In The Field

AAAS 2010: Blogs, twitter, videos … oh my!

Posted on behalf of Neda Afsarmanesh.

It would have been more appropriate to have my laptop open and to blog or twitter while at the talk on Communicating Science in the New Information Age. But alas, even if I had remembered my laptop at 8:30 in the morning, it would have been useless at the San Diego Convention Center; oddly enough, most of the rooms lack WiFi. So I stuck it out with the ways of the “old information age”: pen and paper.

The take home message from my quickly jotted notes: traditional media formats may be falling out of fashion, but it isn’t the end of science journalism. It means that journalists, communication officers, and yes, even scientists, need to be creative in using the new media resources available.


Lesson one: Visual aids help and apparently scientists need quite a bit of help with this. Dennis Meredith (who incidentally has a book on the topic), Philip Bourne (among other things, SciVee), and Rob Semper (Exploratorium) utilize the different forms of visuals. Meredith is keen on staying away from the monotextual format and going for eye-candy — images of complex science topics or research results that help scientists talk about their work. Don’t overdo it with 3D models and tacky images, just keep it clean and informative. Semper works with the scientists to show the science. Train them on making videos and podcasting, and then send them out into the great yonder, so they can record from their labs … in the South Pole. From a slightly different angle, Bourne focused on how to best communicate when your audience isn’t the general public but fellow scientists. Don’t understand what the authors are talking about in their discussion section? Click on the pubcast and have the authors explain it to you.

Lesson two: science communication is a social venture. Bora Zivkovic (found many places, including here) got his current job at PLoS by blogging that he wanted it; his followers concurred that he should have the job. The people at PLoS listened. As Zivkovic says, the war between journalists and bloggers is over, and the bloggers didn’t lose. They’re the new (or not so new) fact checkers and bridge builders. It’s about knowing how to best utilize your own blog and Twitter (i.e. don’t just talk about what you had for breakfast) and of course, who to follow. Jane Stevens (The World Company) built on this point: don’t just build an audience, but interact with them and see what else they want to hear about.

Lesson three: revamp the old media tools. Television is still where most Americans get their news; though, in an hour long news show, only one minute (if even that) is devoted to science coverage. Evan Hadingham’s (NOVA/WGBH) challenge has been how to captivate and then keep the audience’s attention. Keep it short and give the audience variety.

Blog, twit, create visuals … they made it look easy.

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