Category Archives: Framing Science

Journal of Science Communication

Issue 03, september 2010 of Journal of Science Communication is out – always full of articles interesting for further discussion by science bloggers:

Road maps for the 21st-century research in Science Communication:

This is an introduction to the essays from the Jcom commentary devoted to the statute and the future of research in science communication. The authors have a long experience in international research in this domain. In the past few years, they have all been committed to the production of collective works which are now the most important references for science communication research programmes in the next few years.
What topics should science communication research focus on and why? What is its general purpose? What is its real degree of autonomy from other similar fields of study? In other words, is science communication its ‘own’ field? These are some of the questions addressed by the in-depth discussion in this Jcom issue, with the awareness that science communication is a young, brittle research field, looking for a shared map, but also one of the most stimulating places of the contemporary academic panorama.

Notes from some spaces in-between:

Science communication is less a community of researchers, but more a space where communities of research coexist to study and deal with communities of researchers. It is, as a field, a consequence of the spaces left between areas of expertise in (late) modern society. It exists to deal with the fragmentations of expertise in today’s society. In between those fragments is where it lives. It’s not an easy position, but an awareness of this unease is part of how science communication scholars can be most effective; as we examine, reflect, debate and help others manage the inescapable cultural gaps of post/late modern knowledge communities.

Science communication, an emerging discipline:

Several publications have sought to define the field of science communication and review current issues and recent research. But the status of science communication is uncertain in disciplinary terms. This commentary considers two dimensions of the status of discipline as they apply to science communication – the clarity with which the field is defined and the level of development of theories to guide formal studies. It argues that further theoretical development is needed to support science communication’s full emergence as a discipline.

From analogue to digital scholarship: implications for science communication researchers:

Digital media have transformed the social practices of science communication. They have extended the number of channels that scientists, media professionals, other stakeholders and citizens use to communicate scientific information. Social media provide opportunities to communicate in more immediate and informal ways, while digital technologies have the potential to make the various processes of research more visible in the public sphere. Some digital media also offer, on occasion, opportunities for interaction and engagement. Similarly, ideas about public engagement are shifting and extending social practices, partially influencing governance strategies, and science communication policies and practices. In this paper I explore this developing context via a personal journey from an analogue to a digital scholar. In so doing, I discuss some of the demands that a globalised digital landscape introduces for science communication researchers and document some of the skills and competencies required to be a digital scholar of science communication.

Coming of age in the academy? The status of our emerging field:

Science communication is certainly growing as an academic field, as well as a professional specialization. This calls to mind predictions made decades ago about the ways in which the explosion of scientific knowledge was envisioned as the likely source of new difficulties in the relationship between science and society. It is largely this challenge that has inspired the creation of the field of science communication. Has science communication become its own academic subdiscipline in the process? What exactly does this entail?

Open science, a complex movement:

Science must be open and accessible, and diffusion of knowledge should not be limited by patents and copyrights. After the Open Science Summit held in Berkeley, some notes about sharing scientific data and updating the social contract for science. Against the determinist view on technological and legal solutions, we need an explicit reflection on the relation between science and society. Both academic and industrial science seem unable to fulfill open science needs: new societal configurations are emerging and we should keep asking questions about appropriation, power, privatisation and freedom.

Greek students’ images of scientific researchers:

Public images of scientific researchers –as reflected in the popular visual culture as well as in the conceptions of the public- combine traditional stereotypic characteristics and ambivalent attitudes towards science and its people. This paper explores central aspects of the public image of the researcher in Greek students’ drawings. The students participated in a drawing competition held in the context of the ‘Researcher’s Night 2007’ realized by three research institutions at different regions of Greece. The students’ drawings reveal that young people hold stereotypic and fairly traditional and outdated views of scientists and scientific activity. Research institutions are faced with the challenge of establishing a sincere and fertile dialogue with society to refute obsolete and deceiving notions and to promote the role of researchers in society.

The rhetoric of computer simulations in astrophysics: a case study:

This article is a case study and rhetorical analysis of a specific scientific paper on a computer simulation in astrophysics, an advanced and often highly theoretical science. Findings reveal that rhetorical decisions play as important a role in creating a convincing simulation as does sound evidence. Rhetorical analysis was used to interpret the data gathered in this case study. Rhetorical analysis calls for close reading of primary materials to identify classical rhetorical figures and devices of argumentation and explain how these devices factor in the production of scientific knowledge. This article describes how abduction, dilemma, compensatio, aetiologia, and other tactics of argumentation are necessary in creating the simulation of a supernova. Ultimately, the article argues that rhetorical mechanisms may be responsible for making some simulations better and more sound than others.

