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Science communication, Guest Lecture, Paige Brown


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What is science communication, and what are modern challenges facing the field?

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Science communication, Guest Lecture, Paige Brown

  1. 1. Science Communication The Old, The New, The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly By Paige Brown
  2. 2. Overview  What is Science Communication?  Where is it happening?  Science Journalism vs. Science Communication  News values for Science
  3. 3. Science Communication  Most of the fundamental ideas of science are essentially simple, and may, as a rule, be expressed in a language comprehensible to everyone. — Albert Einstein
  4. 4. Science Communication Wiki: ―Science communication generally refers to public communication presenting science-related topics to non-experts. This often involves professional scientists, but has also evolved into a professional field in its own right. It includes science exhibitions, journalism, policy or media production.‖ Science communication makes science accessible and exciting to non-scientists.
  5. 5. 20th Century: Science Journalism vs. Science Communication  Blogger BoraZ:  ―Journalism is communication of ‗what‘s new‘. A journalist is anyone who can say ‗I‘m there, you‘re not, let me tell you about it.‘‖  ―Science is communication of ‗how the world works‘. A scientist is anyone who can say "I understand something about the world, you don‘t, let me explain it to you".‖  ―At the close of the 20th century, we had a situation in which journalism and science, for the first time in history, completely separated from each other. Journalism covered what’s new without providing the explanation and context for new readers just joining the topic. Science covered only explanation and only to one‘s peers.‖ - BoraZ
  6. 6. A New Era: Rise of the Science Journalist  Journalists specialized in the reporting of science “The first time we hear about scientific developments or breakthroughs is frequently through the press. Skilled science journalists are in tune with the twists and turns of scientific discovery and able to translate that into universally understandable words within hours: they are right at the front line of science communication. In this short film, veteran science journalist, Tim Radford, tells us the 'three great stories in science' and explains what is, and is not, important when reporting science to the masses.”
  7. 7. Challenges for Science Journalists  But reporting science often requires specialized knowledge, lots of time, and lots of space for explanation – all of which are limited in traditional print journalism.  ―A good science story should explain what is known by now (science), what the new study brings that is new (news) and why does that matter to you (phatic discourse).The lack of space usually led to omission of context (science), shortening of what is new (news) and thus leaving only the emotional story intact. Thus, the audience did not learn much, Certainly not enough to be able to evaluate next day‘s and next week‘s news.‖ BoraZ
  8. 8. Bad Science Journalism “Dr. Ben Goldacre describes how bad science journalism in the media can lead to terrible consequences in public health, such as the MMR vaccine mistakenly being linked to autism.”
  9. 9. But in the end, a journalist revealed the fraud… Watchdog role of science journalism? Is science journalism today providing a ―critical analysis‖ role?
  10. 10. A Newer Era: Rise of Science Blogs  ―Science is the process of discovery of facts about the way the world works, but the communication of that discovery is the essential last step of the scientific process, and the discoverer is likely to be the person who understands the discovery the best and is thus likely to be the person with the greatest expertise and authority (and hopefully ability) to do the explaining.‖ BoraZ  Digital technologies have put dissemination of (science) information in the hands of new science writers, science students, scientists themselves.
  11. 11. Science Blogging “The Internet affords a creative outlet for everyone with an interest in writing. The gap between the thoughts in one's head and the ability to share those thoughts across the web has, in the last few years, vanished. In this new climate, ideas are liberated into the blogosphere, competing for one's attention and, in a kind of web-based natural selection, some flourish while others die. In this short film, neuroscience blogger, Mo Costandi, provides insights into what makes a successful blog and how a former security guard ended up writing the Guardian's Neurophilisophy blog.”
  12. 12. ―There will always be full-time science reporters, but a significant percentage of science news is now written by people that don‘t fit that description – and that situation is unlikely to change.‖ – Matt Shipman ―A Nature survey of 493 science journalists shows that jobs are being lost and the workloads of those who remain are on the rise (for full results see At the same time, researcher-run blogs and websites are growing apace in both number and readership.‖ - Nature Science print journalists now even look to science blogs for their story ideas. What are some potential positives of this transition? Potential downsides?
