Tag Archives: science communication

On engaging with the public, and why we do science

This morning I read a fantastic piece by @ScientistsMags about science engagement, which so completely echoed my own sentiments I just had to link to it. Quite apart from the fact that I think we need more women in science and greater scientific literacy amongst the general public, there is another reason why I really like talking to sixth formers and school pupils about science; and even teaching undergrads. Every time I explain my research, I understand it a little bit better myself.

Excerpt:

You would think that a scientist would love nothing more than to talk about their work. They do, usually to another scientist. The general public is an afterthought or not even considered. … I do believe that if you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough, and so did Richard Feynman.

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A quick round up

It’s been a busy few days, and in the meantime lots of other people (who may be more articulate than I am right now) have done some great coverage of the Take the Flour Back protest, and GM stuff in general. I kinda want to get out of my little Rothamsted loop and talk about something else, so here are some links to articles and blog pieces I enjoyed.

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Someone is WRONG on the internet (More on GM…)

This is me this lunch time:

Faced with a day of experiments that don’t require poking every 15 minutes, an inability to order anything due to some delightful fluke of our ordering system, no teaching commitments because my undergrads had their exam this morning, and no social engagements, you might expect that I would be spending a peaceful half hour sat on a polystyrene box outside my office enjoying the sun. (That’s not actually a joke… photos to follow).

Sadly, not.

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More Q & A from Rothamsted

Sense about Science have published another interesting Q & A session with the Rothamsted scientists about GM in general and their experiment in particular.

You can read it all here.

And in related news a man has been charged with criminal damage (having vandalised the Rothamsted test plots).

An ode to science journalism and science education

I like science.

I like doing science.

But I also like telling people about science.

Many of my colleagues view outreach as something that has to be done in order to tick the box labelled ‘Public Engagement’. It’s a waste of their time, it’s uncomfortable, and nobody cares anyway. Who wants to turn up at a school to do a lunchtime talk only to find that none of the sixth form even come? Who wants to give up their Saturday for a big public engagement event when all anyone is interested in are the ecologists at the next table with the fun game?

I’m at the other end of the spectrum. My PI has specifically warned me that next year (aka The Final Phase) he doesn’t think I should be doing any outreach, and he wants me to give up my in-house teaching commitments (because I do too much at the moment). I love teaching. I love telling people about what I do. And I also love debating about important issues like GMOs or food security or climate change or the links between autism and … well…. everything!

I like talking to interested young people. I like talking to interested old people too. But more than anything I think it’s incredibly important to  talk to uninterested young people. Here in the UK it’s compulsory for students to take a certain level of science until they are 16. Students learn about forces and they learn about the periodic table and they learn about photosynthesis and respiration and food chains.

They rarely learn how to interpret a scientific news article.

And for me, this is where the major problem is. I blame scientists for poor dissemination of their research and I blame the appalling standard of science journalism in this country for a multitude of sins. But I also blame the inability of the general public to read a ‘science’ article and go hang on a second… ? 

Major decisions about public health, food security and the environment are heavily influenced by public opinion, which – while notoriously manipulatable in many fields – is often based far more on empty rhetoric than on any understanding of what is actually going on.

I don’t believe for a moment that scientists should have carte blanche to do whatever they please without some measure of public accountability. But if I hope to achieve anything in my scientific outreach it will be showing 15 year olds just why it’s important that they have science lessons.

And believe me, it’s not so that they’ll know that 6H2O + 6CO2 à C6H12O6 + 6 O2