Research and Media Network

Bringing people together to improve communication of research findings

In our earlier discussion, members of the network have identified the following significant obstacles to effective knowledge sharing and science communication:
1. Low priority/low interest in science by media
2. Low focus by government on science & its communication
3. Need for better training of science communicators
4. Gap between scientists and journalists
5. Lack of planning for science communication
6. Low scientific knowledge among journalists
7. Poor communication by science community
8. Cultural and political opposition to science
9. Lack of political will to support science communication
10. Language barriers, especially English being dominant
11. Lack of scientific literacy among the public & policymakers
12. Poor framing of science stories – lack of relevance to audience
13. Use of complex language
14. Poor writing/communication skills among scientists
15. Scientists fear of media distortion
16. Bureaucratic and legal obstacles to communicating science
17. Scientists discouraged from communicating by their managers
18. Science communication seen as a ‘waste of resources’
19. Scientists wanting to keep knowledge to themselves
20. Difficulty in translating science into local languages.

What are we going to do about them, colleagues? Let us have your suggestions.

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David -

You might have read my mind! I and some colleagues have been collaborating on exactly such a network, which you can find at www.sciencealert.com.au or www.sciencealert.com

This site focuses exclusively on science from Australia and New Zealand, which tends to be disregarded by the main science news sites in the US and Europe, and is therefore not covered by any other site on the internet - at least to the depth we are doing.

The chief difficulty one needs to overcome is that scientists do not willingly or readily contribute material to the internet - some because they are too busy, others because they despise it and others still because they have not bothered to familiarise themselves with the techology (yes, I still meet scientists who refuse to carry a mobile phone or even to answer email.)

This means one has to have a method for gathering material, which is cheap and efficient.

Second, in our case we are operating as a volunteer, pro bono activity, funded out of our own pockets, and cannot afford hordes of scientific editors, so that material has to come having already been subject to some kind of editorial process. We also insist on plain language. Thats where science communicators come in, as they provide the bulk of the material (either knowingly or unknowingly).

As to the analysts, we scan the local internet for good opinions and I myself have a wide range of contacts (I was a science journalist for many years) whose arms I can twist.

So what we are doing is a sort of experiment to see if we can use the internet in the way you describe, to share knowledge freely and more widely. (Which, incidentally, is my particular interest.) We are finding a good many sites, including news services, are now linking to us or taking feeds from us.

Let me know if you are interested to pursue this discussion off line.

best wishes

Julian
Julian: I think one simple thing that could be done is to educate the scientific community on how the press functions. Many of them are not aware that a story would pass through several hands before it appears in print and so beating up on reporters on distortions is not helpful. I have found it very helpful when reporters sit down with scientists and explain to them how the system works and how to make sure that they can get news coverage. But this will not kind of education will happen more easily in an atmosphere of trust and respect and not one in which scientists want to lecture the pressure on their presumed failings. Maybe schools of communications and think tanks might provide platforms for such learning. I have seen remarkable growth in maturity in relations between scientists and sciences journalists in Nairobi. My best moments have been when the press is explaining to scientists how best to behave so they can be heard.
I couldn't agree more, Calestous. I spent quite a lot of my time training scientists, young and old, how to handle the media. I have sent Mike a paper on this, which explains the relationship between the media and science and how to handle it. I'm hoping he will make it freely available to other members of the network.
Julian: I would appreciate to see the paper. My e-mail is . I think the issue of professional dialects and departmentalism is a problem. Scientists are not often taught to communicate (and like lawyers they are often rewarded for obfuscication). This adds to the perplexion of a deadline-challenged journalist with a major in English language or literature. It would make so much sense to make the work of both professions easier. The reason scientists publish is so they can communicate. But sadly they focus on communicating to their professional sub-tribes. The good news is that there is more interest in the scientific community to communicate and we may actually see more scientists becoming journalists. One of the greatest science communicators of time is Nobel laureate Harold Varmus, the founder of the Public Library of Science on whose board I served until recently. Harold did his first two degrees were in English literature and English. I am not suggesting that everyone can emulate Harold but he serves as a role model on the importance of blending science and communication. Calestous
Calestous -

To find the papers go to the Network home page > Free papers on Science Communication >my comment at the start. You can read/download them there. Of more value, perhaps, is my full book on science communication, which can be obtained from CSIRO Publishing.

