An interesting article in Nature last year, by scientist and journalist Anita Makri, described how science communicated in the popular media sometimes leaves the public confused, and that in the ‘post-truth’ world, scientists are increasingly being ignored. Makri criticised what’s known as the ‘deficit model’ of the public understanding of science concluding that it’s partly scientists’ fault that they are being ignored. The message is clear. Scientists need to be less technical and perhaps even a bit more humble when putting over their messages. Over the last year at the British Geological Survey (BGS), we’ve been putting this theory into practice communicating our major UK Geoenergy Observatories investment to the public.
All over the UK, there are communities and individuals who need access to reliable information relating to science. Those with medical complaints or working in healthcare roles benefit from access to the latest research, those in policy-making roles can only develop evidence-based policies with access to the best information, and all of us can struggle to work out whether a ‘fact’ presented in the media is reliable or not. A vast body of peer-reviewed scientific information is freely available, but few know how to find and use it. Improving access to this information is a move towards knowledge-equality.
AccessLab is a new public engagement format that aims to improve access to and the judgement of information, through direct citizen-scientist pairings. Why now?
A day doesn’t go by without the terms ‘fake news’ and ‘post-truth’ being bandied about, both of which have highlighted the difficulties people face when trying to find trustworthy sources of information. The ability to judge the reliability of different sources of information, whether it’s political, social or scientific, is a skill that can be learned.
The deadline for the NERC 2018 Impact Awards is fast approaching (noon on 21 May 2018) so we spoke to NERC’s Head of Evidence Fiona Goff to find out what makes a great application.
What are the impact awards?
The impact awards are about celebrating NERC-funded researchers and their colleagues in research user organisations whose work has had substantial impact on the economy and society either in the UK or abroad.
There are many reasons why academics, funders and universities want to find better ways to involve the public in research. Underpinning most are common concepts; social equity, inclusivity and responsible use of tax payer’s money. ‘Science for all’ has been a policy driver for decades, and yet students from poorer families are still less likely to study science post 16, and less likely to do well when they do. As such, many of us working on public engagement with research do so with an eye to targeting ‘hard to reach’ audiences. These are generally those publics from cultural and socio economic demographics with traditionally low level of participation in science and, more broadly, in higher education. Despite inclusivity-facing public engagement, however, hard to reach audiences remain just that. Many of us will have participated in science festivals, workshops and outreach events where it is all too clear we are ‘preaching to the converted’; targeting the same already-engaged audiences again and again.
It is far too tempting to be dismissive of emerging buzzwords or sparkly new concepts as merely the re-emergence of established wisdom dressed in the latest fashionable ‘new-speak’. Occasionally however, a term will come along that helps us re-evaluate the place science has in society. The term ‘science capital’, a measure of an individual’s relationship with science, is just such a word, and to pluck another buzzy phrase out of the zeitgeist, it offers a chance to ‘check your privilege’ (perhaps a topic for another post!).
Over the last decade, the level of interest in climate change communication has grown rapidly – there’s now a huge number of people, organisations and institutions involved in the theory and practice of public engagement.
In part, the enthusiasm for public engagement has come from the realisation that without significant and sustained public support, technological and political progress on decarbonisation and wider sustainability goals is fragile. The reversal of domestic progress in the US following the election of Donald Trump (not to mention the withdrawal from the UN Paris accord) shows what can happen if there is not a robust, and bi-partisan platform of public support behind climate and energy policies.
Citizen science can be described as the participation of non-professional volunteers in professional science projects. Citizen science plays an important part in delivering environmental data on a range of scales and forms the basis of scientific research and management decisions. Such activities might involve counting ladybirds and bees, monitoring volcanoes or spotting an insect affecting trees. If citizen science is to be successful and sustainable into the future, project organisers need to know what motivates their volunteers and their colleagues!
In this post I want to share with you some findings from a recent report we published on motivations for citizen science (funded by the UK Environmental Observation Framework (UKEOF)).
I feel honoured to have been chosen as a Polar Ambassador as part of the Government’s Polar Explorer Programme – having the opportunity to engage with and positively influence young people’s life choices is definitely one of the best aspects of my job and I consider it a real privilege.
As a current STEM Ambassador I’ve delivered a number of school talks about Antarctic research and operations, but as a Polar Ambassador I can take this engagement to a much deeper level. I’m using the new Polar Research Vessel, the RRS Sir David Attenborough, which comes into service in 2019, and my own work experience as Head of Corporate Services at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) as tools to inspire both pupils and teachers to raise their aspirations in STEM subjects.