Call for papers: Symposium addressing Antipodean perspectives on Responsible Innovation

Call for papers for a symposium in August this year that addresses Antipodean perspectives on Responsible Innovation.

Antipodean typically refers to to the geographical setting of Aotearoa New Zealand and Australia. In this call, we’re keen on papers that explore this setting and papers that present an Antipodean way of thinking and seeing.

In this Symposium, we invite prospective authors to imagine, describe and probe the possibilities and practices of responsible innovation from Antipodean perspectives. We are looking to edit a Special Issue of the Journal of Responsible Innovation on the basis of Symposium contributions. 

The call for papers closes on June 11 with decisions on submissions by June 23.

Much more information on all of this is available here:

Call for papers: Queering scicomm – Representations, theory and practice

Dr Lindy Orthia (Australian National University) and I are preparing a proposal for a new book entitled ‘Queering Science Communication: Representations, Theory and Practice’ and we are looking for contributors. 

We invite expressions of interest from researchers to write full chapters on key topics in this area, and from practitioners to write ‘practice spotlights’ about queer-relevant science communication activities and projects.

We seek a diversity of perspectives in this volume and will explore queerness in the broadest sense, inclusive of lesbian, gay, bi+, trans, gender diverse, genderqueer, non-binary, intersex, asexual, agender, aromatic and other rainbow identities.

We strongly encourage chapter EOIs and spotlight proposals from LGBTQIA+ people, particularly members of First Nations, ethnic minority and non-Western communities, and LGBTQIA+ people from other marginalised communities and groups.

For details of what we’re looking for, see our Call For Papers here. Our deadline for expressions of interest is 28 February 2021. EOIs are 200-300 words for research chapters or 100 words for practice spotlights. Don’t forget to include a bio!

On supporting young LGBTIQA+ people

As a member of the University of Queensland Ally Action Committee and Ally Network, I work with a wonderful array of people to try to make our university and the wider community safer, more welcoming and inclusive for sex, gender and sexuality diverse people.

This year, we celebrated Wear it Purple Day – an annual day for reflecting on how we can support young LGBTIQA+ people – remotely with a ZOOM panel. The panel included students, advocates, role models, parents, and carers.

I’ve reflected on this event in a blog post, now hosted on the university’s Small Change website. The post includes four action items for people who want to be better allies for young LGBTIQA+ people. You can find it here.

Can hype be a force for good?

Today, I’m going to discuss one of my own articles as part of my research brief series. I’m doing this for two reasons. First, this paper contains the core conclusions of my thesis research and I’ve been promising to share those conclusions with people for years! Second, I couldn’t make it open access and this is a nice way of sharing the content (though I’m sure there’s a preprint somewhere online if you look…). 

So! Let’s look at my research essay on whether science hype can be a force for good.

Can hype be a force for good? Inviting unexpected engagements with science and technology

A brief summary

Problem: Hype in science is prevalent in science communication. Examples include celebrity scientists and exaggerated claims for the outcomes of research. I wanted to know: Is hype always a distortion and a lie? Or, can it be redeemed? 

Findings: I present the hidden opportunity of hype in which hype serves as a way of drawing out responses from the people impacted by science and technology.

More detail

Defining science hype

Before we launch into more detail, I want to take a moment to define hype. I do this because in this essay, and in my research, I draw strongly on the rhetorical heritage of hype and make no assumption as to whether hype is good or bad. 

This is important as hype is – to an extent – inevitable in the communication of science and technology. Definitions of hype, particularly science hype, centre on sensationalisation, simplification, and exaggeration. Hype is a means of expressing ‘yet unimagined possibilities’ and a common feature of the English language. 

Hype becomes difficult when we are asked to explain what the exaggerations of this rhetorical trope mean. This need for explanation also prompts active reflection on how meaning if constructed and conveyed. 

Underlying this role of hype is the assumption that communication is constitutive and engagement is performative. When we ‘do’ science communication, the act of communicating brings together different people and groups. This creates relationships and identities specifically in relation to the topic at hand. 

This process of engaging with one another makes different publics and the underlying assumptions of science and technology visible.

Okay, what are the drawbacks of science hype?

Science hype can be problematic. For instance, in research with implications for healthcare hype is intensely personal when it is used to promise breakthrough cures for disease and these promises are heard by patients and their loved ones. 

In the case of stem cell research, this has led to expectations for medical treatments that don’t yet exist and, consequently, to the rise of stem cell tourism – where patients travel overseas for unproven treatments. 

Because hype raises expectations, it naturally leads to disappointment and disillusionment where promised outcomes are not delivered. 

An practical view take on hype

Balancing hope and excitement with disappointment and disillusionment is an integral part of way science and technology actors seek funding and support for their work. Because the outcomes of these research projects are often so far in the future, they must create a picture of that future within the present. 

