Last week, I spoke at the Altmetrics conference on how we may think about our role as scientists, not as professionals, but as citizens. Here’s what I said.
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Last week, I spoke at the Altmetrics conference on how we may think about our role as scientists, not as professionals, but as citizens. Here’s what I said.
Great to have been in Switzerland for the annual Science Comm conference. So many great people working hard to communicate fantastic research. Here’s a link to my talk, broadcast on Facebook Live.
Citation: Miah, A. (2019) Good Science Begins with Communication, Times Higher Education, Available at: https://www.timeshighereducation.com/blog/good-science-begins-communication
Recently on Twitter, a debate took place over advice from Professor Jim Al-Khalili, professor of physics and public engagement in science at the University of Surrey, that a practising scientist should establish themselves before aiming to go too far down the road in communicating science.
While much of the debate was based on just a brief clip from a wider talk, the less generous Twitterati felt that Al-Khalili’s statement discouraged spending time on science communication until one is well into postdoc years, once a good amount of grants and publications were out there proving one’s credentials.
The more generous Twitter users felt that his advice was more that one should practise as a scientist first, before making a huge move into a completely new profession, especially if one’s core currency will be in the accumulation of research funding and publications.
Yet, even though this may sound strategically sensible, it neglects the value of ensuring that the public are part of the entire research process from day one. To rearrange a well-known quote from Sir Mark Walport, chief executive of UK Innovation and Research, good science begins with communication. It is not something we should do just at the end of the process. As researchers, this principle must be our starting point.
However, this reasoning is not just a matter of ensuring that the public are part of decision-making hierarchies about science. Rather, it’s important because formal structures around scientists today require them to ensure that they have impact journeys for their research, from the point of inception. This is especially the case now with the research excellence framework, where impact has become an even bigger part of how research is evaluated.
A well-regarded scientist is, increasingly, someone who is publicly visible, willing to be present in the media, and someone who co-authors with their research users. In fact, some journals, such as the British Medical Journal, actively encourage co-produced research “with patients, carers, or members of the public”. These best practice guidelines could well become conditions of publication in the future.
I began my PhD when the World Wide Web was becoming established and this was extremely empowering as a researcher. We suddenly had our own means of communicating directly with the public, rather than having to rely on editors, broadcasters or the news cycle. Today, we can make our own documentaries, publish on our own channels and create our own podcasts.
Many young scientists in particular are taking hold of this with both hands, creating extraordinary content around their research, rewriting Wikipedia pages, working with artists and creating entirely new platforms that make science more accessible. More importantly, they are taking up the mantle of immersing themselves within public life, occupying the role of the public intellectual, a function which is of increased importance now in an era of fake news and post-truth.
Far from being a choice, we need to think about communication as a necessity to scientists’ jobs that is given adequate time in their workload.
Fortunately, funding councils understand this and have ensured that time, funds and thought are given to how their funded projects will connect with the public. It is also important to note that there are many ways to do science communication. One doesn’t have to be the next Brian Cox or Alice Roberts.
Over my own career, I have worked across a range of creative communication formats, from producing theatrical performances about genetic enhancement and consulting on film and radio drama scripts, to exploring the science of falling in love over an evening with 30 dinner guests and developing virtual reality experiences.
It is the opportunity to be part of a wider conversation about how science is embedded within society that makes science communication so valuable.
Yet, the value that we all derive from seeing scientists work alongside the public is far more than just instrumental, it is an immense enrichment of research life. Recently, I worked with a team from the University of Salford at the Cheltenham Science Festival to present a new virtual reality experience that explains the science of the microbiome. An octogenarian had his first experience with VR there and it was science that brought him this opportunity.
Through such experiences scientists can discover why their work matters and how important it is to ensure that the public has an opportunity to talk with them about it. These experiences also cause one to reflect on their responsibilities as a researcher and to appreciate more clearly the fundamental needs of citizens for research.
While far more science communication happens today than ever before, we still have some way to go before it is available for everyone. That’s why it’s crucial to keep talking about the fact that there is more than one way to be a science communicator. It is possible to develop a science communication journey while you carry out scientific research from the very beginning of your career.
But, more importantly, if done well, science communication enriches the research we do and the significance of what we discover. It can also be really good fun.
Author Bio: Andy Miah is chair in science communication and future media in the School of Environment & Life Sciences at the University of Salford.
“STEPHEN HAWKING WAS THE MOST ACCOMPLISHED SCIENCE COMMUNICATOR OF OUR TIME. NOT ONLY DID HE POPULARISE EXTRAORDINARILY COMPLEX IDEAS AND MAKE THEM AVAILABLE TO PEOPLE FROM ALL WALKS OF LIKE, BUT HIS LEGACY INSPIRED ARTISTS TO MAKE WORK THAT FURTHER ENRICHED OUR UNDERSTANDING OF THE UNIVERSE AND OUR PLACE WITHIN IT.
