Liveblogging the 2008 NC Science Blogging conference - Changing Minds through Science Communication: A Panel on Framing Science

We've had a short break to gawk at the falling snow, chat, and eat Locopops.  Now we go back to the agenda ... 

Jennifer Jacquet up first: the science communication crisis in America, as evidenced by "lazy journalists and boring scientists".  As evidenced by such things as the declining number of Americans that believe in evolution, and the ever-popular saga that Americans follow ... the life of Britney Spears.  On October 1, 2007 Al Gore's promotion of the melting polar icecaps was eclipsed by Britney and Kevin's custody battle, as told to the presenter by MSNBC's science editor.  She presents these trends as no coincidence; celebrity worship is replacing the attention formerly given to science and technology.

Will the internet save us from this?  Sources like scienceblogs.com, researchblogging.org, and others may save us (I would also add some smaller newspapers and even personal blogs).  However, TV is still the dominant source of news in America, and Al Gore, like many of us, is frustrated about it.

Sheril Kirshenbaum and Chris Mooney are next: Sheril presents Sciencedebate2008, a grassroots call for involvement in science and the environment during Election 2008.  This includes a call for a presidential science debate.  The blogosphere is a major part of this movement, and Sheril assures us that government officials look to blogs for important content (she is a former Capitol Hill advisor herself).  Also, the number of young people that participate in blogs (as readers and writers) will ensure that they become front and center in politics in the next few years.

Chris reviewed the attention given (or not given) to Sciencedebate2008.  He wants bloggers to step up to informing the public, because of his belief that scientists have failed to do so thus far.   Making science relevant to non-scientists is the goal here, through dynamic, media-savvy strategies.  "Create as many collisions at the intersection as possible," as Chris says.  Academics have been writing for decades about the lack of communication between them and the American public; we know, then, that we can't convince every last person of the benefits of science education.  Rather than attempting a "third culture", science bloggers should offer a bridge with the aid of new media today, which includes improving the communication of science in addition to the interest of the public.

 

There were lots of great points made in the discussion, but I want to highlight the response of Helen Chickering of MSNBC.  From the front lines of TV journalism, she let us know how she's getting creative to move the focus of news from Britney Spears to a little bit of science; she's working on very small doses of science education that give the public information without necessarily making them "science converts."  If people are currently interested in following celebrities around, creating an appetite for science content may be what we really need to change that, and this is her starting point.