Huge change going on, huge uncertainty in society. We are dealing with very complex science-related issues that affect society, but people have very little understanding of the science and this has led to a huge amount of confusion about important science-related issues. Carl Sagan – American astronomer – became famous for his popular science books, his 1980s TV show Cosmos. Best known for advancing the search for extraterrestrials, his support for the SETI Project.
Sagan was an astronomer but he had the ability to transcend his area of research to become one of the great science communicators. Because he was able to see the big picture. This is a famous photo Sagan used, it was taken by the Voyager space probe in 1990 – the probe was about to leave the Solar System, it turned its camera around and took this photo of earth from a huge diistance – 6 billion kilometres away. Based on this this photo, Sagan wrote a beautiful piece of writing, which encapsulates not just what science is about, but humanity itself. I’ll quote from that at the end.
Vaccination, perhaps surprisingly, is a constant issue for the health authorities. Because there is a sector of society which decides not to vaccinate its children against disease like mumps, rubella and measles, and HPV. Why? There’s a fear, usually not founded on the research, that vaccination is risky, that a child may be adversely affected by being vaccinated... Part of this was fueled by one of the great scientific scandals of the 1990s, the Autism- MMR scandal. The result is relatively low rates of immunisation of children in New Zealand compared to other western countries. This story appeared on the cover of last month’s North & South. The young girl missed out on the MeNZB vaccine by a couple of weeks, she lost all of her limbs. The article is a good example of effective science communication – it gives the minority viewpoint but puts the risk in context of the research
There are so many vexing science-related issues facing society – these are just some we have dealt with at the science media centre in the two years we have been in business – genetic modification is a very divisive issue in New Zealand. There are a lot of people here who believe we should not be altering the genetic make-up of animals and plants, that the consequences are not fully understood. Scientists are so scared of being targeted by the anti-GM lobby that they clam up, they’d rather not speak about the issue. So the discussion about GM in New Zealand becomes dominated by interest groups, particularly the anti-GM lobby. As such, all the ever hear is the alarmist tales of the risks of GM. If ever there’s an example of a reason for scientists to get on the front foot and communicate their science, explain their research to society, this is it.
Swine flu was the biggest science-related story of 2009. A global pandemic, a race to create a vaccine and for New Zealand… 30 people died of swine flu in New Zealand. Did we over-react? Claims that advisors to the World Health Organisation had undisclosed ties to big pharma… Ultimately, the effectiveness of efforts to respond to a pandemic rely on the ability of authorities and scientists to communicate the risk to society. I think we learnt a lot of lessons from the pandemic.
Naonparticles – huge potential in creating things on the nano-scale, but what are the safety implications? An incredibly complex field, and one that is relatively immature in parts in terms of research. How do you tell society about the benefits and dangers of nanotechnology without overstating either case?
The most vexed issue of all… climate change COP15, thousands of people really achieved very little. Is it because the scientists are split on the need to act? Well not really, all the large scientific academies are on the same page about climate change, but this issue is about much more than science – politics, religion, emissions trading scheme… What are the implications for scientists? They need to get better at relating the science to society – the long term doomsday scenarios don’t work. The Climategate showed up the climate scientists as being arrogant, petty and vain, even if the science they were undertaking was wrong. It showed a new approach to climate science communication was needed
Your aim is not to show how smart you are, but to communicate in plain language so the average person can understand what you are talking about. Doesn’t mean you have to dumb down the message – if you do that, the meaning will be lost
The Stardust spacecraft, launched in February 1999, collected particles from the coma of Comet Wild 2 in January 2004, and returned the samples to Earth in a capsule in January 2006.
The Great Lakes' last line of defense is the world's largest electrical fish barrier, constructed in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. The Army Corps of Engineers has a $40,000-a-month electricity bill for the barriers. A demonstration barrier went up in 2002. A second, more powerful barrier was finished in 2006, but the voltage wasn't cranked up until last February. The economic stimulus bill provides money for a third electrical barrier, which should be ready next year.
On 14 January 2001 the British government passed the The Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Research Purposes) Regulations allowing reasons for embryo research to permit research around stem cells and cell nuclear replacement, thus allowing therapeutic cloning . The first licence was granted on August 11, 2004 to researchers at the University of Newcastle to allow them to investigate treatments for diabetes , Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease .  The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 , a major review of fertility legislation, repealed the 2001 Cloning Act by making amendments of similar effect to the 1990 Act. The 2008 Act also allows experiments on hybrid human-animal embryos
That's here, that's home, that's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every &quot;superstar,&quot; every &quot;supreme leader,&quot; every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of particular interest. But for us, it's different. Consider again that dot. That's here, that's home, that's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every &quot;superstar,&quot; every &quot;supreme leader,&quot; every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
Emerging researchers - Science Media Centre
Science Media Centre Emerging Researchers Workshops June - July, 2010
Great ways to communicate your research Dacia Herbulock
<ul><li>We have designed our civilization based on science and technology and at the same time arranged things so that almost no one understands anything at all about science and technology. This is a clear prescription for disaster. </li></ul><ul><li> - Carl Sagan </li></ul>
Ways you can communicate your science <ul><li>Invite people to your lab </li></ul><ul><li>Convene a science café </li></ul><ul><li>Friends and family day </li></ul><ul><li>Partner with museums, science centres </li></ul><ul><li>Start a blog (check out Sciblogs.co.nz ) </li></ul><ul><li>Online social networking, podcasts etc </li></ul>
Soundbites that work <ul><li>Paint a picture with your message </li></ul><ul><li>Speak in the vernacular </li></ul><ul><li>Remember your audience </li></ul><ul><li>People remember astute quips </li></ul>
Collecting space dust from comet’s tail… <ul><li>“ Its something like driving your car through a severe hailstorm but a hundred times worse” </li></ul><ul><li> - Thanasis Economou, University of Chicago </li></ul>
Volts may fend off invading carp… <ul><li>“ You get blood everywhere, slime everywhere and green poop, and that’s if the fish doesn’t fly to pieces” </li></ul><ul><li>- Duane Chapman, US Geological Survey </li></ul>
Britain allows cloning of human cells… <ul><li>“ We are seeing the first few raindrops of a coming storm” </li></ul><ul><li>- Leonard Zon, Society for Stem Cell Research </li></ul>
Stephen Hawking... <ul><li>“ My goal is simple. It is a complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all.” </li></ul>
Or, another way... <ul><li>“ Even if there is only one possible unified theory, it is just a set of rules and equations. What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?” </li></ul>
From Dunedin... <ul><li>“ I don’t want to kill humans, I don’t want to kill animals either. Hence I am killing yeast to save humans.” </li></ul>
From Christchurch... <ul><li>“ The heart of a tumour is like the heart of Auckland City, impossible to get in and out of. Angiogenesis is the process by which the tumour relieves the pressure on its core, so if we can stop the traffic, we can kill the tumour.” </li></ul>
What journalists want is often fairly simple <ul><li>timely response </li></ul><ul><li>easy access </li></ul><ul><li>straightforward language </li></ul><ul><li>attitude </li></ul>
Tips for scientists <ul><li>Stick to 3 – 4 main points - work this out before </li></ul><ul><li>Remember you will be edited </li></ul><ul><li>Break down information, use analogy </li></ul><ul><li>Put findings in perspective </li></ul><ul><li>Draw connection to day-to-day life </li></ul><ul><li>humorous, or sobering is…irresistible to reporters </li></ul>