WHAT DISTINGUISHED HAWKING WAS THAT HIS RESEARCH INSIGHTS ALWAYS SHAPED THE SUBJECT OF HIS SCIENCE COMMUNICATION. IN SO DOING, HE MADE THE MASSIVE JUMP THAT MUCH SCIENCE COMMUNICATION FAILS TO ACHIEVE, NAMELY TO BRING THE LATEST IDEAS TO THE PUBLIC’S ATTENTION. HAWKING DID THIS IN LEAPS AND BOUNDS AND WAS ALSO A DEEPLY HUMANITARIAN FIGURE, AS MUCH CONCERNED WITH THE SURVIVAL OF THE HUMAN SPECIES AS HE WAS FOR THE IDEA OF LIFE IN ITS ENTIRETY.”
“IN THE FINAL YEARS OF HIS LIFE, HE TURNED HIS ATTENTION TO THE OPPORTUNITIES AND RISKS AFFORDED BY ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE AND HOW THIS COULD CONTRIBUTE TO OR DETRACT FROM IMPROVING THE LIVES OF THE PEOPLE MOST WORSE OFF IN SOCIETY. IN THIS RESPECT, HAWKING’S CONTRIBUTION WAS ALWAYS WRAPPED IN A DEEP COMMITMENT TO THE PURSUIT OF LIFE AND TO OUR ENJOYMENT OF IT. HIS CONTRIBUTION BEYOND PHYSICS WILL LIVE ON FOR YEARS TO COME, NOTABLY IN THE STEPHEN HAWKING MEDAL FOR SCIENCE COMMUNICATION, WHICH WAS FIRST AWARDED IN 2015."
Today, the BBC launches a big initiative to help children navigate the world of fake news and this is a nice segway into an event I took part in a couple of weeks ago at the National Science and Media Museum, which opened a new exhibition on Fake News. Curated by John O'Shea and Sarah Browncross, I was really pleased to advise it in the lead up.
The Museum has done a great job of turning around an exhibition in a short space of time, which deals with one of the biggest stories of the year and certainly the biggest digital discourse of 2017. With the Collins Dictionary including 'fake news' into its historic pages, we need greater work on promoting digital literacy, but also thoughtful responses to how we engender trust within our institutions.
One of the problems here is that all information sources become compromised and this may even include museums as we begin to rethink who we trust and what counts as authority in a digital age. The trend over the last decade has been to elevate the crowd to the position of authority. The more likes on Facebook or views on YouTube, or recommendations on Amazon, the more credit we give to something. Yet, this reputation economy becomes subject to manipulation as the platform within which it takes place is monetised. So, we see celebrities being told off for promoting a product on Twitter, as this is strictly speaking advertising, which is carefully regulated.
The Museum's exhibition draws attention to the longer history of Fake News, which began well before Donald Trump came on the scene.
The edited volume by myself and Mark Lorch received interest from the Mirror last week in an article which outlines the book we published earlier in the year with the Royal Society of Chemistry. Check it out here
The book was published out of a book sprint we conducted during Manchester Science Festival in 2016 and has been getting some great reviews, including one from Nature.
This is probably the biggest event in my calendar and it's happening over the next week! My role is to work with a great team at Salford Uni to develop, design, curate, and produce a programme of work for the Festival. As Educational Sponsor, we put a lot of work into this and it's huge this year. Headlines for me personally including having our VC open the festival at the main launch, spread of budget investment across 4 schools and various other units, over 50 staff members involved in delivery, about the same number of students, and some really creative, innovative events.
The biggest one in terms of production for us is the GameLab, which happens weekend of 21/22 October. Here's a quick glimpse of it...
Really excited to announce our GameLab weekender for the opening of Manchester Science Festival. Here's a quick overview. Working with VR Manchester to pull together this amazing event, which will include a citizen science showcase, VR demos, game experiences, science showing off, an eSport space, and a VR Gym. You can come for a drop in experience 21-22 Oct at our Media City building in Salford, 11am-5pm, or if you are a hard core VR person, sign up to a more formal programme here
Amazing to have received my copy of my new book, co-edited with Professor Mark Lorch. He and I cooked up a book sprint in Manchester Science Festival with some of the best people in the business to produce a fun book around the science behind superhero skills! It was published by the Royal Society of Chemistry and covers everything from Wonder Woman's lasso to what Spiderman eats for breakfast. You can find the book on Amazon, or at the RSC.
