Assembling (Science) Networks Online

“People never ask whether birds are good or bad because they fly in flocks,” I say, while a murmuration of starlings whirls on the screen behind me. I pause, letting the audience watch the dark forms flow across the sky, “but discussions of social media always seem to focus on how these technologies turn us into a mindless mob. It’s a condemnation and a dismissal. I hope we stop thinking like that and instead, ask better questions about what drives these amazing patterns of behavior online and off.”

This is my favorite moment in our workshops on social media. I feel grounded – like we can step back and take a deep breath, soothed by the strange and beautiful rhythms of the flock coming to roost as dusk falls. It reminds me too, of days online where I’m one of the flock, banking and wheeling as memes and must-reads ripple across twitter.

It’s not just entertainment either – the hive mind is capable of mind-boggling knowledge production. Whether it’s crowd-sourced science projects like FoldIt (protein folding), EyeWire (neuron mapping), Galaxy Zoo (analyzing Hubble images) or expert communities like the Polymath Project, (blog-based “massively collaborative mathematics”), the social media swarm can both work and play.

But what if you don’t have a flock? 
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Extra! Extra! Read All About It!

Whether for a scientific paper or a news article, titles and headlines have a pretty tough job. They need to grab your attention and make you want to know more, while also avoiding false pretenses that leave you feeling betrayed by time you are halfway through reading. Many scientists often view these things as an add-on, but studies have shown that headlines can significantly influence readers. And we have found that thinking about headlines can actually be a useful way to take your Message Box to the next level. Of course, scientists don’t get to choose headlines for news stories about their work – in fact, that task usually goes to the editor of the piece – but thinking about what you would like the headline to say can be a useful exercise in distilling your science down even further.

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Prepare to Engage at AAAS 2016

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Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 10.54.55 AMWe are beginning to see the first few signs of spring here in Washington D.C. and are eagerly anticipating the famed cherry blossoms. It’s also the time of year to prepare for the annual American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) conference. In 2016, it will be held in Washington D.C. from February 11-15. As you might be aware, the submission deadline for sessions is Friday April 24, 2015. Over the next three weeks, we hope you consider proposing a session or planning to attend. [Read more...]

5 Steps for Integrating #SciComm into STEM Graduate Education

Last month, an article in The Atlantic stated, “Beginning this year, the Medical College Admission Test [MCAT] will contain questions involving human behavior and psychology, a recognition that being a good doctor “requires an understanding of people,” not just science.”  The same is true of being a good scientist. Understanding people is essential for succeeding in everything from teaching, collaboration, and grant writing to media interviews, public engagement, and Congressional testimony.

Yet traditional training in medicine, science, engineering, and other technical disciplines is not helping students to develop the suite of communication skills they need to succeed. How should graduate training shift to better equip STEM professionals for their future careers? [Read more...]

Before You Hit ‘Send’: How To Write Effective Meeting Requests

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We’ve said it before: scientists have a lot to contribute to policy discussions.  Policymakers welcome candid, cutting-edge information, and you really are the best one to share your research because you have the passion, the knowledge, and the expertise.  Our blog has lots of tips for what to do once you’re in the room with a policymaker – from understanding your own bias and role to describing your work and field within a policy context – but how do you go about getting that meeting in the first place?

Policymakers are busy people, whether you’re seeing a congressional committee staffer in Washington, D.C. or your district representative for your state legislature, so it’s important to make your initial outreach clear, concise, and salient!
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Packing It All In

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Before I started traveling more often for work, I used to pack for trips by thinking about all of the things I wanted to bring with me…and then stuffing as much as possible into my allowed luggage. Who knows, I just might need three different pairs of flip-flops! But as this chore became more frequent, I realized how often I didn’t really use most of what I brought, and that my packing method was exhausting both to execute and lug around airports. And so, like any good scientist, I re-examined my method and realized that I should focus on just the things that I thought would be the most useful. Those extra pairs of flip-flops would be waiting when I returned home, and I could always purchase something I needed on the road in a pinch.
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Learning By Doing: Insights From Meetings With Decision-Makers

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The conference room this past Sunday was full of nervous excitement, tinged with the tiredness that comes from a long day. Chad English and I had just spent an afternoon with the Switzer Environmental Fellows, practicing and preparing for their meetings with decision-makers in the morning. It was the wrap up of a two-month process, and the first time that many of them had shared their research in the context of policy.  As the fellows filtered out of the room, we answered lots of questions, from complicated ones about the role of advocacy in science advising, to more straightforward ones about what to wear and how long it would take to get to the meeting.
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Going Public: What Do We Know About Our Investment In Science Communication?

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At this year’s AAAS annual meeting, the volume of sessions and workshops about science communications clearly reflected the community’s growing appetite and interest.  We’re notably moving past conversations about why scientists need to engage, and into conversations around how we can best support scientists to do so. Research shows that scientists do want to engage, but that they don’t have the time or resources to do it.

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Risking Engagement To Be Relevant

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We’re bombarded by headlines touting the public’s doubt in science. National Geographic’s March cover story begins: “We live in an age when all manner of scientific knowledge – from climate change to vaccinations – faces furious opposition.” As Dan Kahan says in his new paper What is the ‘Science of Science Communication’, “Never have human societies known so much about mitigating the dangers they face but agreed so little about what they collectively know.” For some of you, this only bolsters your resolve to engage. For others, it’s cause for wariness … or the impetus not to engage at all.

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No Silver Bullets: SciComm Insights from NAS Workshop

Recently, the National Academy of Sciences’ Public Interfaces of Life Science Roundtable hosted a 2-day workshop called “When Science and Citizens Connect: Public Engagement on Genetically Modified Organisms.” The goal for this workshop was to explore and examine what we know about the interfaces between scientists and society, to better help scientists navigate those spaces and engage.  While GMOs provided a lens for the conversation, the presentations and discussions are really relevant for any scientist thinking about engagement.
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