This blog post will be of no interest to people not actively involved in science communication. It is not accessible for people 'outside' of the science communication scene and for that reason I was reluctant to write it, it is also a rather grumpy post, but there were some things I just felt I had to get off my chest.
I stumbled upon what is known as 'Science Communication' through my interest and love of science & talking & writing. I love sharing ideas and thoughts and meeting new people so I have become actively involved in 'communicating science'. I have communicated to school children, fellow students & strangers. The people I have spoken to have been interested in what I have had to say. I started this blog because it seemed like a fun thing to do in between waiting for experiments to finish. I get annoyed with news articles that do not present data/facts & research correctly. I read BadScience and LOVED IT. I even joined Twitter (after refusing to for many years) after finding out that there is quite an active science community on there. I am based in Aberdeen, I moved up from London so I do not know that many people, I wanted to meet more science geeks up here I am (along with a science geek colleague) starting a Skeptics in The Pub meeting as a platform for people to meet. So this is my 'science communication' journey.
What I didn't realise until a few weeks ago is the massive debate that is going on about how to communicate science. I am including within this debate the skeptics (which are too militant), the bloggers (that blog but do little else), the journalists (which seem to debate endlessly on how things should be done), the academics who are a mixed bag... this is just the impression & some of the views that have been expressed by people since I 'joinined the scene'. The whole scene like many other scenes is quite elitist, mostly run and governed by a select few that interact with the media already. So why the constant put downs within the 'science communication' group of people that don't do enough or do things in a way that other people dislike? I thought the whole scene was based on a shared interest in science (or maybe I was being too naive there) and encouraging a wider interest in science? That was my purpose for getting involved.
From what I can see, it appears that the whole scene is being blurred. Take for example, 'science bloggers', they may not be blogging in order to communicate science to a wide non scientific audience. They may just want to share their thoughts and writing with a group of scientists or friends. It depends on the nature of their blog and that is the beauty of blogs - it is up to the individual what they write & who (if anyone) they target it at. The group shouldn't be lumped together as one.
The 'Skeptics' seem to like to raise awareness (but sometimes struggle to reach out of their own group) but from what I can see they are trying and are sometimes successful. I do not agree with instant dismissals of papers/information/formulas without first looking at the evidence, which I fear is where the skeptics sometimes let themselves down (and go against the whole nature of being a skeptic).
Then there are the science journos, the media bods. I have noticed a change in the way science has been reported over the past 12 months, a lot of science news is reported fully with pros and cons and less of the 'miracle' cure' hype. I know that things aren't perfect and that they never will be, but it is better/getting better. So here there seems to be some winnings! But should they preach to the scientists how they should share their data and ideas before publishing to get a news story out of it? No.
The phrase 'science communication' is massively overused and encompasses a whole range of people who are communicating for different reasons and purposes. A lot of this communication goes on 'underground' in blogs etc. Really the only people that actually communicate science to lay audiences are the few 'celebrity scientists' (maybe they will become like celebrity chefs), the journalists, the endless number of scientists that give up their time to do work in schools and science teachers.
I think the greatest challenge for all communicators (not just science, science isn't special and greater) is to be accessible to who you are trying to speak to. Not all communications should be targeted to a lay audience, nor should it all be targeted towards the science community, but depending on what you are trying to achieve you need to think about who you are trying to reach out to. I think a lot can be learned from other areas and communications experts. The science community in general has a disregard for anyone that doesn't come from a science background or isn't a scientist. I think science communication is failing here because the two groups (science & communications/PR) are so alienated from each other and more allegiances here would make communications more successful, to whoever you are trying to reach out to.