Science Communication: #FtBCon liveblogging by @nenfeataiko

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Science Communication 12:00
Ben Zikovic and PZ Myers

I think we all know who PZ is. But he introduced himself anyway.

Bora was on scienceblogs.com for a long time, now blogs editor at Scientific America. Runs somewhere around 50 blogs. Involved with students in science writing programs. Science coverage is mixed. Hard part is getting good science coverage to people who go to see political news or sports or Hollywood news.

PZ points out that we’re moving from old media to new media. Is Scientific American changing and adapting?

Bora: In the past, journalism/communication has been one way. Journalism and editors took over the task of finding out who is trustworthy as a source. We’ve gotten lazy.

PZ had an event in which a scientist talked about ice fishing and that brought in lots of people. Media has pros who can do lots of background work, but old media has lost touch with how to get people excited about science and how to connect with personal interests. A lot of people are naturally interested in science and just don’t know it.

Bora thinks the old media system ossified. Newspapers have consolidated into one source for many people: how do you reach all of them. This might be why we have the “he said, she said” school of journalism. What is left of science becomes CANCER CURE because it’s safe. Science stories got thrown to people who weren’t qualified.

PZ sees it as a switch from science to tabloid media. There is a fundamental conflict between what science wants to do and what the publishers want to do.

Omni magazine was a glossy science magazine put out by the publishers of Penthouse. Published science fiction, technology and science. It failed/folded.

Scientific America is oldest longest continuously publishing magazine in North America. It’s done this because of bankruptcy which led to a revamp of org to digital first. Every org has split between business and editorial staff, which is good. Writers view other mags as collaborators, business as competition. Any new science reader is good for all science mags. We can all help each other in our goal of science literacy.

Scientific American is a good bridge from pop science to more technical science. Wired is another good example. With blogs you can expand your audience, who you’re writing for. Range from kids to post docs.

What about difficulties? What went wrong with Science Blogs and Seed Magazine? What is Scientific American doing differently?

Bora thinks they shouldn’t have kept blogs and magazine separate. No good communication. Don’t do this! Scientific American did the opposite. Keep integrating things.

PZ: There’s often a difference between what you post in a blog and what you write in a magazine, but we can be aware of this and tailor it. Any of the blog writers for Science Blogs could have written for the mag as well. Missed opportunity.

How can an average person communicate science in a context where others are doing bad science/not using science appropriately?

You have to have vocal people who push media to talk about things, but in the trenches you can be nice and gentle and challenge through Socratic method. You need to have both of these. Third, on the web: you also have to have both kinds. 99% of the audience is not unchangeable. Silent audience is who we should keep in mind. Some will pile on data, some will make things simpler, some like sarcasm, some like gentle: each method has its place.

PZ wants us to stop silencing other people’s approaches. We can have many people doing different things, but individuals can have different voices. We are intelligent individuals who can tailor our responses.

Bora’s a sell out! He changed his tone to make a living at times, but his personal things can be more snarky. Changing tone does not change message.

PZ says it’s fine to have a small fee for many things, but the problem is hundred dollar articles. Open access is great, but we need to find affordable ways to have access to science info.

What should people be reading for science info now?
Scientific American, Science Seeker.org aggregates science blogs (has editors and only approved blogs are there),

Where do you draw the line in approving blogs? E.g. “What’s Up With That” blog will never be on Science Seeker, but how do you determine?

There has to be a feedback loop between offline and online. Example: Dover. Many bloggers did research and were on the stand in a trial. Online and offline interacted…castrated creationism. Something like that has to happen with climate.

PZ recognizes that while Dover legally castrated creationism, there is still the court of public opinion. Public schools in Minnesota are still teaching creationism. What Dover represents is a kind of dyke: we’ve sandbagged. We still have the problem of the rising floodwaters though.

It can even be harder when we have to police our own. We have to re-aim everyone (e.g. GMOs). We should be going after the corporatization of science. Anti-vax is a similar crowd. It’s hard to describe exactly whether certain positions are right or left. We don’t want to tie science to ideology. There are simply true facts. This is particularly difficult particularly when Congress is so ideologically driven.

Science needs to be an independent source.

Media is a broad term. We need to be specific. How do we get the good media to get a better and broader audience?

Where is our AM science programming? How do you get science into media like radio or television? We need our own rational voices that get across a message.

Bora thinks we need multitudes, not just single popularizer like Sagan or Attenborough. Single people can only do so many things and focus on so many things. Multitudes of voices, different approaches and different personalities, more women and more diversity will be more approachable.

PZ would love multitudes of voices, but it would be nice to even have one on places like radio or TV.

 

About the Author:

Olivia is a giant pile of nerd who tends to freak out about linguistic prescriptivism, gender roles, and discrimination against the mentally ill. By day she writes things for the Autism Society of Minnesota, and by night she writes things everywhere else. Check out her ongoing screeds against jerkbrains at www.taikonenfea.wordpress.com

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