Category Archives: Science Communication

Speaking to… Climate Snack

“In several countries, research or science is seen as a stand alone activity, and all we have to do is to communicate to other researchers in the same field. Whereas I think in Britain people have really started to open up to the idea that actually we do science for the broader public” 

Climate SnackThis is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Will Ball and Mat Stiller-Reeve from Climate Snack

Climate Snack founder Mathew Stiller-Reeve realised quite early on in his science career that his writing wasn’t up to scratch. After receiving negative feedback on his potential publications from peer-reviewers, “I’d been using the passive voice too much and the flow was wrong and I was framing my arguments in the wrong way.” So he decided to take action. But instead of banging his head against a brick wall on his own, he started Climate Snack, and joined forces with Will Ball. Continue reading

Speaking to… Laura Youngson

“It’s really hard to engage kids in stem subjects. They immediately turn off to things like science and maths.”

Laura Youngson
Image credit: Lightyear Foundation

This is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Laura Youngson

Laura Youngson is one of the founding members, or mothers, of the Lightyear Foundation, an organisation that takes science to communities that otherwise don’t interact with it.

After travelling to Ghana with a friend to work in a planetarium, Laura was inspired to set up the Lightyear Foundation, “we had a lot of science love to give.” Continue reading

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Speakers of Science is here!

Speaking-of-Science-logo-RSSLast year, Speaking of Science put out a call to scientists and science communicators to see if anyone would be interested in blogging for Speakers of Science.

Thank goodness that there was interest – and this week we launched! Speakers of Science is here!

speakers of science is an extension of Speaking of Science. I’ve learned so much from all the interviews I’ve done, but the most frequent tip: Just get out and do it! is something I wanted to harness. So, the aim of Speakers of Science is to become a community of bloggers that can get together and learn from each other, share ideas and create some great science communication content. They are getting out there and doing it.

Science communication is so much more than just communication. You have to think about how you best communicate: am I a writer, an artist or someone who can play with sounds to get a concept across? The other thing to think about is: what is the best format of communication for what you are trying to tell? Some stories work best when written down, others are much better in pictures or video.

This is another aspect of Speakers of Science: it is a place for experimentation, a place where the writers can find their voice that fits with their science.

I’d like to thanks everyone that sent in applications – it was a tough choice. We’re only starting small, so I couldn’t pick everyone I’m afraid.

The first community members are: Lauren Tedaldi, Rowena Fletcher-Wood, The Musings Podcast (Andy Roast, Chris Clarke and Dave Lawrence), Jovian Tsang, Alexis Webb and Clare Fieseler.

I hope over time that the community will grow. So if you have ideas for a blog that you would like to pursue, then get in touch! We’d love to hear from you.

Speaking to… Jeff Howe

“The new paradigm is shiftyness. And that’s our premise. Not only will things not stop changing. But the rate of change is only going to increase.”

Jeff Howe
Image credit: Daniella Zalcman

This is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Jeff Howe

Jeff Howe, the man who co-coined the term “crowdsourcing” has had many adventures in science communication in his time. I managed to speak to him at the Citizen Cyberscience Summit in London yesterday, and in this interview we explore how he coined the term crowdsourcing, some of his multimedia teaching methods and his new book.

Jeff first used the word Crowdsourcing in a 2006 article in Wired: The rise of crowdsourcing. It was all about the disruptive elements, as well as promise of sourcing out to the crowd. His focus was on the democratisation of crafts that are usually the premise of professionals. Continue reading

Speaking to… Adam Hart

” I love talking about science, I enjoy the theatricality of giving talks and broadcasting work, even at the early stages, has taken me to fascinating people and places around the world.”

Adam Hart Science CommunicationThis is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Adam Hart

Name?

Professor Adam Hart

Where are you based?

Cheltenham

Who do you work for?

University of Gloucestershire

What type of science communication do you do?

All sorts! The last two weeks have seen me talking to various audiences about the cross-over between biology and engineering and insect pheromones; interviewing a developmental biologist for a Radio 4 documentary; helping to develop and plan an upcoming TV documentary I am doing; chaperoning undergraduate students in the Houses of Parliament learning about how science informs policy; analysing and planning ongoing citizen science projects with the Society of Biology (The Flying Ant Survey and Spider in da House); writing two magazine articles; assessing a CREST science project in a local 6th form; thinking ahead about National Insect Week and doing a local radio interview. Looking back through the diary that’s pretty typical and it can be a struggle fitting it in with university responsibilities, teaching and an active research programme. I’ve learnt to be very time efficient, I work well on trains and I have a very understanding employer! Continue reading

Speaking to… Dr Helen Roy

“I feel that I have a responsible to share my findings with others and to help people get involved with science.  A connection to nature, in whatever way, is so important.”

