Talking to My Dog About Science: Why Public Communication of Science Matters, and How Weblogs Can Help

My talk at Maryland last Thursday went pretty well-- the impending Snowpocalypse kept the audience down, as people tried to fit in enough work to compensate for the Friday shutdown, but the people who were there seemed to like it, and asked good questions. If you weren't there, but want to know what I talked about, here are the slides on SlideShare:

This flattens out some of the more animation-dependent jokes, but gets you the basic idea. It is, of course, much more entertaining live, in case you're running an organization that might like a talk about this sort of thing...

More like this


It was great to meet you there. I think your idea is spot-on: we need to have outreach "count" during the tenure process... I guess the question that's been bugging me a bit since then that I was having trouble formulating after your talk is this: very few faculty members were in the audience; it was primarily grad students. The timescale on which this sort of change can happen is likely to be correlated to the timescale of people who think outreach is valuable getting tenure. What can we do to accelerate this shift so that outreach will count if/when I am going through the tenure process?

--Evan Berkowitz

In a bit of irony, the faculty turnout was depressed due to a faculty meeting at 4pm (half an hour into the talk) that included some stuff about personnel. That's why Bill Phillips left early.

I think that to some degree, there are people who are in faculty positions now who would be willing to count outreach as valuable activity, but they mostly don't speak up for it because they believe their colleagues don't share that opinion. The fastest way to get some change is to encourage those people to speak up more, and actively make the case for rewarding a broader range of professional activity. They may be right that their colleagues don't share that opinion, but they'll never change anybody's opinion if they don't make the argument.

The other thing that can make some difference is finding ways for outreach type activities to be compatible with a regular research career. That's where I think things like social media can help-- blogs make it possible to do science communication on a large scale without it being a huge time committment. Like I said, I started the blog when I was an assistant professor, and managed to get tenure while blogging under my own name.

It's definitely a Hard Problem, though, especially with the state of the academic job market being what it is.

Good afternoon.
Interesting stuff regarding "The Problem."

Personally, (i.e. imho), the current
approaches miss something.

That is, it seems to be outlining itself with the standard salvation (Savior) approach.
"Scientists Need To Reach Out."
Scientists Should.

I raised three scientists. Not one is through with their schooling. It is unknown at this time where my kids will end up.
Hopefully they will be scientists no matter where and how they make a living.
Hopefully they will be yakking hard to the person next to them at every opportunity.
Hopefully they will never use a phrase along the lines of 'Scientists Have Shown.'

I.e. I hope they are not pushing the Savior story/meme.
I do enjoy scienceblogs a lot. It's a bit of an oasis.
You get to see ideas tossing back and forth and you get to dig and look really hard
and you get the aid of some experts ... occasionally,
in figuring out what it is that is.

And you get a lot of science saviors
that you have to kind of ... get pissed about ...
while rooting.
More hooks for US!
More stuff for all of us scientists that happen to be engaged in the normal normal.
E.g. More stuff for the coffee pot conversation,
more encouragement (and method, etc) for jumping in at the bus stop discussion.
More mind food for the rational among us who just don't happen to be "Scientists".

My apologies for fuzziness.

By netjaeger (not verified) on 07 Feb 2010 #permalink

Wow! You are my new Science Outreach Guru! Thanks for sharing your slides. Your slides provide a great cogent arguement for why outreach matters in the first place and how science blogs are critically important for that purpose. #16 was my fave and spoke directly to me.
One, science literacy is ridiculous and within my community (African-American), it's just too sad to talk about. Second, blogs have a great potential to do outreach to traditionally under-served audiences.