Pandemic on the air: a case study on the coverage of new influenza A/H1N1 by Brazilian prime time TV news:

In this paper we analyze the coverage of the pandemic influenza caused by the A (H1N1) virus by the main Brazilian TV news. Jornal Nacional (JN) – which can be roughly translated with National News – reaches an average of 25 million people throughout the country daily. We have observed that the attention cycle given to the new flu by JN lasted approximately five months with significant space given to the disease. Most of the news highlighted the number of illness cases and the health measures to control the infection. Only a small amount of news dealt with issues related to research and scientific development, and included scientists as interviewees or as information sources. We believe that the coverage made by JN may have contributed to the dissemination of what some authors refer to as a “pandemic of panic”.

If scientists want to educate the public…but is that the right question to begin with?

Yesterday, Chris Mooney published an article in Washington Post, If scientists want to educate the public, they should start by listening. It has already received many comments on the site, as well as on Chris’ blog posts here and here and here. It will be followed by a longer paper tomorrow, at which time this link will work and you will be able to read it.
The blogosphere has not remained silent, either, with responses by, among others, Orac, Pal MD, Evil Monkey, Isis and P.Z.Myers. Most of them, as I do, agree with the article about 3/4 through, and are, as I am, disappointed in the ending.
I actually don’t have much to add to this discussion as this one is just another chapter in the discussion of Chris’ book “Unscientific America”. As usual, most commenters focus on one or two aspects of his (and others’, e.g., Randy Olson’s) argument, though the argument has many layers and components.
I don’t have much to add because it is hard to add much to what I have already written at length and in great detail, trying to address and combine all the components in a 30-page (when printed out) post. So, if you are a little confused about what Chris says and about the responses by others to Chris, you may find my old post informative. Here it is: What does it mean that a nation is ‘Unscientific’?
Update:: More reactions by Chad Orzel, Evil Monkey, Andrew Revkin, Joe Romm and Chris Mooney.

Best posts on Media, (Science) Journalism and Blogging at A Blog Around The Clock

Reposted, as I needed to add several of the most recent posts to the list – see under the fold:

Continue reading

Neil DeGrasse Tyson: should all people be scientifically literate, and if so, why? (video)

Neil DeGrasse Tyson on 2012 – World Science Festival:

Video shot at World Science Festival 2010 by Christopher Hite.

Best posts on Media, (Science) Journalism and Blogging at A Blog Around The Clock

As this blog is getting close to having 10,000 posts, and my Archives/Categories are getting unweildy (and pretty useless), I need to get some of the collections of useful posts together, mainly to make it easier for myself to find them. I did that by collecting my best Biology posts a couple of weeks ago. Today, I am collecting my best posts from the categories of Media, Science Reporting, Framing Science and Blogging. There are thousands of posts in these categories combined, most with excellent links or videos, but here are some of the posts that have substantial proportion of my own thinking in them.
It is also interesting to note – if you pay attention to the dates when the posts were published, going back to 2004 – how my thinking and attitude changed over the years, as well as how the world of media, blogs and science communication changed at the same time, forcing me to evolve with it:
Defining the Journalism vs. Blogging Debate, with a Science Reporting angle
What is Journalism?
What does it mean that a nation is ‘Unscientific’?
What is ‘Investigative Science Journalism’?
New science journalism ecosystem: new inter-species interactions, new niches
The Ethics of The Quote
‘Journalists vs. Blogs’ is bad framing
New Journalistic Workflow
Why good science journalists are rare?
Why is ‘scientists are bad communicators’ trope wrong
Push vs. Pull strategies in science communication
What is journalism and do PIOs do it? And what’s with advertising?
Why it is important for media articles to link to scientific papers
Using Twitter to learn economy of words – try to summarize your research paper in 140 characters or less!
North Carolina science journalism/blogging projects getting noticed
AAAS 2010 meeting – the Press Room….why?
Twittering is a difficult art form – if you are doing it right
Hints on how (science) journalism may be working these days….
Journalism wrap-up from ScienceOnline2010
Making it real: People and Books and Web and Science at ScienceOnline2010
Talkin’ Trash
Scientists are Excellent Communicators (‘Sizzle’ follow-up)
ScienceOnline’09 – Saturday 4:30pm and beyond: the Question of Power
The Shock Value of Science Blogs
Caryn Shechtman: A Blogger Success Story (an interview with Yours Truly)
Behold the Birth of the Giga-Borg
‘Bloggers’ vs ‘Audience’ is over? or, Will the word ‘blogger’ disappear?
I don’t care about business models of journalism/publishing.
The Perils of Predictions: Future of Physical Media
Graham Lawton Was Wrong
Science by press release – you are doing it wrong
Incendiary weekend post on bloggers vs. journalists
Who has power?
D.C. press corps dissed again – but this time for good reasons
Bloggers vs. Journalists Redux, part N
Are we Press? Part Deux
Science vs. Britney Spears
Bloggers vs. Journalists morphs into Twitterers vs. Journalists
Elites? That’s somehow bad?
Will there be new communication channels in the Obama administration?
Smoke Signals, Blogs, and the Future of Politics
I inform people against their will!
To Educate vs. To Inform
Fair Use and Open Science
Talking To The Public
More than just Resistance to Science
One-Stop Shopping for the Framing Science Debate
Framing Science – the Dialogue of the Deaf
Framing ‘framing’
Did I frame that wrong?
Framing and Truth
Just a quick update on ‘framing science’
Joshua Bell and Framing Science
Framers are NOT appeasers!
Framing Politics (based on science, of course)
Everybody Must Get Framed
How to read a scientific paper
Blog Carnivals – what is in it for you?
Science Blogging – what it can be
Michael Skube: just another guy with a blog and an Exhibit A for why bloggers are mad at Corporate Media
Blog is software
What is a Science Blog?
False Journalistic Balance
The Inter-Ghost Connection
ConvergeSouth: creepies, domestic tranquility and amplification of serendipity
Proper Procedure For Shutting Down A Blog

