Published on May 13th, 2013 | by Amy Hayward


Whither Science Communication?

During the British Science Association’s science communication conference (#scicomm13), our Editor (@amyskinshay) was down in London joining in the discussion thanks to a bursary from the SciComm Conference folk (@scicommconf). Amy Hayward now reports on a session from Day 2 of the conference: W(h)ithe the future of Science Communication.

The session began with a little humour from chair of the session Timandra Harkness (@timandraharkness). Anybody with a quirky smile, and a quick to laugh attitude, instantly wins the Au Science Magazine personality of the year prize but Timandra wasn’t just amusing, she was quick to find the important discussion points and a great facilitator. This being staged as a discussion, below are the key points from each of the speakers’ thoughts on the future for science communication. No space machines, or warp drives, were mentioned unfortunately but great points regardless!


Dr Gail Cardew
the Euroscience Open Forum, ESOF, Supervisory Board Chair and Director of Science and Educationat the Royal Institute

Twitter: @gailsci

Thoughts on the Future:
By looking back, we can get a good idea of what the future holds. Eleven years ago on of the hot topics of science communication was the idea of feeding people’s opinions on government policy. We were really struggling with this then, but now we’re doing really well with initiatives like Project Small Talk and Sciencewise. If we extrapolate this to the future we can expect things to get better. Another thing that was contentious eleven years ago was how we can bring together science and society, we haven’t addressed that so much so it would be good to develop there. Finally, in the past science communication was seen as a fringe activity and a distraction from “real work”. We’ve really come forward in leaps and bounds on this point.

“…we seem to be shifting towards science communication that goes where the public thinks it should, and allows them to have confidence in asking questions.”

It’s now being integrated into research, as a core part of work. So for the future we seem to be shifting towards science communication that goes where the public thinks it should, and allows them to have confidence in asking questions. If we can get people thinking analytically and critically we can present science in a transparent manner.


Clare Matterson
Director of Medical Humanities and Engagement at the Welcome Trust

Twitter: @CEMatterson

Thoughts on the Future:
Would have to disagree with Gail to a certain extent, as science is not insular anymore. We have Citizen Science really becoming a thing with the advent of things like Stargazing Live. Two way participation is happening alongside highly polished science demos, and that’s fantastic. In terms of what we need in the future, diversity of audience is very important. At the moment science engagement is good at attracting easy to reach and (often) eager people. It would be great to see people extend their science demos into harder to get at communities. Another important development should be to normalise the way the arts are made “part of the natural discourse of science”. That is to say, we connect to subjects and to others often through emotion.

“Not every academic can do it but the opportunity must be there, thinking of it as a hobby is wrong”

Science engagement is, and should continue, to find ways to present science as an emotional experience. For a lot of scientists, it already is, so communicating that might be the key.



Dr Michael John Gorman
: Founding Director of Science Gallery and Adjunct Professor of Creative Technologies at Trinity College Dublin

Twitter: @michaeljohng

Thoughts on the Future:

“This isn’t a new idea, Leonardo Da Vinci bridged science and art long before it was fashionable.”

Don’t think that science communication is shrivelling, just that things are changing. In the future, bridging science and art will be vital. Making things into STEAM  instead of STEM workshops will become important. This isn’t a new idea, Leonardo Da Vinci bridged science and art long before it was fashionable, but we really need to improve in this now. People see science as an emotionless subject, sometimes, so galleries that create transitions between art, emotion, and science can really communicate the brilliance of science.



Professor Jon Drori
Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Chairman of the UK Parliament’s Advisory Council on Public Engagement, former Head of Commissioning for BBC Online

Twitter: @jondrori

Thoughts on the Future:
It’s important to remember that some things don’t, and won’t, change. We’re always going to be attracted to the compelling — to the fresh and novel. Immersive experiences are always popular, and they will continue to be so. Feedback to actions, and losing yourself in an experience, are both qualities in a good science demo that can be incredibly rewarding for the public. As said before, emotional engagement is key. Of course, some things will change in the future. It is likely that audiences are going to become more fragmented as the days pass.

“Documentaries are great, but you can actually communicate more science for less on sites like YouTube.”

That is to say, we’ll have people spread across websites and TV channels, and YouTube, and so on. This will mean more targeted science engagement can be carried out. TV channels are, honestly, on the way out when it comes to science. Documentaries are great, but you can actually communicate more science for less on sites like YouTube. Genre busting is becoming important too, because it’s really engaging to mix things. In terms of general science education, that might remain a problem for a while. Politicians often don’t understand the importance of STEM, until they do education may continue to be sub-optimal.

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is a scientist. She likes hats, tardigrade detective work, and semi colons.

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