Science Communication seminars at Dunedin

By Grant Jacobs 14/02/2014

If you’re interested in science communication and are in the Dunedin area, mark these in your diary for Monday 24th and Tuesday 25th of this month:

  • The Science Writer’s Muse: The (Empirically) Unexamined Life is Not Worth Living. Dr Jesse Bering, 12pm Monday 24 February 2014.
  • Science Communication – Why do people engage, what are the impacts and how can benefits be increased? Professor Nancy Longnecker, 5pm Monday 24 February 2014.
  • Science on Film: What format do audiences really connect with? Dr. Maarten Roos, 12pm Tuesday 25 February 2014.
  • “FACT… The survival of the EARTH depends on FROGS” Communicating the science of global amphibian conservation. Associate Professor Phil Bishop, 5pm Tuesday 25 February 2014.

All talks are at the Centre for Science Communication Annexe, 7 Malcolm Street.

I’ve copied the blurbs for each talk below. At the end of the article I have listed some short pieces I’ve written on science communication for those who’d like more to read.

The Science Writer’s Muse: The (Empirically) Unexamined Life is Not Worth Living. (Dr Jesse Bering, 12pm Monday 24 February 2014.)

One of the greatest challenges for the science writer is the same as that faced by any other writer, which is the problem of finding inspiration for stories. The standard journalistic approach involves following research- based trends in some discipline and then simply reporting interesting new findings for a general audience. But for more creative science-writing endeavours, the best ideas may not be found in journals or conference proceedings, but instead in our own experiences. When it comes to writing about human nature, especially, our productivity can flourish merely by making a regular effort to empiricise the self. Turning our private encounters with the world into scientific questions – from our most banal moments to the most profound – allows us to constantly curate potential story ideas. In the present talk, I show how this “self as muse” technique works in practice, giving examples both from my own science writing and that of others.

Science Communication – Why do people engage, what are the impacts and how can benefits be increased? (Professor Nancy Longnecker, 5pm Monday 24 February 2014.)

Vibrant science engagement activities and resources are offered daily to diverse audiences by enthusiastic and committed providers. There are benefits of providing, sponsoring and participating in science engagement.

In this seminar, I will outline a working model of science communication and the research being conducted in my group which examines impact of a range of activities and resources. The aim of our research is to improve understanding of impact and what makes science engagement more effective in order to increase its benefits. While the focus of much of this current research is evaluation of science outreach, the principles and results are applicable to other science communication creative endeavours.

Science on Film: What format do audiences really connect with? (Dr. Maarten Roos, 12pm Tuesday 25 February 2014.)

Since the beginning of the film era science has been a major theme. In fact, the very first films were scientific in nature! With our society today ever more dominated by science and technology, most information about science and how people look at science and the scientist comes from film, TV and new media. Curiously however, there is comparatively little actual research into the efficiency of the actual formats of screened science programmes. A quick scan of the currently available programme formats does not evidence a large variety. When talking to science programme producers, there does seem to be certain preconceptions about what a science programme should look like and what audiences will connect with.

My research is to look into the historical reasons of how and why this came to be and whether the reasons that might have existed are (still) valid, or whether they have been accepted as ‘given knowledge’. I also propose to put it to a practical test by means of an experimental research programme. I will analyse different formats of presenting the same science case and test the efficiency and reception of these formats on a target audience.

This process will give insight into the ways in which science subjects can be brought to audiences in the most efficient way and as a result will help science producers and programme commissioners make better informed choices about programme formats.

“FACT… The survival of the EARTH depends on FROGS” Communicating the science of global amphibian conservation. (Associate Professor Phil Bishop, 5pm Tuesday 25 February 2014.)

Polar bears, pandas, elephants, rhinos, dolphins, kakapo, kiwi or rice paddy frogs – which ones would you want to save from extinction? While it is true that all biodiversity is undergoing serious decline as our human population continues to expand at an unprecedented rate, some groups of animals are in more trouble than others. To make things worse, the groups that are often the most seriously threatened and least charismatic are the ones that are more relevant to the functioning of the ecosystem and to human well-being.

But wait, there’s more… most of the people who are concerned about these issues (the ‘conservationists’) by their very nature are nurturing, accommodating people, who avoid conflict and have few entrepreneurial, promotional or business skills. A conundrum results – whereby the conservation messages are specifically constructed for like-minded individuals of a similar socio-economic group and are not favourably received by the other sectors of the community who can actually make a difference.

Amphibians are the most threatened group of vertebrates, with over 40% of all species threatened with extinction. I will outline some of the novel approaches we have used to communicate the issues around amphibian conservation and discuss future research methods that will utilize multi-disciplinary approaches and an understanding of the Process Communication Model. Communicating the relevance of the amphibian extinction crisis and getting people motivated to take action, centres on the essential elements of effective science communication – knowing, understanding and targeting your audience.

If you want them to listen, speak their language.


My material is lifted from the Centre for Science Communication’s flyer for these presentations. (Used with permission.) I apologise for not giving the institutional affiliations of the speakers, if/when I have time to track them down.

Other articles on Code for life:

Scientists can’t write?

What should be taught in science communication courses?

Three kinds of knowledge about science journalism

Striking the flame of science in kids

Thoughts on scientific abstracts also a science writing check-list

Communicating complex and post-normal science to the policy maker and the public — lessons from New Zealand

Genetic tests and personalised medicine, some science communication issues

Book review: Victorian Popularizers of Science