Sunday, April 29, 2007

Talking about science in the public

Remember, I talked about the blog we are going to have in one of the research projects I'm involved with. It's up and running now, but still only contains a few entries. With this blog being pseudonymous and all I am not going to link to it, at least not yet, but I do want to talk a bit about it here. Especially after I found this link yesterday where a freelance science writer and blogger here in my neck of the woods explains why she thinks we should change the way we think about science in the media. Her main points are that science has an oddly distinguished status in the news media, that it's only found worthy of mentioning after major discoveries have been made and that the general public knows too little about the scientific process before the results hits the headlines. I wholeheartedly agree. If I hadn't become a research scientist/academic I would probably have gone into either teaching at a lower level or into public outreach, and if there is one thing I hope to be able to change as a scientist it is to demystify the process.

It frustrates me daily that my own family and friends know so little about what I am doing , that the world of scientific research is so foreign to most people, that one is perceived as either extraordinarily bright and intelligent or remarkably different. I want people to know about the time, effort and money behind scientific results, the tedious collection of data, the careful analysis and heated discussions that are also part of the process, or the competition for grants, people and status. I am disheartened when the breaking news of my field fills the TV screen in a simplified and wrongish way. Not because journalists shouldn't talk about science, or because they should know all the minutiae, but because people are not offered any insight into where the results come from and why they are complex and two-sided.

When we first talked about having a blog for the research project it was as part of an extensive outreach package for a project that already has attained a bit of publicity. Apparently the blog as a medium has become so commonplace that every decent large collaborative project ought to have a blog these days. Nobody really talked about what should go on the blog until fairly late in the process. Most people involved seemed to think along the lines of reporting results/ field specific facts/ background and then we hope someone joins in and creates a discussion. What I wanted to do was to write about the day to day process on a more personalised level - provide a peak behind the curtain so to speak. I wanted to use this opportunity to talk about what happens before, during and after the research project, the people, the logistics, the After some discussion other group members seemed to come around to the idea, so that is the focus of the blog now. As I said it is early days and I don't know whether we will generate an audience or what an audience will gain from the blog, but I do think it is a different way of communicating science and I wish we would all try out more new avenues when it comes to public outreach.

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At 10:34 PM, Anonymous Kjerstin said...

I'm happy that my post struck a note with you! It's very interesting to know how scientists themselves feel about these things. Your description of the things you want to do with your project blog, corresponds exactly to what I'd like to see more of in science communication in general. Good luck with the blogging!

At 4:14 PM, Blogger saxifraga said...

Thanks. I think I will be writing more about the project blogging as it develops. I think it's interesting to see whether it's possible to keep an audience over time for that kind of blogging.


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