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Image credit: Centre for Ecology and Hydrology

This is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Dr Helen Roy

Name?

Dr Helen Roy

Where are you based?

Wallingford (South Oxfordshire)

Who do you work for?

Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

How did you get into science communication?

I have been passionate about natural history for as long as I can remember and communicating my interest has always been so intertwined with the natural history itself – the two go together. As a small child I would write booklets on wild animals and as a teenager I enjoyed helping to put together an annual report on a local nature reserve for the Natural History Society magazine. As an undergraduate I enjoyed writing for the University newspaper. So it is perhaps not surprising that alongside my career as an ecologist I have taken every opportunity to communicate my research interests and discoveries in as many different ways as I can – I am very fortunate that I have been given lots of opportunities to pursue my desire for communicating science. Science communication is an essential part of the scientific process.

What type of science communication do you do?

Much of my science communication has been in relation to my research on ladybird ecology and in particular through the UK Ladybird Survey (which I co-lead). I enjoy writing for peer-reviewed journals but I also enjoy writing for more popular publications such as entomological magazines or British Wildlife. I have also had the opportunity to work with journalists on newspaper article, radio and television interviews and features. Additionally I have a twitter account for the UK Ladybird Survey – which I thoroughly enjoy. I have also contributed to blog entries for a number of science blogs. In 2009 I worked with the BBC on their Breathing Places initiative and had the utter pleasure of writing ladybird “top trump” cards. I have led a number of exhibitions including a contribution to the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition in 2009 – that was amazing! I also get invited to give talks for natural history societies and wildlife groups, Café Scientifique and other groups – I thoroughly enjoy the discussions with so many people who attend these events across the country. The UK ladybird Survey has an e-mail account and I respond to every enquiry – another fun communication activity! I even still write the occasional letter in response to a postal enquiry.

Who is your main audience?

Many, many different people – most frequently the people contributing to the UK Ladybird Survey but really anyone who will listen and chat!

Why do you do it?

First and foremost it is the privilege and the pleasure of having the opportunity to do so. It is fun. It gives me such a tremendous buzz.I come away with new ideas. Secondly I feel that I have a responsible to share my findings with others and to help people get involved with science. A connection to nature, in whatever way, is so important.

Why do you think science communication is important?

There are some enormous questions to be addressed in science and some difficult decisions to make going forward – particularly in relation to environmental change. It is really important that we work together to address such demanding questions and there is a part that everyone can play. Science communication helps increase understanding and is underpinned by a call to action in some cases.

What do you love about science communication?

Science involves a systematic approach to understanding our natural world. Some people might consider it as a factual and solitary pursuit but to me it is so creative and hugely collaborative. Science communication allows me to extend my collaborations from the science community to the wider world. It is the most amazing experience to talk to others about something that delights me on a daily basis – science.

What has been your favourite project?

The UK Ladybird Survey. I remember my first observations of ladybirds as a 6 year old in my back garden on the Isle of Wight. Here I am decades later still as captivated as I was in 1976.

Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?

I am delighted that this year I will be working with the British Science Association and EDF Energy on a project with schools (and others) to record insects visiting flowers – I am really excited to be working alongside communication experts and a colleague at CEH Dr Michael Pocock – we have some really exciting plans for the year ahead!

The UK Ladybird Survey will continue to be a focus of activity for me – I run this as a volunteer alongside Dr Peter Brown (Anglia Ruskin University) and Richard Comont (Bumblebee Conservation Trust). It is the most enjoyable hobby – and the information we gather from the thousands of people who contribute records is making amazing contributions to our understanding of ladybird ecology in the UK.

I am extremely keen to get people recording the parasites of ladybirds and I have already begun to ask people to look out for one very special parasitic wasp which forms a fuzzy straw-brown cocoon under the ladybird and so is very easy to spot. We are interested in exploring the way in which this parasite attacks the harlequin ladybird compared to other species of ladybird such as the 7-spot – we are getting some interesting sightings.

Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?

Continue reading

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Speaking to… Jason G Goldman

“As a writer, you can’t really ever see the reaction of your audience to the things you think are really cool. You can’t hear them laugh at your jokes and bad puns. But you can when you’re giving a talk, and as a writer, that’s invaluable.”

jason-g-goldman-science-communicationThis is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Jason G Goldman

Name?