A couple of weeks ago, the Great Science Share took place at the Manchester City Academy. It was so much fun to be involved with this again as a Steering Committee member and it was a huge event! Here's a glimpse of what we did, under the leadership of Steve Bennett and Lynne Bianchi and here's a great blog from Mariana Salguiero who was my partner in crime for the day, along with Ethan!
This week, the Times Higher Education published a piece about our new MSc in Science Communication & Future Media, an online, part time course, designed for professionals who want to increase their skills and creative capacities. The article is broadly about the need to do more than just communicate facts to the public, a position that has been reinforced in the last week, as authors write about the consequences of the Anti-Science Trump administration. Here's the full article and here's a link to our exciting new course!
The amazing Beth Hewitt at Salford University produced this fantastic afternoon event within the BBC Digital Cities week, which I opened with a talk on how Virtual Reality is changing what sports involve. Here's a summary of the event from the BBC's journalist Charles Miller, who came up from London to capture some of the afternoon.
As part of the BBC Digital Cities week, I was delighted to take part and open the VR/AR Show and Tell event at Manchester Metropolitan University's Digital Innovation hub last week. It brought together some really amazing pioneers in VR, demonstrating how it can be an interface for research, industry, art, and entertainment. It was a fantastic affirmation of England's vibrant North West VR/AR network!
Among the people there was WizDish, which is a fantastic low friction platform to allow a player of a VR game to physically walk on the plate, thus moving a character within the digital game. Here's what it looks like.
As part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science, I produced an event that explores our future with robots in an experiment of public engagement, science communication, and social science. We invited families to come to the Museum of Science and Industry to discuss together what this future might be, while undertaking a Lego robot building workshop with Nick Hawken and creating Noisy Toys, Steve Summers - robot instruments.
I really wanted to create an event that explored a novel social science methodology and we combined a number of techniques to give people an insight into the role of social science in developing our understanding and comprehension of the future. This is a really challenging proposition for areas where we have yet to work with a demographic of users, but is crucial to help us build a greater comprehension for the issues that might arise.
As a catalyst for the discussions, we had input from world leading experts on this field who asked the following questions of our participants:
We had fantastic support from Salford University student volunteers and the amazing contributions of Dr Marieke Navin, Salford Uni Science Communicator in Residence and Dr Gary Kerr, PhD researcher in Science Communication.
Here's a little overview
As part of the Manchester Science Festival closing weekend, I developed and co-produced an event called Amorance, exploring the science of falling in love. We had some of the most amazing science communicators around the UK involved, including Dr Marieke Navin, Dr Erinma Ochu, Dr Sam Illingworth, Dr Gary Kerr, Dr Jo Meredith, Dr Linda Dubrow-Marshall and Dr Rod Dubrow-Marshall, and fantastic performers.
It was the most amazing event I have ever worked on and I really feel like we might have generated some life-long memories for people. In a world where we often focus more on the numbers, the depth of an experience is often a harder goal to achieve. Yet, the most significant memories in our lives - and possibly the most informative or educative - are those that have a deep impact on us and whose influence can stretch further. I will always remember a production of 'A Brief History of Time' at the Tramway theatre in Glasgow, which is one of the most memorable theatre experiences of my life. Their audience for that show was deliberately 12 people and it was amazing.
That's what we tried to do with this event, time will tell whether we managed it! Here's some coverage...
Our most spectacular event in Manchester Science Festival is the Salford Science Jam, in which we had an amazing array of events for all the families. This year's production included a plethora of virtual reality systems, co-creation of the amazing Sensory Sound Pit, by European City of Science Artist in Residence, Di Mainstone, a co-commission with the Foundation of Art and Creative Technology, and even Dr Helen Sharman's space suit. More documentation to follow!
Over the last year, I've been involved with organizing the European Science Open Forum, through my role on the European City of Science programme. We've produced events all over the region, from performances, to talks, and installations. One programme I have been particularly proud of is our Young Reporters programme. We've had students from Salford and Manchester universities, along with A-level students from UTC Bolton, reporting activity around the conference.
Our students have had an amazing time, meeting Nobel laureates, leading science editors, and covering content from graphene to e-doctors. It's been a fantastic week and such a great experience for all. Here's one of their videos:
This week, I took part in the Great Science Share, an event that formed part of the European City of Science in Greater Manchester this year. It was essentially a scientific conference for and by kids. Schools came from all over the region and showed what they had been doing in science.
I took along Ethan who helped me give a short talk to children about my journey through science. It was a wonderful day and such an amazing experience for all involved, a real highlight of my year.