In my view most scientists will not communicate beyond their peer group unless the obligation/duty to do so is embedded in first year of their BSc. This is a cultural matter and needs to be addressed 'in the cradle'.

best wishes

Julian

Dear Julian:


Though, I am bit late to say, but, wish to put my thoughts on this very important and much relevant discussion. Given that your have already identified the obstacles from responses, for each point I will try to put my view:

  1. Low priority/low interest in science by media: If scientists could go to read their papers to miles away from a country, they are also able to circulate it through proper channel to media and innovations, certainly will catch the eye.
  2. Low focus by government on science & its communication: If this had been the scenario, how human beings are so much connected to science and technology, and could connect, see, and travel in seconds. This is not true, science remained the priority, but our scientists failed in communicating things to poor and needy most of the time, their Extension wings got rotten, and need revival.
  3. Need for better training of science communicators and Gap between scientists and journalists: Certainly this could be an area but not exclusively, for example in each of Indian university or research institution we have Extension wing, and their role is to communicate science or research to the people, and are trained in that. But, they even don't have coordination within their system, so, here any training will not help, if linkages and coordination is so weak. Yes, in some cases the journalists also need to be oriented towards science, but scientists and researchers need to come our of their cocoon of 'ego' to communicate it.
  4. Lack of planning for science communication: In any perspective it's not true. Any proposal or project when get submitted to any agency or government contain a important part of communicating science to the target group. Here itself the team is asked, that how they will ensure communication. It seems they only fudge here, and get their plans approved, if there is no planning as you say.
  5. There are political and bureaucratic issues, but, certainly for those scientists who wants to make difference, this is only excuse for most of them. We need to be skillful in convincing various stakeholders, through a strategic proposal and project.

Let me put example from Himalayan region in Asia, where a number of scientific and research institutions are involved in various research and scientific works. They are entrusted in Forestry, Land and Soil, Glaciers, WildLife, Water, Disasters, Environmental planning, etc. However, most of them are not able to communicate those thousands of researches and findings to the people in the region. That's what the region is called data deficit by various agencies and inefficient agencies in communicating science to the people.

In this let me quote an example from Environment Arena. The G. B. Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development was established in 1988 in Indian Himalayan region as an Autonomous Institute of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India. It is a focal agency, to advance scientific knowledge, to evolve integrated management strategies, demonstrate their efficacy for conservation of natural resources and to ensure environmentally sound development in the entire Indian Himalayan Region (IHR), apart from undertaking research and technology development and/or demonstration. However, for last 22 years, the institution failed in various fronts. With huge infrastructure, the institute could develop a army of scientists and researchers and commissioned many research projects in the region. But, except a few demonstration models in one part of Himalaya, it could not lead in evolving natural resource management strategy, nor communicating their research to the people. Their scientists have spent months and years in publishing papers and articles and reading them in various international conferences but the people in the region are not aware about their research and its application in the life of people in various developmental fronts.

So, this is the typical example of efforts. Here, we need to see that how our entrusted research institutions are not doing what they are ought to do, and communicate that science to the people, in a manner which they claim while submitting their proposals to government of donors.

Under #8, cultural and political opposition to science, I think the attached article should be of interest:  The Science of Why We Don't Believe Science
Interesting. However, these obstacles cannot be generalised. They are highly cultural dependent. Ther are countries where the media are highly interested in science. But low focus of governments on science seems to be quite widespread.

Language barriers are of course significant, but the dominance of English is not the problem. If all lanaguages were equal in their usage, cross-border communication would be even more difficult. My view is that every country should have a science translation council that attempts to identify priorities for government and academic support of science translation, and that can channel funds for translation projects in key areas.

In the case of Australia and New Zealand, for example, translation of agricultural science and food research from Japanese to English would be useful, as these countries can grow a range of crops that is similar to that found in Japan, and Japan is a major trade partner for agricultural products.

I have attempted to address this problem by creating The Research Cooperative, which is open to anyone involved in science communication, and where young inexperienced researchers, translators, editors, and publishers are welcome to join and start looking for opportunities to gain experience and build their personal networks.

We currently have more than 3,500 members, but actual activity on the network is still very limited. We also need some active, experienced communicators to join us and help encourage more discussion and activity!

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