Sunday, October 28, 2012

For the love of science! (Or, why we need science communication)

Science in Australia is often referred to be being "under attack", not only because of the pressures of finding funding and establishing a career, but because there are so many issues where people don't understand the science behind a particular problem. Examples of current issues include genetic modification of food crops, vaccination against disease, and climate change. Despite strong scientific evidence, hundreds of studies, and a general scientific consensus on each of these issues, there are vocal opponents of each. Whilst questions and concerns surrounding each of these issues are valid, there is often strong evidence that can allay these concerns, if only we could communicate the science.

Science is a mystery to most people. Perhaps that is because it is never explained in terms that are easily understandable, because people have never learnt how to think scientifically, or because science in something that only super smart, lab-coated scientists do, a job as cloaked in secrets, mystery and bafflement as that of wizards or solicitors. Science never makes the headlines unless it is controversial, dangerous, or about to cure us of a disease. Of course, once you read past the headline, the message is usually less spectacular than first claimed, but people often don't know how much to believe, and take stories at face value. We can tell people that our work is important, but this means nothing if they do not understand how that work is important. I strongly believe that we need people that can reach out and fill that gap, retrieving science from complex, jargon-filled journals and hyperbolic news articles, and presenting it in a way that is accurate and easy to understand for everyone. We need to demystify the science.

By talking to school students about our science, we can begin to challenge those perceptions of science as being like some secret society. By showing students how science can relate to their day-to-day life, introducing them to science in a way that is interesting and approachable, we can begin to foster a higher level of scientific literacy in Australia. By taking the time to talk to our political representatives, explaining our projects and their implications for society, the effect of see-saw policies on the ability to conduct our research, we can begin to move toward sustainable, proactive science policy that will benefit not only Australia, but the international community. By engaging with the media, communicating with journalists about our work, learning to write for a broader audience, and changing the habit of portraying every scientist as wearing a labcoat whilst gazing meaningfully at vials, we can engage with our audience, and open dialogue with those that will eventually benefit from our work: the community.

The way we as scientists communicate with the public needs to evolve. Science for scientists is no longer a viable strategy, and simply causes more confusion in our already conflicted society. We need to learn to explain our science to anyone who has an interest, and attempt to encourage those who don't. We need to use whatever resources are open to us, be it newspaper, blog, Twitter, podcast, or the local pub. We need to write, we need to talk, but most importantly, we need to listen. 

We need to take science to the people.

Neysa xo

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

New On The Scene: There There

There is something special about the Geelong CBD early on a Spring Saturday. There's a strange hush on the streets, soft golden light filtering around buildings, a complete absence of shoppers and traffic. It was one of my favourite times when I was living in the apartment, a time to get up, go for a walk through the dappled light of Johnson Park, catch a quiet coffee before the rush of Saturday brunch business.

I was up early for a train to Melbourne, planning to have brunch in the city before an early afternoon flight to Canberra for the Science Pathways forum at the Australian Academy of Science. I was taking my time walking along Malop St, planning to stop in at Mr Hyde, when the doorway of the old 2-Faces caught my eye.

A table with two chairs on the sidewalk, a table set up across the beautiful old doorway, and in pride of place, a small shiny coffee machine and grinder, glinting in the sun. I couldn't resist, as my curiosity took my feet across the road to check out what is soon-to-be Geelong's newest eatery and bar, There There.

The two guys were friendly, happy to talk about their plans while pulling my Coffee Cartel long black (which was excellent), sitting on the steps and making the most of the warm morning sun. Their enthusiasm is evident and, with little more than a "Cool, new venue!", I'm offered a first look at the reworked interior, that whilst still devoid of furniture, feels much lighter and brighter than the previous incarnation. The beautifully crafted wooden bar is an immediate stand-out, vast potential evident, while the narrow blonde floorboards lead the eye further into depths still to be explored. The new owners are both chefs by trade, with fine dining pedigrees, interested in high-quality food, with an emphasis on casual sharing-style menu. As my guide put it, somewhere you can meet up with friends, sample your way through the menu, and have a few drinks.

This new venue could give Mr Hyde a run for the money, jumping into a space that the beautiful old bank has previously dominated. It will be interesting to see if they fill the void that Mr Hyde has recently created with the shift to afternoon openings and closing of BoxOffice, and whether the new kids in town will take it to the experienced cocktail crew. Mr Hyde has had to battle the 'expensive' tag that the opulent interior has, perhaps unfairly, been lumped with, and it will be interesting to see if the lads at There There battle the same stigma given the reputation of the building's previous occupant.

Neysa xo