Science Communication in 2018

The 2018 Science Communication course starts next week. We are now in our seventh year and would like to think that most of the wrinkles have been ironed out.

The course is not necessarily chosen for itself since all students opting for a Literature Project have to take it, but it has always been popular. Students seem to particularly enjoy the fact that the course structure is very different from all the other courses that they have done up to now.

Hopefully that will remain the case this year. We have a great line-up of speakers and an array of tried and tested activities. You can find all the information you need on Blackboard. As ever, you will get most out of the course if you are prepared to engage fully. So please do all the assigned pre-reading and please always be thinking of questions that you can ask of us and our speakers and tutors.

The course also provides ample opportunity for you to demonstrate your initiative and creativity, not least in the coursework components. Evidence of this is easy to spot and will always be rewarded in the marking!


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Science Communication in 2017 – more important than ever?

The 2017 Science Communication course is almost upon us. This is the sixth year that the course has been offered in the final year Biochemistry and Biology degree programmes and a lot seems to have changed since it started back in 2011-12.

We will try to pick up on some of those changes during the course. Many of you will have noticed the dramatic political changes in the UK and the US over the past year, following the EU referendum and the election of Donald Trump as President. Do those changes  affect the ways that the research community should interact with the rest of society?

Many people would say yes. Around the world, scientists are gearing up for the March for Science. But what is that march for? In the Guardian Roger Pielke wonders it it is too blunt a response to the threat posed by the Trump administration.

In the Times Higher Education magazine, Jonathan Grant highlights many of the other changes affecting the UK higher education and research landscape:

UK science policy is going through a once-in-a-generation transition. The implementation of the Nurse review of research councils, the formation of UK Research and Innovation and the Global Challenges Research Fund, the Stern review of the research excellence framework and subsequent consultations, the Higher Education and Research Bill and the recently announced Industrial Strategy – all are occurring just as the impacts of Brexit on the research base dominate much debate and discussion.

Many of those changes are complex and unlikely to be of much immediate interest to the general public. How many of them had you heard of? Grant argues that the correct response from the scientific community would be to “learn to listen to what society wants from research”.

It is important to remember that communication is a two-way activity.

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Thinking about science videos

The video workshops for 2015 will be held tomorrow. Those of you participating will get a chance to try your hand at making a very short film. To do this well takes skill and practice. Below are listed a couple of interesting links that you may find useful.

First, have a look at this recent article on “What makes a popular science video popular?” Bear in mind that popularity doesn’t always equate with quality.

Then try this short video, made by Nature to explain epigenetics. Science writer Ed Yong recommended it on twitter. 

The Royal Institution now has a video channel – the RI Channel. As well as recordings of Christmas lectures, there are also lots of other short scientific films. Have a look at some of their collections – or a nice new ExpeRImental series they’ve been making to get kids interested in science.

Update Fri 6th March: Here are links to a few more examples, some of which I mentioned in the video workshop:

Simon Singh’s Fermat’s Last Theorem (superb, IMHO).

A couple of films by Geoff Marsh – one featuring his granny, and one about how to see around corners (Geoff had access to animation techniques that you are unlikely to be able to achieve, alas).

This week’s Horizon by Helen Czerski on Climate Change.

Dr Michael Moseley on Pain, Pus and Poison

Update Sat 7th March: I keep coming across or remembering other examples of that I wanted to share.

First, this 15 min profile of pioneer computer programmer Grace Hooper (recommended on Twitter by Simon Singh). It’s simple in construction but very well made. See if you can work out what makes it work.

Physicists and chemists seem to like short, snappy videos. Check out Sixty Symbols (physics) or the Periodic Videos (chemistry). Is it a format that works for you?

And this is a bit of fun – the 5 min trailer (with lots of ‘mistakes’) for Demo, a a teacher training film about the use of scientific demonstrations. Made by Alom Shaha (who taught on our course in recent years) and Jonathan Sanderson.

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Science on video – the genius of Mendeleev

This is a short animated video about the genius of Mendeleev – originator of the periodic table of elements. We will be discussing story-telling and video throughout the course.

See if you can figure out what makes this one so good. And which audience it is intended for.


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Alan Alda and Science Communication

In the USA actor Alan Alda (star of M*A*S*H) is one of the great cheerleaders for science, appearing regularly on TV. He may well have something like the status that David Attenborough enjoys on this side of the Atlantic.

Alan Alda @ USC

I think he does good work but see what you make of this recent interview. This struck me as relevant to our course:

“scientists often don’t speak to the rest of us the way they would if we were standing there full of curiosity. They sometimes spray information at us without making that contact that I think is crucial. If a scientist doesn’t have someone next to them, drawing them out, they can easily go into lecture mode. There can be a lot of insider’s jargon.”

But his line “Every scientist’s life is a heroic story” made me want to throw up a little… was that wrong?

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How to make engaging science programs for television

Stumbled across this discussion (podcast) this morning on the BBC’s ‘College of Production. In it “Michael Mosley, science presenter and executive producer and Helen Docherty, science development producer, talk to Sophie Lording about how we can make engaging science television.”

Worth a listen, I should say, especially for those making videos.

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Meet the regulators and Missing trial data campaign


After our Bad Science discussions, I thought that some of you might be interested to meet people who work for the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). This April 2013 meeting of the London Regenerative Medicine Network is free and open (you need to email your wish to attend). It is focused on stem cell and regenerative medicine but there’s plenty of time to mingle and chat with speakers and attendees afterwards.

There’s more on the campaign for transparency and disclosure of all clinical trial data here and here and the first inquiry discussion by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee is here.

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