Jason G. Goldman

Where are you based?

Los Angeles, California

Who do you work for?

I’m freelance at the moment. My regular gigs are a blog with Scientific American, a roughly fortnightly column with BBC Future, and just a few weeks ago I began writing a weekly column at Conservation Magazine. I also contribute pretty regularly to the blog at Nautilus Magazine, and I’ve been writing for the Advances section of the Scientific American print magazine for the past few months. The last couple years I’ve also been an Associate Editor at ScienceSeeker, where my main responsibilities have been to coordinate the weekly selection of editors’ picks and to cat-herd the editors themselves. While there I also oversaw the first “ScienceSeeker Awards.”

What are the ScienceSeeker Awards?

It was a contest in which people nominated their favorite blog posts that were written in 2012, and a group of judges selected the best. Winners received small cash prizes. Read more here and here. In the future, the ScienceSeeker Awards will actually be combined with the Open Lab project. More info on that will come soon, I think.

What type of science communication do you do?

Primarily writing. I also take a lot of photos (for fun), and enjoy when I can use one of my own photos to support my writing, but I identify mostly as a writer. Video and youtube are fascinating for me, but for now I’m still in the thinking-of-ideas phase. I’m so used to writing 800 or 1000 or 1500 word articles. Could I translate those skills to writing a 3-4 minute video script? My friend Joe Hanson says I can. I’m still experimenting. And as for what sorts of things I write, I like to write about things I find cool or interesting or surprising, and I like to draw connections between current events and the scientific literature. It’s what Ed Yong has called the “wow” beat. I’ve also gotten the chance to do a few radio and TV interviews, and those are always really, really fun. So is giving talks. As a writer, you can’t really ever see the reaction of your audience to the things you think are really cool. You can’t hear them laugh at your jokes and bad puns. But you can when you’re giving a talk, and as a writer, that’s invaluable.

How would you translate the written word to the screen?

On-screen visuals become more important. While words – that is, what you say – also matter a great deal, you can say less and communicate the same ideas because you can use imagery to do part of the work. At least, that’s my intuition. As I said, this is something I’ve only just begun to think deeply about.

Who is your main audience?

Anyone who will listen to me long enough to learn something! It’s so hard to get a sense of who your readership is beyond metrics like what sorts of browsers they use and what search terms they used to land on your piece. I try to assume that my readers don’t necessarily have a scientific education beyond the high school level, but I also think its important not to patronize them. There’s an important difference between a reader’s intelligence and his or her knowledge. You don’t want to underestimate their intelligence, while also not overestimating their knowledge. I do know that students sometimes use my writings in their school research, so I try to keep that in mind with my writing. My blog (and other writings) is family friendly.

How important is it to use metrics to understand your audience?

I think it’s good to start with at least having a sense of who your intended audience is. Are you writing for other scientists? For people within your own field? For kids? Families? Practitioners of some sort? The question of whether your actual and intended audiences overlap actually coincide is a separate one. I’m not certain that traditional web analytics can be all that useful for that sort of question, but there are other ways to find out who your audience is: you could just ask them, you could try to see who is sharing your work on social media, and so on.

How did you get into it?

I was reading science blogs back in a time when you could just about read every new blog post written about science every day. I realized that I wasn’t necessarily reading what I wanted to read. There were some excellent psychology or cognitive science blogs that occasionally covered animals (like Dave and Greta Munger’s excellent Cognitive Daily), and there were some great animal- or biology-focused blogs that occasionally covered behavior or cognition. Around the same time my own research interests were changing. My masters research involved conducting MRI studies of reading and dyslexia, but what I really wanted to do was investigate the evolutionary and developmental origins of the mind. So I thought, “hey, I can totally be a science blogger.” I used the fact that I was increasingly reading more in the animal cognition literature as an excuse to write blog posts about papers. Thus was The Thoughtful Animal born, on WordPress, in January of 2010. It wasn’t my first blog, but it was my first science blog. In March of that year I was invited to join Scienceblogs.com, and that was the start of my realization that I could perhaps leverage my “writing about science in my so-called free time as a graduate student” into a career.

Was it difficult to start writing about the science, or did it come naturally because of your interest in it? 

