Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Shuttle pilots, news and new stuff.

I have had a busy few weeks and due to some new things my blog may change slightly...

I have been asked to become the 'real life PhD' blogger for - so I will be posting regular career type information on that blog, I will post the proper URL for this when I get it. I have also set up a science journalism society at the university, we have had some sucess this week with two articles being published in The Gaudie (student newspaper). Small but a start!!

I wrote an article about a talk called 'Reaching for the stars'  which was part of TechFest in Aberdeen . A great science communication event with loads of interesting talks and other funstuff. I spent some time at TechFest at 'car boot science' and it was great fun & extremely messy (lots of coke/mentos/vitamin tablets/rockets) !! 

I thought I would share the article I wrote on my blog as unfortunately I do not think that the newspaper is online. I could have written lots more but unfortunately due to restrictions in the newspaper my peice had to be shortened (boo)!

So here it is -


Techfest started with an ex NASA shuttle pilot, Duane Carey, giving an inspiring talk about his fascinating life as an air force commander, test pilot and astronaut.

His talk covered many of the interesting and exciting parts of being an astronaut, including showing a short film that was made in space by himself and a friend (including how to sleep, eat and go to the loo in space). What struck me the most though, were the images of space that he showed; some were of the earth, and some were taken by the Hubble telescope of the many thousands of galaxies which exist in the vast expanse of space. Space is mind-blowing; its sheer size is beyond what most of us can comprehend.

Duane believes that there is life in space. His view, everthe scientist, is that statistics suggest there is life in space. The huge numbers of galaxies are full of stars and planets, so it would be incredible for our planet to be the only one perfect for life. He also believes we should continue exploring in space, send people to Mars, (people could learn a lot by forming new colonies on another planet), as well as leaving the human race in a better position if anything happened to earth. For this, engineers, physicists, and biologists are needed - Duane recognises and praises greatly all the NASA experts on the ground; without them there would be no space exploration.

So how to become an astronaut? Duane tells the story of how anyone can achieve their dreams through persistence and hard work. Duane himself says that he isn’t anything special; he failed science at school, didn’t go to college straight away, but decided on what he wanted to do withhis life and went for it. So if you have a dream and think it is impossible, how do you get there? Some of Duane’s advice was: if you have a dream of something you want to achieve, plan how you are going to get there. You may have to go through years of doing things you do not enjoy, but remember why you are doing it. The easy option isn’t always the most rewarding. The final piece of advice is incredibly important – don’t give up. If someone tells you no, find out why, work harder and then try again. His story is one of genuine determination and hard work.

Duane retired from NASA; he and his wife promised each other that when their oldest daughter went to college they would travel the world on motorbikes. They are now spreading the word of science, technology and inspiration as they go. Life is about living; not just about work. Make sure that what you are doing in life makes you truly happy - create and stick to career AND personal dreams.
If you want to know more about Duane 'Digger' Carey his website is here -

Thursday, 9 September 2010

The Great Science Communication Debate

This blog post will be of no interest to people not actively involved in science communication. It is not accessible for people 'outside' of the science communication scene and for that reason I was reluctant to write it, it is also a rather grumpy post, but there were some things I just felt I had to get off my chest.

I stumbled upon  what is known as 'Science Communication' through my interest and love of science & talking & writing. I love sharing ideas and thoughts and meeting new people so I have become actively involved in 'communicating science'. I have communicated to school children, fellow students & strangers. The people I have spoken to have been interested in what I have had to say. I started this blog because it seemed like a fun thing to do in between waiting for experiments to finish. I get annoyed with news articles that do not present data/facts & research correctly. I read BadScience and LOVED IT. I even joined Twitter (after refusing to for many years) after finding out that there is quite an active science community on there. I am based in Aberdeen, I moved up from London so I do not know that many people, I wanted to meet more science geeks up here I am (along with a science geek colleague) starting a Skeptics in The Pub meeting as a platform for people to meet. So this is my 'science communication' journey.

What I didn't realise until a few weeks ago is the massive debate that is going on about how to communicate science. I am including within this debate the skeptics (which are too militant), the bloggers (that blog but do little else), the journalists (which seem to debate endlessly on how things should be done), the academics who are a mixed bag... this is just the impression & some of the views that have been expressed by people since I  'joinined the scene'. The whole scene like many other scenes is quite elitist, mostly run and governed by a select few that interact with the media already. So why the constant put downs within the 'science communication' group of people that don't do enough or do things in a way that other people dislike? I thought the whole scene was based on a shared interest in science (or maybe I was being too naive there) and encouraging a wider interest in science? That was my purpose for getting involved.

From what I can see, it appears that the whole scene is being blurred. Take for example, 'science bloggers', they may not be blogging in order to communicate science to a wide non scientific audience. They may just want to share their thoughts and writing with a group of scientists or friends. It depends on the nature of their blog and that is the beauty of blogs - it is up to the individual what they write & who (if anyone) they target it at. The group shouldn't be lumped together as one.

The 'Skeptics' seem to like to raise awareness (but sometimes struggle to reach out of their own group) but from what I can see they are trying and are sometimes successful. I do not agree with instant dismissals of papers/information/formulas without first looking at the evidence, which I fear is where the skeptics sometimes let themselves down (and go against the whole nature of being a skeptic).

Then there are the science journos, the media bods. I have noticed a  change in the way science has been reported over the past 12 months, a lot of science news is reported fully with pros and cons and less of the 'miracle' cure' hype. I know that things aren't perfect and that they never will be, but it is better/getting better. So here there seems to be some winnings! But should they preach to the scientists how they should share their data and ideas before publishing to get a news story out of it? No.

The phrase 'science communication' is massively overused and encompasses a whole range of people who are communicating for different reasons and purposes. A lot of this communication goes on 'underground' in blogs etc. Really the only people that actually communicate science to lay audiences are the few 'celebrity scientists' (maybe they will become like celebrity chefs), the journalists, the endless number of scientists that give up their time to do work in schools and science teachers.

I think the greatest challenge for all communicators (not just science, science isn't special and greater) is to be accessible to who you are trying to speak to. Not all communications should be targeted to a lay audience, nor should it all be targeted towards the science community, but depending on what you are trying to achieve you need to think about who you are trying to reach out to. I think a lot can be learned from other areas and communications experts. The science community in general has a disregard for anyone that doesn't come from a science background or isn't a scientist. I think science communication is failing here because the two groups (science & communications/PR) are so alienated from each other and more allegiances here would make communications more successful, to whoever you are trying to reach out to.

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