On the virtues of having a lap

By Fabiana Kubke 28/09/2009

Many people consider that the brain is the most important part of our bodies. I am a neuroscientist, so I would normally have to agree. But I have recently been reminded of the importance of having a lap. 

I have to thank Nat Torkington for reminding me of that, and for reminding me of the value of paying attention to things that fell on my lap. There is a long story about how this came to happen but I will tell you about it some other time.

One of the things that recently fell on my lap is the opportunity to develop this blog. Not that I hadn’t thought of having a blog before (I had, and indeed had made several attempts at actively having one) but never saw it through, partly because it moved me far away from my comfort zone. But now the Science Media Centre’s idea of participating in this great initiative that is Sciblogs.co.nz, fell on my lap and this is a project I really want to support.

So what does Sciblogs.co.nz mean to me and why am I excited about it?

The major reason I am interested is beautifully articulated in Diego Golombek’s quote (thanks Diego for letting me adopt this wonderful ‘motto’):

Because it is time for scientists to pull their heads out of the lab and talk about the wonders, greatness and miseries of their profession

Diego Golombek runs a series of very exciting projects in Argentina geared towards public science education, and I have always admired his achievements. (’Science barks but does not bite’ is another of the wonderful phrases he coined).

I recently wrote in a proposal I submitted that:

Knowledge about basic science issues and evidence-based health care are fundamental […] at the community and national levels. However, academics traditionally entrust the media with the responsibility of providing that information.

On June 23rd Peter Griffin gave a talk at the University of Auckland, where he pointed out that

Scientists should become proactive about science communication

I couldn’t agree with him more, and it was great to hear from him about very specific ways in which this could be made to happen.

Scibogs.co.nz provides a platform for this engagement to happen, and the timing could not be any better.

The formation of the Science Media Centre itself recognizes the need to ensure better communication between scientists and the media (and hence, with the general public). The appointment of Professor Sir Peter Gluckman as Chief Science Advisor to the PM also underscores the need to have a strong voice originating from the science sector feeding into the government and the general public.

The Sciblogs project taps on another side of things: it will open a direct line of communication between New Zealand scientists and the community directly giving its readers the opportunity to talk to us directly through the comments boxes. Yay!

This is quite different from what the public (and scientists) are used to (at least here in New Zealand). We scientists give public talks and, if you are lucky enough to get in the room, you might be also be lucky enough to be allowed to ask a question. We have open days, such as the Brain Open Day or Incredible Science Day, and Café Scientifique, which are great if you can actually physically make it to the event. Another great place where scientists participate are Ignite talks (these are posted on the web) and to a much lesser extent, some Pecha Kucha talks. I love all of these formats, but they don’t necessarily allow for a wide interaction between the public and the scientists.

The Sciblogs project gives everyone with access to an internet connection a direct communication line with a number of scientists around the country. You can comment on their posts, ask questions, seek advise on your science fair project, clarification on a public health issue, and so much more. And we will be listening.

So I hope you will embrace your lap and take advantage of what Science Media Centre through Sciblogs.co.nz has just dropped on it.