about their organisation’s news, and build relationships with their organisation’s academics, so that academics will alert their press office as soon as a paper has been accepted. In addition, she said, it is important for press officers to work with journal press offices in order to develop an understanding of how different journals operate so that they can coordinate publicity together. However, smaller journals may not have a press office and with these it may be necessary to talk staff at the journal through the publicity process, in order to get their assistance and buy-in. Finally, Gallagher suggested that if a paper’s publication is missed in spite of the press officer’s
best efforts, he or she could consider other ways of generating media interest in the work, such as talking to Sunday newspapers or pegging a news release around a print publication date if the online publication date has passed. In the concluding comments in the session, Dugan also went on to highlight that doing pre-publicity with the media won’t affect the chances of research being accepted by a journal - the deal breaker here is if it has already been accepted by another journal and peer-review. Twinn commented that academics are under no obligation to avoid contact with the media before submitting to any of the NPG journals, but it is best practice to let the journal know, at the point of submission, if press coverage has been gained. A member of the audience, working for the Wellcome Trust, also suggested that authors let their funding bodies know if something is being published. Working with journals... It really is all about communication! #SCC2011
social media workshop
Summary by Robert Jackson, Keele University
Sam Gray, Manchester Beacon, Manchester Metropolitan University Anna Wraith, Beacon North East Stevie Ronnie, Newcastle University Erinma Ochu, Manchester Beacon for Public Engagement Chris Guthrie, University of Salford Antonio Benitez, Museum of Science and Industry The workshop was designed to demonstrate how participants could collaborate to co-create a website by integrating content from three social media platforms - blog, micro blog and social book marking. The aim of the workshop was to introduce some different types of social media applications and show how they might be used as ways of enhancing public engagement, and perhaps more generally, in science communication.
Most organisations still use social media as a broadcast tool - that’s only beneficial for the organisation. Need to empower the audience #SCC2011
Don’t be afraid of trying new ideas. Don’t be afraid of failure when embracing online comms #SCC2011
Three social media applications were introduced in the workshop: Twitter (http://twitter.com), WordPress (for blogging) (http://wordpress.com) and Delicious (for bookmarking web pages) (http://www.delicious.com). Participants could try all of these, or choose the ones they were particularly interested in. The tutors running the workshop helped participants to log on to their chosen application and then work through a series of exercises to help gain familiarity with it. Twitter is a microblogging application. Posts (‘tweets’) are limited to 140 characters, but links to web content can be included (which can be shortened using an application like TinyURL,http:// tinyurl.com), as can photographs, using one of several uploader applications (e.g. TwitPic, http://twitpic.com). In the workshop, participants learned to post tweets, search twitter for tweets containing particular keywords, and re-tweet other tweets. These are the important basic skills needed to get started with Twitter. WordPress is one of a number of blogging sites available, but it is very detailed and flexible with an impressive degree of functionality. In the workshop, participants were shown how to logon to WordPress and post a blog. WordPress has a useful feature that so-called Widgets can be installed on the main page to show, for example, the user’s Twitter feed and Delicious links. In that way the three applications covered in the workshop are brought together, and this was demonstrated at the end. Delicious is a bookmarking site with great functionality. When a website is bookmarked, it can be tagged to make it easier to locate, and notes can be added so that potential users get some information on what it might contain in advance. As an illustration of how to use Delicious, take the example of looking for web pages dealing with science communication. Using Google, one would type ‘science communication’ into the search field, and a series of entries then appears which
can be clicked on for further information. For example, at the time the conference was taking place the fourth entry in the list is the ‘British Science Association: Science Communication Conference’. Clicking on this entry then gives the web page for the conference. The URL can then be copied, and saved as a web page in Delicious by logging on to Delicious and clicking on ‘save a new bookmark’. The copied URL is then pasted into the URL box, and after hitting ‘return’ tags and further information about the web site can be input. The resulting bookmark can be made private, but if it is left public, other users can see it and make use of it. A social media and public engagement LinkedIn group has been set up for people to continue sharing knowledge - anyone can join this open group - several conference participants have already joined.
Zoe Self, Royal Veterinary College Chiara Ambrosio, UCL Science and Technology Studies Department Summary by Sally Hoban, freelance journalist and Compere: Kent Valentine writer
‘Bright Club, where funny meets brains’ pretty much summed up the final session of this year’s Science Communications Conference. People had debated, exchanged ideas with fellow delegates and networked with each other for two days, so it was a delight to retire to the Bright Club session with drinks in hand to be entertained for the final hour. The challenge for science communicators is to come up with new formats for engaging people with science and Bright Club is science as entertainment: in this case learning through laughter. All good teaching is a form of entertainment and this is certainly one of the directions that public engagement should be travelling in. The compere, Kent Valentine, entertained us with a brilliant opening routine about teenage antics trying to make napalm and its disastrous yet hilarious consequences. He then introduced us to our first Bright Club comedienne, Zoe Self, a PhD student at the Royal Veterinary College. Eight minutes or so later everyone was still laughing but had also learnt a lot about the science behind the biomechanics of a horse; a completely new subject for many delegates no doubt. Kent returned to continue his routine before Chiara Ambrosio, a Teaching Fellow in the Philosophy of Science at University College, London, took to the stage. Her routine was a mixture of 20th century art and science (including the somewhat lascivious antics of Picasso told through his pictures). Bright Club has been providing ‘the thinking person’s variety night’ for two years and judging by the reception the event received at the conference and the number of delegates who were interested in finding out more, the chances are that Bright Club will be coming soon to a city near you.
Bright Club: where funny meets brains... stand up comedy about science... cool #SCC2011
further conference information Thanks We’d like to thank the speakers and chairs of the sessions whose imagination and expertise made the Conference so informative and enjoyable and for their tireless efforts, the Kings Place catering, AV and event management teams. We’d also like to thank the contributors mentioned above and volunteers from the British Science Association whose help was invaluable! Photos All photos throughout this report should be credited to “Ben Thompson/British Science Association”. Presentations Presentations, podcasts and selected blog posts from the conference are available at: www.britishscienceassociation.org/ ScienceCommunicationConference Evaluation An evaluation of the conference is available on the website above. E-lerts We offer a Conference e-lert which contains news and opportunities for the 2012 conference including call for proposals and bursaries. To get in touch with the conference team or sign up for the Science Communication Conference e-lert email firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, follow us on Twitter - @SciCommConf
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