How do you like your science? Rare, medium, well-done?
And your public engagement? Would you like that with a little more public or a little less?
Press release for starters and impact survey to finish off with?
We all have our preferences when it comes to food and the same is true for our individual preferences when we come to science communication. Indeed, one preference would be whether you use the term “science communication” or something else to characterise the interface between science and public. (Note: my use of the term here is simply because “Scicomm” is a recognised hashtag on Twitter)
Sociologists and historians are good at investigating the bases for these preferences and the extent to which we might want to see them as “biased” (ugh, hate that term) or “ideological” or something else. My task here is much simpler…
When I started my PhD on science in Victorian and Edwardian media I was faced with a huge amount of material. What was I to do with it all? My immediate response was “if in doubt measure it” so I began the process of content analysis for a range of magazines.
And here is the nub of the question about scicomm preferences – what do you include (and literally count) as “science”?
For the most part this is straightforward but (as is often the case) it is the borderline material that can be the most revealing.
Carrying out the PhD research the dividing line, in part, fell across articles on gardening, many of which with descriptions on plants, information on habitat and advice on propagation were included as “practical” or “applied” natural history; but others on the landscaping of a garden were excluded. Descriptions of industries also posed difficulties as did stories about animals. Anthropomorphised natural history, in. Peter Rabbit, out.
Of course, other people would make other decisions and that is significant. I believe that those decisions, and more particularly the bases upon which they are made, can reveal the different approaches and attitudes to the interface of science and public (some of which some people call science communication).
So try the exercise and see what kind of scicomm person you are.
Take a newspaper, magazine or TV schedule and see what you include as “science” content.
Does it include the weather forecast, gardening programmes, news stories on sports injuries?
What about stories on the financial pages? Does a drug company merger count as science? Or stories about cuts to research funding?
What about drama and fiction? Do you include it if it has a scientist as a character, or do they have to be a main character? A scientist in a love story or does there have to be some kind sciencey idea that drives the plot?
Do you like your science communication raw – still shows the blood of the scientist? Or will you accept it well-done – more inclusive of what gets cooked in the popular media and popular culture in general?