The difficulty for me wasn’t in writing about science, it was writing about science in an accessible, engaging way. It was in learning what are the sorts of details that are worth including and what are the sorts of details you can leave out. Do your readers want to know the intricacies of the statistical tests that were used in a given experiment, or only what the take-home message was? Should you describe every control condition? (Part of figuring this out is knowing who your audience is; see above) The next step, for me, was to begin to figure out how to infuse narrative into my writing. That is an enormous challenge itself, and it’s one I’m constantly trying to work on. That is, how to tell a story about the science rather than simply describing the science.

Why do you do it?

It’s fun. I really enjoyed research, but as I progressed in grad school I began to realize that the academic life wasn’t necessarily for me, for many reasons. In science, you really have to push hard on one particular question (or set of questions) for at least a few years at a time before switching gears and exploring other questions. But as a writer, I can jump into an entirely different set of questions every couple days. I also think that science communication simply really important. More on that in the next question.

Why do you think science communication is important?

David Attenborough recently said in an interview, “You can’t operate as a sensible voting member of a democratic society these days unless you understand fundamental scientific principles to a degree.” Indeed, the communication of scientific ideas to diverse audiences is critical for shaping policies in areas ranging from species protection and restoration to sustainable agriculture, fisheries management, energy use, and dozens more. For some people, perhaps learning more about the animals we share our planet with can be an entry point into understanding that science is both important and interesting.

What do you love about science communication?

It’s a constant challenge. Forget the fact that you need to understand the nuances of the research you’re trying to explain, or that you need to figure out an interesting, engaging way of explaining it. Both of those things are fun challenges to negotiate, but then there’s the part where the science communication ecosystem is evolving. The technologies we’re using today are going to be obsolete soon enough and we’ll have to learn something new. Science communicators working in a world fueled by YouTube and Instagram, powered by smartphones and tablets, have to think creatively about how to leverage the web and other technologies to construct their narratives and to deliver them to their audiences. Science writing is no longer limited to blog posts, feature articles, or books, but also occurs in the form of Facebook status updates and tweets. The so-called “death of print” has meant that science magazines exist both as print and digital entities. Blogs increasingly look like magazines. Some of the best (and worst) examples of the e-book “revolution” are science-based. And science writing – that is, the use of text – is but one part of a broader science communication ecosystem, and increasingly appears alongside photography, graphics, comics, videos, podcasts, animations, and mobile apps. It complements interactive media like timelines, maps, and games, and shows up even in museum or zoo exhibits. It might be becoming harder to actually make a sustainable living doing this – that’s what I’m told, at least – but it seems like there are more opportunities to actually communicate science than there perhaps have been ever before.

Do you think the world of science writing is doing well to keep up with this technological revolution?

Absolutely! There are a lot of very clever people who are experimenting, tinkering, figuring out how to leverage every new technology for science communication. It’s very exciting to watch and to participate in it where I can. Even just a casual perusal of The Atavist‘s offerings is a testament to the innovation in science communication. I’m a big fan of what they do. There’s also a great deal of more informal science communication that’s thrilling to watch. The official twitter account of the Mars Curiosity Rover (@MarsCuriosity) has nearly 1.5 million followers! The National Zoo’s Panda Cam is still going strong. These are different forms of science communication than your more traditional books and magazine articles and even blog posts, but they are science communication efforts nonetheless.

What has been your favourite project?

I’m really enjoying my new column at Conservation Magazine, it’s given me a chance to take a bit of a contrarian perspective on some big, thorny, controversial issues in conservation (like trophy hunting, for example). My sense of accomplishment was perhaps biggest as the result of serving as guest editor for the 2010 edition of Open Lab, the annual anthology of the bets science writing online. After nearly a year of effort, the feeling of holding The Open Laboratory 2010: The Best Science Writing on the Web – made of actual, dead trees – in my hands was pretty nice.

Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?

I’m always, always pitching new stories to my editors. I’m excited about organizing ScienceOnline Brain, a psychology- and neuroscience-focused ScienceOnline conference, which will take place in summer 2014 in Los Angeles.

Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?

There is at least one different path for every science communicator out there. The most widely-applicable advice is perhaps also the most obvious: read a lot, and not just science, and not even just non-fiction. And write a lot. Get started with blogging. Those early days in the relative obscurity of WordPress may seem tough – and they will be – but nothing is more important than simple practice. “Practice,” as a dear friend of mine likes to say, “makes better.”

Okay, one more thing. I think watching movies is useful too. Movies are arguably one of the most popular and successful forms of narrative storytelling in our culture today, so its worth paying attention to things like structure and rhythm and scene-setting while watching movies, and even TV shows too.

You can keep up to date with Jasons’ many activities via his Twitter feed at @jgold85 or visit his website.