Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Don't Be Such a Romulan!

Another presentation I attended at the AGU meeting was entitled "Fostering Science Communication Via Direct Outreach by Scientists" and given by M. Vinas.  The focus was on getting scientists and their science into the public eye.  Part of the effort is to foster volunteer scientists who are interested in communicating to the public.  This presentation highlighted three programs by AGU to encourage science communication by scientists: 1. "a suite of blogs that were launched in Fall 2010, written by external Earth and space science bloggers for an audience of scientists and the lay public", 2. "The Plainspoken Scientist", a blog emphasizing science communication (more about this below), and 3. professional development workshops held at scientific meetings in 2009 to teach communications skills to scientists.

Vinas made the point that many scientists complain about the press and what they view as inaccurate science reporting by the media...yet are unwilling to do anything about it.  She noted that mostly graduate students have attended their workshops on science communication. Also, most attendees have had some experience in science communication.  Vinas also described one of the most effective teaching techniques: making videos of the workshop participants speaking and then having everyone critique the performance.  She reported that seeing themselves on camera was worth hours of lectures telling people how to communicate science.  When people could see the mistakes they were making or how they came across on camera, this insight convinced them of the necessity of making changes (or paying closer attention to the recommendations of the instructors).

The Plainspoken Scientist is a blog site that has posts by guest bloggers.  There is a series called "Why I Blog"--scattered posts written by different scientists.  One of the most popular posts is called "Dude, you are speaking Romulan" by Chris Reddy, whose writings I've mentioned here previously.

The most recent post is a Q&A with the host of "The Skeptical Scientist".  In it is mentioned the existence of an iPhone app called Skeptical Scientist, which contains all the major arguments by global warming skeptics and links to the real science that counters these unscientific and often politically-driven stances.  It's designed for those of us who often get into "discussions" with our skeptical relatives and friends.  When your outspoken uncle challenges you with some skeptical argument, you can whip out your iPhone and pull up technical information in a flash with this app.  I downloaded it to my phone and tried it out.  The information is conveniently categorized by topic:  It's not happening, It's not us, It's not bad, and a full search option.  Within each of these categories are more detailed questions, such as "CO2 effect is weak".  When you click on each question, you are led to a page that begins with the skeptic argument, followed by the science facts.  Very useful app.

Image Credit: still from Star Trek, the original series on NBC TV picturing the female Romulan commander, who captured the starship Enterprise.

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