I love talking about science – as family and friends will tell you – and my various jobs all focus on engaging people in science conversations. With the internet and social media tools, these discussions are getting easier.
Traditionally, science information followed a fairly obvious path:
When I was doing wet lab research, I knew my place: generating new information. It was not my place to communicate the results beyond the experts in my field. If the ‘public’ was to learn about my work, it would often be translated from geek-speak to regular-speak. [Note: ‘public’ for this conversation is any one who is not working in the field.]
The roles are fairly defined in traditional communication and the process is mostly unidirectional. It can be why many faculty believe that it is not the job of a scientist to communicate with people outside the field. Also, many of my colleagues still think of this model even when the discussion is centred around ‘engagement’ and interaction.
But #openscience and social media tools like twitter are breaking down walls. Everyone now has a chance to contribute in more than one area. The graphic needs to be changed:
As you can see, there is overlap of contribution between each group. This is changing the landscape of science communication. Now, some researchers are starting to share their results as they happen on blogs or open notebooks. Non-experts are also commenting on the results and working as citizen scientists. It can be a bit scary because how do we decide what is a good source or story? The ‘expert says X so it must be true’ should be over. I find it exciting. As was tweeted by @MIT_Sciwrite:
Kurt Andersen – we could be living in a golden age of science journalism. Yay!
— MIT Science Writing (@MIT_Sciwrite) March 25, 2012
We do need to encourage people to flex their critical thinking skills and not blindly follow but the overlap between the groups should make this easier. We just need to figure out a few things.
Despite the new approaches, we often still stay within our silos. For example, scientists talk more to scientists than journalists. In some countries, there are organizations like the Wellcome Trust or the AAAS helping these groups get together. In Vancouver (Canada), we don’t have these large networks so it is even harder to make connections and learn from other viewpoints. I wonder if that is why some local organizations seem to be stuck in the linear, one-way communication process.
We have now started ScienceOnlineVancouver to help like-minded people get together but more importantly, we can learn the best ways to share information and opinions. I’m also hoping that we will be able to collaborate on some interesting projects – communication, new science, etc. At the monthly events, we’re hoping for a mix of people who focus on all parts of the graphic – and ScienceOnlineVancouver will help different groups connect:
Please note: the Venn diagrams were created by Peter Newbury (@polarisdotca) and this post was instigated by discussions with him.