Thanking Liz Neeley: Champion For Scientists And #SciComm

Liz Neeley, doing what she does so well -- bringing communications trainings to new levels with style and insight. Image by David Kline.

I still remember the first day I met Liz Neeley, a little over seven years ago. We met in a hip coffee shop in Seattle. She had recently relocated there from Washington DC, where she was working for SeaWeb (first as an intern, then as project manager) to continue discussions about potential employment with COMPASS. She stood up from behind her Mac and shook my hand. The first words out of her mouth were how excited she was about this opportunity with COMPASS, followed by “I have so many ideas.” She was buzzing with enthusiasm and innovations. She turned her computer around, and her screen was filled with mock-ups and visuals of ways we could evolve how we help scientists – and ourselves – communicate. Because that’s what Liz does: she imagines, and she produces. Over the last seven years, Liz has tirelessly channeled this energy into COMPASS’ mission to support scientists to engage in the public discourse about the environment, while also working to move the larger field of science communication forward.

Today we are celebrating Liz, as we say farewell to her time with COMPASS. Listing all she has done would be impossible; the legacy and impact she leaves at COMPASS is strong. Liz has contributed to so many dimensions of COMPASS’ work to realize the change we want to see in the world, while also pushing us in new directions, particularly in the areas of social media and the science of science communication.

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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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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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Making Peace With Self Promotion

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I prepare for writing projects as if they are adventures, so when I sat down to write a book chapter this spring, I was excited. The topic was self-promotion in social media, for the forthcoming The Complete Guide to Science Blogging, made possible by an NASW Ideas Grant. My coffee was hot, my playlist was inspired, and my background research had me buzzing… but before I started writing, I first saved the tweet I would post when I submitted: [Read more…]

Top Ten Tip-lists For Sharing Your Science

The COMPASS blog offers tips for puzzling through the challenges of science communication. 
(CC BY-NC-SA by Gabriela Pinto on flickr)

Almost fifteen years ago I joined two of COMPASS’ cofounders – Jane Lubchenco and Vikki Spruill – at the Packard Foundation to share about the need for a science communication organization and what our fledging enterprise was doing to help scientists engage more effectively beyond their peers.  Last week, I visited the Packard Foundation to revisit what COMPASS is doing now and what we hope to do in the future. I couldn’t help but reflect on what has transpired since that initial meeting. We’ve learned, experienced and witnessed so much! Two things struck me as I reflected on the last 15 years. [Read more…]

But What Do We DO With The Science Of Science Communication?

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Last week, as I listened to Andy Rosenberg, from the Union of Concerned Scientists, give a seminar about the new Center for Science and Democracy, I tweeted, “What Rosenberg is saying is familiar: science doesn’t tell us what to do, it helps us understand what questions to ask.”

When I hit ‘tweet’ it felt good. It felt right in my bones. And then it hit me.  I had just refuted the premise of this blog post.

Ack.

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Building Infrastructures To Support Scientist Engagement

Courtesy of Chad English via Twitter.

Last week, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Roundtable on the “Public Interfaces of the Life Sciences” (which I have the huge honor of serving on), convened a workshop to explore “The Sustainable Infrastructures for Life Science Communication.”  While our title is a mouth full, this topic is near and dear to my heart and COMPASS’ soul.

Our general premise: scientist engagement does not just happen. It takes work, support, policies, help, mechanisms, resources, and cultural acceptance, among other things. Additionally, there are barriers that make it challenging for scientists to engage – from lack of funding, to an antiquated promotion and tenure structure (at most institutions). With this in mind, our Roundtable members, invited speakers, and guests came together to explore all the things that help, support, allow, incentivize… and equally disallow or dis-incentivize scientists from engaging with various audiences or publics.

Day 1 of our gathering focused on sharing data and stories about these sustainable infrastructures for life scientists’ ability to engage. We had a full and intense day. I invite you to scroll through my Storify of  Day 1 of the Roundtable (also below) – to learn what was presented and discussed. [Read more…]

Is “Cold But Competent” A Problem In Science Communication?

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 This post continues our series focused on science communication research. Instead of reporting on or recapping a single paper, we’re asking what the literature has to say about urgent or recurring questions in our field. This is inspired, in part, by John Timmer’s call for an applied science of science communication. 

A flash of insight can be profoundly pleasurable. For me it’s a little pop that’s the mental equivalent of clearing my ears while diving. Sharing that same electric sensation with hundreds of others in crowd? Then the pop feels more like a champagne bottle, with our individual ‘aha!’s spiraling outward as a fizzy wave of tweets. At the Sackler Colloquium on the Science of Science Communication, Susan Fiske of Princeton University uncorked one such shared moment in her presentation about beliefs and attitudes regarding science when she began speaking about warmth and competence. [Read more…]

Persuasion And Influence: Dirty Words In Science Communication?

Last week we shared insights from the National Academy of Sciences’ Sackler Colloquium on the Science of Science Communication. The premise of this gathering was: if we rely on evidence for our research, why do we rely on hunches to communicate it? With this in mind, the organizers assembled a stellar group of scientists who shared data about how people process information, which is all immediately useful in effective communication and engagement. While I shared my summary of take homes last week, I wanted to also share something else the organizers did brilliantly. By bringing in speakers from business, network thinking, and consumer choice theory, they pushed our thinking about science communication. People were equally as interested as they were uncomfortable. [Read more…]

More Than A Hunch: Insights From Sackler Colloquium On Science Of Science Communication

If scientists rely on evidence for their research, why do they rely on hunches when they communicate their research?

This was the challenge that framed the kick off of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Sackler Colloquium on the Science of Science Communication. Known to many of us as #sackler, for three days last week, over 400 people gathered in person at NAS’ historic Constitution Ave building, while thousands watched and participated online, to engage in a discussion about science communication.

The Sackler Colloquium (captured on this short video) was a unique convening: 1 part scientists that study communication, cognition, attitudes and opinions, + 1 part practitioners of science communications (like us!), + 1 part scientists eager to communicate, + 1 part social media and network gurus, with a pinch of powerhouses from business marketing and public relations mixed in. Over the first two days, we heard from a hand picked group of scientists that study, measure and observe how we individually and collectively digest information, along with a hit-it-out-of-the-park group of experts in how information is transmitted and shared. [Read more…]