Why is ‘scientists are bad communicators’ trope wrong

For a very long time, I have argued that many scientists are excellent communicators.
I have seen a number of scientists talk over the years and the experience has been mostly very positive. Even if I limit myself only to what I saw over the last couple of months, every single scientist lecture was riveting.
So, where does the “scientists are bad communicators” trope come from?
I think it comes from the people looking at the results – a country whose government (and population) does anti-scientific stuff. They look at various factors that may lead to that state and decide that the audience, while uninformed, is interested in science; that science education is too difficult to fix; that movies portray scientists in a bad light (which may be wrong); that the media does not cover science enough, etc. How do they deduce from this that if only scientists could talk better we can make progress, I don’t know.
I have written at length (I know it’s long, but it’s worth reading) a critique of this conclusion. There are not enough scientists to, even if they were all brilliant speakers and spoke every day, make any difference. The problem is with the “push” versus “pull” models of communication. Many scientists communicate well, but are only allowed by the mainstream media to use the “pull” model which attracts only those who are already interested in science. The examples of “pull” media for science are popular science magazines, news sections of scientific journals, science sections of newspapers, science blogs, science-related radio shows, science-related shows on cable TV, i.e., all those places where people have a choice to seek this information or bypass it.
It is the mainstream media that controls all the “push” venues – the most popular print, radio and TV venues that are seen by everyone and where science could, potentially, be mixed in with the news coverage of other areas of life, thus delivering science stories to people who otherwise would never seek them. And it is there that the scientists have no access, certainly no access on their own terms, and thus it is there where the science communication is blocked. Scientists communicate all the time, and do it well, but only to the already receptive audience which actively seeks them – in special sections, or self-made media, carefully quarantined away from the mainstream news. The corporate media actively prevents the scientists from access to the non-receptive yet potentially interested audience. Thus, it is no surprise that some of the purveyors of the “scientists are bad communicators” trope are themselves journalists, parts of the corporate media culture and thus oblivious to the ways their own professions hinders the communication of science (and thus building trust in scientists) to the masses.
I am not the only one to think so.
But there is another reason why some people accept and push the “scientists are bad communicators” trope. Their understanding of communication – what it is and how it works – is out-dated. It is pre-Web, and they do not grok how the Web changed everything. All the academic literature on communication published earlier than late 1990s is now useless: not just outdated, but wrong.
@DrPetra said it succintly on Twitter the other day:

the ‘scientists are bad communicators’ still implies some one-off talk/top down approach. Public engagement = a dialogue

And this is the key. The “scientists are bad communicators” trope requires thinking in a one-to-many mode of communication. It is stuck in the mid-20th century way of thinking about science communication: the scientists give lectures, science cafes, write popular articles, perhaps a Sagan-wannabe shows up on TV. All of that is one-to-many. And all of that deals with communication in terms of “I am the expert, I talk, you listen”. But, a couple of decades into the Web era, audience does not accept this mode of communication any more. This kind of communication does not increase but actually decreases the trust in the person who is doing the talking – “who is this haughty guy and who does he think he is to talk down to us and not listen to us or even let us respond?”
If you were at ScienceOnline2010 or watched it from afar, especially the media/journalism ‘track’ of conversations, you would have noticed that pretty much everyone there came to the same conclusion – the one-to-many model of communication is out-dated. It is a part of one’s toolkit, but on its own it can potentially do more harm than good if one’s goal is the popular trust in science and scientists.
The way to gain popular trust in science is not so much to communicate one’s expertise to passive lay audience, as it is to engage. The other day I tweeted that I am at my best as a science communicator when I am answering someone’s question on Aardvark. Why? Because it is social. It is a two-way street. Even more so than blogs or Twitter, because of technical inefficiencies in these platforms in ‘seeing one’s audience’.
So, while the ability to give a riveting talk is still a great talent to have (or at least something that can be practiced and made perfect), it is not just not enough – it ignores what is really important in gaining the respect and trust of the lay audience: and that is to find the un-interested lay audience and make them interested. The “push”, not the “pull” (see clip).
How do you find and get attention of un-interested audience? You go where they are and engage, not lecture them. If you cannot get access to the mainstream media’s hot spots, you go around them, to where the people are: online. On Facebook, FriendFeed, Twitter, LiveJournal, blogs, Google Buzz, aardvark, etc. Engage, don’t preach. The same goes in the classrooms – don’t give guest-lectures: engage the students in discussion, experiments, even Citizen Science.
The best public speakers, those who get invited to do one-to-many lectures, often diverge from the traditional model and insist on being interrupted with questions during the talk, and leave plenty of time for many questions afterward. This is also why an unconference is much more useful (and pleasant) and more effective than a traditional conference. Now that the people formerly known as audience can talk back, they expect to be given the opportunity to talk back and putting any barriers to this pisses them off – thus you fail as a communicator.
So, not understanding the modern principles of communication in the Web era and relying on outdated academic literature on communication pre-Web is not just outdated, but wrong. Teaching others about this kind of communication as if it was the latest thinking in the field is not just “oh well, outdated but won’t hurt” – it actually hurts our cause! It teaches scientists, who are already good communicators, how to become worse at it. Instead of teaching them how to break out of the kabuki of science communication it teaches them how to get even more entrenched in it and to even more fiercely defend the kabuki and the academic formal hierarchy that the kabuki represents. This sets us all back.

Megalodon and other sharks at Darwin Day

Last night, braving horrible traffic on the way there, and snow on the way back, I made my way to the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences for the Darwin Day shark lecture co-organized by NESCent and the sneak preview of the Megalodon exhibit which officially opens today.
megalodon 001.jpg
I have to say that the trip was very much worth making – the exhibit is excellent! I like the way the exhibit is making good use of the space – so many exhibits feel cluttered and an all-out assault on all of one’s senses. Upon entering the room, it looks quite sparse. Yet, once I started going around I saw how much it actually covers, how well organized the exhibit layout is, how much information (including a lot of new-to-me information) is included and presented so very clearly and tastefully, and how much it has something for everyone independent of age, background or interest. And of course – the fossils! Absolutely amazing and stunning fossils! From the magnificent Megalodon jaws, to some of the strangest teeth arrangements one has ever seen in any jaw of any animal.
megalodon 002.jpg
Then, exhausted and a little faintly from the lack of food yesterday (yes, it was a busy day), I entered the lecture hall afraid I’d fall asleep or pass out in the middle of the talk. I need not have worried – Adam Summers is an amazing speaker. I was able not just to pay attention throughout, I was excited throughout the talk. For a jaded biologist and blogger, when many public lectures tend to present stuff already well known to me, it was refreshing to keep learning new stuff every couple of minutes or so. And not just new factoids, but new questions and new ways of thinking about them – why are sharks larger than bony fish, why sharks have no bone, how do sharks swim, how do sharks and bony fish manage to swim very fast, etc. Questions I never asked myself before.
There were things in there that are outside my realm of expertise, for which I am essentially a layman: engineering principles, a formula I am unfamiliar with, a couple of graphs….yet all of that was made very clear on an intuitive level. How? Because Adam is really good at using analogies (“think of this as…”) and metaphors (snuck into the description without any warning). Be it water-filters, armor, stacks of coins, or houses made of sponges, it all becomes vivid and immediately makes sense.
It is also obvious that a lot of research went into this, yet very few actual data were shown – only the key data that are essential to make the point. This is a public lecture – there is no need to drown the audience in gazillions of graphs and discussions of statistics. The slides, including the images and brief video clips were both beautiful and essential for grasping the point he is making. And then there was quite a lot of humor, mainly of the self-deprecating kind making fun of himself and his students in the context of scientist stereotypes – how they look, talk, think and behave.
All in all – well done. Who ever said that scientists don’t know how to communicate to lay audience, eh?