  13. 13. Where do you get your science news from?
  14. 14. Science Communication: Where does it happen?  Science journalism (in print)  Online science journalism news sites  Science magazines (Scientific American magazine)  Scientific Journals  Science Blogs  Science press releases (EurekAlert, ScienceDaily)
  15. 15. Science Online  Most people (60 percent) turn to the internet when seeking information about scientific issues.  Almost half of people in the U.S. get their online science news from nontraditional sources (e.g., blogs), whereas 12 percent get online science news from traditional news sources (e.g., the sites of science magazines). Published online 18 March 2009 | Nature 458, 274-277 (2009) Image © Nature
  16. 16. Science Online  ―Nine in 10 internet users in the United States turn to search engines to find information, and 60% of the U.S. public seeking information about specific scientific issues lists the Internet as their primary source of information. This has created a new urgency for scientists to pay attention to these trends and to the emerging scholarly literature about communicating science in this brave new ―online‖ world.‖ Science, New Media, and the Public Dominique Brossard and Dietram A. Scheufele Science 4 January 2013: 40-41. [DOI:10.1126/science.1232329]
  17. 17. The Good  ―Among the U.S. public, time spent on the World Wide Web has been linked to more positive attitudes toward science.‖  Why do you think this is?  Availability?  Access to Lay-knowledge information?  Positive, trustworthy science communication from scientists, bloggers? Science, New Media, and the Public Dominique Brossard and Dietram A. Scheufele Science 4 January 2013: 40-41. [DOI:10.1126/science.1232329]
  18. 18. The Bad: Challenges with Science Online  Accuracy of content  Biased search results: Science by popularity (# of clicks)   ―The search engine Google offers users suggested search terms as they make requests, offering up ‗nanotechnology in medicine,‘ for example, to those who begin typing ‗nanotechnology‘ in a search box. Users often avail themselves of the list of suggestions, making certain searches more popular, which in turn makes those search terms even more likely to appear as suggestions.‖ Why might this be a problem? Chris Barncard:
  19. 19. Quality of Science Reporting Online  Can blogs fulfil the important ―watchdog‖ and critical analysis role of journalism for science?
  20. 20. Challenges with Science Online  Uncivil, ―anti-science‖ comments online
  21. 21.  ―In one study led by University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Dominique Brossard, 1,183 Americans read a fake blog post on nanotechnology and revealed in survey questions how they felt about the subject (are they wary of the benefits or supportive?). Then, through a randomly assigned condition, they read either epithet- and insult-laden comments ("If you don't see the benefits of using nanotechnology in these kinds of products, you're an idiot" ) or civil comments. The results, as Brossard and coauthor Dietram A. Scheufele wrote in a New York Times op-ed: Uncivil comments not only polarized readers, but they often changed a participant's interpretation of the news story itself. In the civil group, those who initially did or did not support the technology — whom we identified with preliminary survey questions — continued to feel the same way after reading the comments. Those exposed to rude comments, however, ended up with a much more polarized understanding of the risks connected with the technology. Simply including an ad hominem attack in a reader comment was enough to make study participants think the downside of the reported technology was greater than they'd previously thought.‖ Popular Science‘s Decision
  22. 22. “the effects of online incivility may be even stronger for more well-known and contentious science issues such as the evolution vs. intelligent design debate or climate change.” Did Popular Science make a good decision? But what about informed decision making? Dialogue and debate? Open peer-review? Criticism of established power in science? Matt Shipman:
  23. 23. Challenges with Science Online  How do we raise the profile of quality science reporting (on search engines or otherwise)?  Can social media help solve this problem? Blogs? Why or why not? Matt Shipman:
  24. 24. Not all bad  Karl Bates, Duke‘s director of research communication: ―Concern over social media‘s ‗self-reinforcing spirals‘ aside, I think the internet has created more and better science coverage and a bigger audience than ever before. Sure the first story you read may have pared down the topic and be covered in dumb-ass comments, but you have choices and multiple sources. We‘re now able to read three different stories on the same paper or browse the Guardian on our phones at two in the morning if we see an interesting tweet. And then, one click later, you can be on the original Nature paper.‖ Matt Shipman:
  25. 25. Lessons from the greats: