Let’s talk about communicating science

Whales loom above you in the whale mall at the Brisbane Science Museum

On March 18, Professor Ian Chubb (Chief Scientist of Australia since 2011) addressed the National Press Club as part of a two day Science Meets Parliament‘ event.

The group that runs this event (Science and Technology Australia) have three very specific aims:

  1. to encourage scientific dialogue between industry, government, and the science and technology community,
  2. to promote public understanding of science, and
  3. to foster close relations between member societies.

Now, I’m biased, but I really do consider this to be exciting. Particularly when it leads to speeches like Professor Chubb’s keynote address yesterday.

He said, “No matter how much we talk to each other and persuade each other that it is all important, we have to get the message out. We have to inform the public and keep them engaged. 

“The community must have confidence that the approaches taken by scientists and the quality of their work meet their needs, aspirations and ethical expectations.

“And they must be in a position to make judgments.  They will have to be alert and understand the differences between scientific evidence and, say, the commentary from vested interest groups in our community who can surely find somebody somewhere to give them a line that they can use to sow doubt.”

Test tubes, multicolour
But how do you engage people in complex discussions?

It seems to me that Professor Chubbs, Science and Technology Australia, and the rest of the speakers for the event have some wonderful intentions.

But, and here’s the big question, how do you engage people?

Different organisations use a different approaches. We have groups like Cafe Scientific who hold events and forums on a range of topics. There’s also:

Whales loom above you in the whale mall at the Brisbane Science Museum
Brisbane Science Museum

The challenge is finding the right way for different people and different topics… Easier said than done, right?

Craig Cormick from the CSIRO agrees: “It will be a challenge to do better, to reach those not so easily reached, but it’s a challenge we should all be prepared to step up to.” 

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