NASA is a classic example of this aspect of science communication. The space agency has been publicly promoting its vision of reaching Mars for years, despite the timeline for realising this goal being set at 2030 at the earliest. 

Here, hype helps NASA advocate for a particular future of space exploration. The agency uses exciting visions of a human presence on the planet to grab public attention, justify public investment, and exclude other options for space exploration. 

Could hype be a force for good?

So, we’ve seen here how hype can be negative or just useful for science and technology. But, can it be a force for good? 

The two examples that I’ve briefly introduced you to have foreshadowed the answer. 

In the case of stem cell science in Australia, raised expectations in patients for medical treatments has resulted in the creation of patient advocacy groups. For NASA, a deliberate shaping of the narrative has prevented alternate plans for space exploration coming to fruition with lobby group Explore Mars going as far as to outline how the focus of Mars can be maintained in their yearly reports. 

Here we have one instance of hype creating an opportunity for the participation of new voices in science and technology and one instance where this has been prevented. 

In my work, I’ve considered how the use of hype to draw attention to imagined outcomes from science and technology, also draws attention to the assumptions that inform them. 

Clive Barnett, a profession of geography and social theory, has noted elsewhere that “speaking for others is not a zero-sum game of silencing or exclusion, but an invitation, an opening up of a scene of claims and counter-claims”. In other words, by making a topic public you invite other people to contribute their own perspectives. Hype invites response, agreeable or otherwise. 

In some areas hype has generated more thoughtful discussions of how to make technical developments more socially responsible. One example of this is the push for reviewing and amending the ethical concerns raised by Artificial Intelligence.

This characteristic of hype presents an interesting angle for future research into how initial exaggeration and sensational of possible futures might be opened up into a broader discussion of whether we, as a society, want those futures. 

In that sense, hype is about imagination in science and technology. Here, the role of imagination is concerned with how new developments fit into the world and how our world might change to incorporate them. 

Further reading

Roberson, T, (2020), Can hype be a force for good?: Inviting unexpected engagement with science and technology futures, Public Understanding of Science, DOI: 10.1177/0963662520923109

Roberson, T., (2020), Can hype be a force for good?, ANU Open Access Theses, DOI: 10.25911/5e7099785f114 [Open Access]

Google-knowing economics

Welcome back to my research brief series! Some how I am already a day behind schedule. Is anyone else losing their sense of time during isolation?

Today we’re looking at Dr Vicki Macknight and Dr Fabien Medvecky’s paper on ‘google-knowing’ and economics. This paper considers how knowledge is created and accessed in a digital society and reflects on how publics are made for economics. This is not an open access article! You can, however, try requesting a full version of the text from the authors via ResearchGate.

(Google-)Knowing Economics

A brief summary

Problem: What does it mean ‘to know’ in a digital age? These authors look at how individuals access information about economics via the ubiquitous search engine, Google.

Findings: Macknight and Medvecky present a novel, agent-centric approach for understanding how people gain knowledge. In the specific case of economics, they find that the field is secretive and marked by gatekeeping. They call for more accessible, meaningful efforts to make the field public.

More detail

How are topics, like economics, made visible by the internet?

More than 4.5 billion people in the world use the internet. That’s nearly 60 percent of the world’s population. The internet is a ubiquitous aspect of our lives and Google is, overwhelmingly, used by people to access information. Google processes over 40,000 search queries per second on average.

Previous research has examined how search engines impact memory, how Google impacts everyday life as well as information retrieval, and the ethics of Google autocomplete. Other researchers have investigated how online life affects knowledge-seeking behaviours of academics.

In this article, Macknight and Medvecky use an agentric-centric approach to find out how the process of ‘Google-knowing’ (or using Google to search for information) affect the way people gain knowledge. They follow the journey of an imagined google-knower as they search for information about economics over the internet.

Macknight and Medvecky document the types and themes of content within this journey. They find that economics is, as a discipline, marked by “secrecy and gatekeeping” but also by “an insistence that it is not boring.”

This journal article provides a first step in research that considers the relationship of economics and publics by painting the public picture of economics. As Macknight and Medvecky note, understanding this public picture is important because it “determines the types of relationship people are able to have with it”.

The co-authors conclude that by acting as the google-knower in this study, they gain insight into how publics are empowered (or, this in this case, disempowered) by the presentation of economics. They call for more “open, accessible, meaningful efforts to make economics public” as well as “More thoughtful, nuanced methods for looking at how things are made public in the digital age”.

Further reading

How conflict framing and social identity affect public opinion

This is the second edition of my research brief series in which I pick a piece of research in science communication (or a related discipline) and provide a quick synopsis while blearily inhaling my first coffee. These posts are part of an attempt to start writing regularly. All suggestions and comments are welcome.

Today we’re looking at Dr Rebecca Colvin’s recent article on the role of conflict framing and social identity in public opinion about land change in the Journal of Environmental Policy and Governance. This article is not open access, but you can read a good portion of this work in an earlier form if you check out chapter five of Dr Colvin’s thesis!

The role of conflict framing and social identity in public opinion about land use change

A brief summary

Problem: Public opinion plays an important role when decision-makers use it to determine social acceptance for land use changes. Public opinion is largely formed by media framing of significant public issues, which can focus on social conflict rather than specific details of the proposed change. The exact impact of this conflict framing on public opinion is unclear.

Findings: Colvin and her co-authors conduct an experimental survey to gauge how fictional land use change media headlines with different levels of conflict framing affect the opinion of media consumers. They find that conflict does appear to shape public opinion. Misleading representation of that conflict in the media make public opinion an inaccurate indicator of overall acceptance of land use changes.

More detail

Citizen perspectives are increasingly expected to inform innovation. These perspectives – a.k.a. ‘public opinion – influences the decision makers working on policy change and political outcomes.

News media influences the formation of public opinion by: selecting which topics are discussed, shaping early understandings of emerging issues, and determining how these issues are framed in ongoing reporting.

Conflict is a common frame adopted by news media when reporting on issues that involve controversy or differences in opinions. This frame emphasises polarised positions rather than moderate positions and nuanced complexity.

Conflict framing can polarise pubic opinion when the information is absorbed by people with strong political identities. Current evidence suggests that these people respond to conflict by increasing the strength of their identification with a political group as well as their dislike of the opposing group. However! Other research indicates that reporting that focuses on polarisation around specific issues can encourage people to adopt less extreme positions to distance themselves from the “perceived incivility of polarisation”.

These suggest that news reporting of conflict can polarise or moderate public opinion, depending on the media consumer’s political identity. The study conducted by Colvin and her co-authors sought to further investigate the role of conflict framing and identity on public opinion about land use changes.

The study collected data through an experimental survey that presented 12 fictional stories of land use changes to a representative sample of the Australian population. The stories used three different levels of conflict framing. Participants responded to a random selection of these stories and also indicated their personal identification with land use change sectors (miners, environmentalists, farmers, and fishers) as well as four major Australian political parties.

Survey results indicated that increased conflict framing led to a moderation of public opinion. In addition, identity was not an important factor when it came to public opinion on land use change.

These results suggest that land use change lacks the politics and controversy of issues like climate change. The lesser politicisation of land use change means people working in the management of land use change do not have to deal with identity-based dislike promoting polarised attitudes.

The authors note that these results are significant for decision makers as the study demonstrates the need for awareness as to how messaging (and conflict framing) can impact public opinion.

Further reading

Non-Western and indigenous knowledges in science communication

Good morning! This posts marks the start of a new attempt to regularly write blog posts. I’ll be selecting some research in science communication (or a related discipline) and providing a quick synopsis while enjoying my first coffee of the day. If there’s a particular topic you’d like to hear about, let me know in the comments.

I’ll be starting off this series with Dr Lindy Orthia’s new article on non-Western and indigenous knowledges in science communication. The article is published in the Journal of Science Communication (details below), which is an open access journal. That means you can go check it out without paying!

Strategies for including communication of non-Western and indigenous knowledges in science communication histories

A brief summary

Problem: Existing accounts of science communication history are largely Eurocentric and Western. This prevents science communicators engaging with their longer, richer disciplinary history and marginalises the contributions of non-European, non-Western peoples. 

Findings: Orthia argues that for science communication to truly foster human diversity and diverse expertise, the discipline must: develop further, deeper cross-cultural connections, hold open conversations, and provide support for new research in science communication

More detail

History sets agendas. It informs and yet also prevents change. And, as Orthia notes in the introduction of this new journal article, our knowledge and awareness of history can both strengthen the community of a discipline and exclude potential members.

The origins of science communication as a discipline are generally presented as Western and recent. This characterisation is paralleled by the idea of ‘science’ as a Western and modern pursuit.

Calling something ‘science’ or ‘science communication’ bestows rhetorical power because these terms are exclusive.

Eurocentric histories tend to portray Western people and knowledge as inherently modern while non-European, non-Western peoples are tied to the past. Orthia contends that these accounts of history should be challenged because they evaluate knowledge by the standards of a different system and relegate that knowledge to the past. In doing so, these accounts imply that non-European, non-Western knowledges are primitive and substandard.

This is an unproductive approach for a discipline, like science communication, which is global and long standing. A lack of understanding of the disciplines diverse past contributes to ongoing marginalisation and inequity experienced by people within and without the discipline’s community and impairs our ability to do good research and practice.

In this paper, Orthia challenges the default characterisation of science communication’s history as Western and recent and argues that the discipline should, instead, be working towards understanding its “long term, cross-cultural histories”.

Orthia expands on this point using an example of science communication that is “likely among the oldest in the world”. This example depicts a geological event, witnessed by the Indigenous Australia Yorta Yorta Nation and still told in stories today.

Orthia presents a two-part approach for improving the inclusivity and diversity of science communication research and practice. The first part focuses on broadening our conception of science communication so that it becomes a set of practices rather than a single, unified endeavour. The second part recognises the multiple histories which can contribute to a deeper understanding of the disciplines past and present.

Further reading

Gamers help quantum physicists in massive citizen science experiment

More than half a million levels of a video game have provided random data for a global study testing the laws of quantum physics.

The Quantum Technology lab at the University of Queensland and ARC Centre of Excellence for Engineered Quantum Systems (EQUS) was one of 12 laboratories from five continents to participate in the Big Bell Test, coordinated by the Institute of Photonic Sciences (ICFO) in Barcelona.

The 100,000 participants generated more than 90 million human-generated random numbers, tripling expectations.

The Big Bell Test relied on the fact that people are unpredictable, and when using smartphones even more so. Players contributed unpredictable numbers, using smartphones.

Those random bits then determined how various entangled atoms, photons, and superconductors were measured in the experiments, closing a stubborn loophole in tests of Einstein’s principle of local realism.

The results are reported in Nature. An article in Australasian Science is due out in early September 2018.


The apocalypse is nigh – Hyped up headlines and climate change

Discussions on climate change have a tendency towards the negative. It’s not uncommon to read titles which emphasis doom and gloom.

An example from earlier this year started with a press release from MIT entitled “Persian Gulf could experience deadly heat”. This release presented a simulation forecasting the impact of climate change if there is no change to current practices. The researchers believe that a business-as-usual approach could result in deadly heatwaves, which could be fatal for those in affected areas.

The resulting headlines were, as you might imagine, apocalyptic. Gathered by Eric Holthaus on Slate, they included “Could worsening heat make the Persian Gulf uninhabitable?”, “The Middle East Could Become Too Hot For Human Life Within the Next Century“, and “These Cities May Soon Be Uninhabitable Thanks to Climate Change“.

Holthaus had the opportunity to interview one of the study’s co-authors Elfatih Eltahir,  who said, “I’m learning my lesson in dealing with the media.” He went on to tell Eric that the issue probably stemmed from the word ‘habitability’. A public health term which some journalists seem to have misunderstood. Another problem was the conditions of the study which would be rare and not unavoidable.

Elfatih said, “These are heat wave events, this is not continuous heat… If people in these cities remain in an air-conditioned environment, then they will be safe.”

Framing science

As James Painter wrote in The Conversation, the climate change “mega-story” within the media is one of doom and gloom. The disaster narrative grabs attention easily but fails to create motivation for action or genuine engagement. In fact, appeals to fear are more likely to create defensive avoidance (‘This is too scary to think about’), reactance (‘They are trying to manipulate me’) and desensitisation.

Journalists adopt news frames to organise new stories and convey a central issue in manner that helps audiences know how to feel and think. Frames act as an aid for interpretation and a filter. Research in this field has previously shown that frames presented in press releases shift when stories enter the news cycle – often becoming more focused on inciting emotion. The way content is framed can influence judgements made by lay publics. That means the use of apocalypse-centric frames (or ‘mega-story) for climate change research poses a risk in the sense that negative, less useful reactions are created.

This is significant because, as Eric Holthaus notes, we do have a choice when it comes to climate change. We can continue on the current course, or we can review our current behaviour and change.

Science art: Lynn Taylor

Lynn Taylor is a visual artist who works in her Lighthouse Studio on the Otago Peninsula. She recently paired up with her daughter, Petra Fersterer – a particle physicist, to create a visual expression of Petra’s research, which looks at trapping ultra-cold atoms.

“Atoms are constantly moving, which makes them difficult to observe. To even attempt to trap atoms, they must be slowed down by cooling (close to absolute zero). The next hurdle is to pinpoint them. Due to the bizarre workings of quantum mechanics, the act of observing atoms changes their appearance or nature. Fersterer is trying to find ways to overcome this problem by using lasers to manipulate the atoms under observation.”

– Article written by Elsie Percival in SciArt America (Full article here)

Taylor produced prints using solar etching with images and symbols arranged to portray atom and laser structures. In her blog, she writes, “I was particularly fascinated with the notion that atoms change when you observe them and so I started distressing small round mirrors. I had varying degrees of success (i.e. lots of shattered glass) with printing and etching directly onto the glass however I did achieve surfaces that change when you look at them.”

This art was featured at the Otago Museum as part of the UNESCO International Year of Light Art and Light Exhibition in which seventeen artists collaborated with thirteen scientists to create visual responses to scientific research.

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