Tag Archives: outreach

It’s been too long!

8 Aug

It has been way too long since my last blog post! In the next few weeks you will see more posts because of my current staycation. I have the following planned for the blog:

Earlier this year, I mentioned that I would like to write something about clinical trials. With the latest Ebola outbreak, there are a few things I want to write about. Is it difficult to develop treatments for Ebola? Who is working on this, and why haven’t we made progress? You probably heard that an experimental drug is being used in the US to treat aid workers who are infected Ebola, and my impression is that the drug itself hasn’t gone through a proper clinical trial. What is the typical process for a clinical trial, why is it necessary, and why does it take so long? And then, let’s look at the ethics of drug development: Why is it difficult for drugs for illnesses common in less privileged countries to be developed?

Working in science outreach and communication, one trend I am noticing is the move from rigid teaching curriculum and standards to something focusing more on big ideas, including one that science is a process, not just facts. I am glad to see this move, but at the same time uneasy about it. I plan to work on a series on science education. Why is early science education important? What does this shift in curriculum and standards mean to students, teachers (in my opinion, a component often overlooked in this re-development of teaching standards), and informal science education (science outreach)?

I have always been quite a hands-on, “DIY” person. This probably comes with working in the Physics department and have access to all the cool electronics stuff. With that said, my health sciences background doesn’t lend help here. In the next few months, I will be playing with some basic electronics stuff based on the book Make: Electronics. This means that I will share my success and failures on the blog…

And of course, other than these “themes,” I will continue to share other random inspirations related to science communications and outreach. I am also hoping to update the resources page when I get a chance.

Thanks again for your patience and it’s good to be back! 😀

Science Communication at the #SharingScienceUBC Conference

31 Mar

My schedule for the past month and a half has been stuffed with conferences – from IPSEC to AAAS, to BC Outreach Workshop and now Sharing Science at UBC – I must admit that I shouldn’t complain about all the great science outreach and communication work I have seen!

The Sharing Science Conference is a science communication conference. The conference was student-driven, organized by the UBC student club Carl Sagan Association for the Communication of Science. This conference was also a collaboration with UBC Faculty of Science, the Science and Technology Studies of UBC Faculty of Arts, and the Beaty Biodiversity Museum.

If you missed the Sharing Science Conference, don’t worry – here is a summary to help you catch up. Click on the image below to access the story via Storify. Enjoy!

Storify - Sharing Science

The state of science events around the world in one huge blog post

26 Mar

Things have been relatively quiet on this blog – mostly because work became rather hectic in the past two months, with me running from conferences to workshops, from workshops to science competitions. I finally have some time now to sort out all the notes I took when I was at the International Public Science Events Conference (a pre-conference to AAAS) and the 2014 AAAS Annual Meeting in Chicago in February. There w

Going to conferences is always very exciting – and this time it is particularly so. First of all, I had never been to Chicago!!! (and NOW I know why people were complaining about Chicago winter…) Secondly, I never thought that I could attend conferences for science outreach and communication. But most importantly, it is an opportunity to meet people from around the world to chat about what we are working on, the issues we encounter, and come up with potential solutions and collaborations in the future.

Here are my notes from the session, “The State of Science Events: Reports from Across the World and Across Sectors” during IPSEC. Through the session, I was hoping to learn what other countries are doing for science outreach and communications, how science communication “entities” (for the lack of better words?) are structured, and also how we in Canada do in comparison to other countries – and I was not disappointed.

Let’s start with Australia.

Australia – The “Inspiring Australia” program is part of the Department of Industry, Government of Australia. It’s main objective is science engagement and communication. The program provides science engagement awards, develop toolkits for science engagement, commission reports on science engagement within Australia, organize the Big Science Summit for Science Communication (I want to go to this! Time to buy lottery…), and coordinate the country’s National Science Week.

From the program came many cool ideas for the National Science Week – Simon France, the manager for the program, said that they were using small ideas with big impacts:

According to Simon, having a national lead is critical in getting university/organization buy-in. This is something to keep in mind.

UKThe British Science Association is a charity organization. Based on their 2012 financial report, most of the association’s income came from grant funding, sponsorship, and charging for events and activities. 

Master BRISCI_0

The British Science Association’s vision is a society in which people are able to access science, engage with it and feel a sense of ownership about its direction. We provide opportunities for people of all ages to discuss, investigate, explore and challenge science, through our annual programme of events and activities.

Their activities include running the British Science Festival (reaching 43,000 visitors in 2012), organizing the National Science and Engineering Week (with 1.6 million people participating), helping scientists develop communications and engagement skills, organizing science competitions, and supporting local branches. They also run an annual science communication conference. In my impression, UK has been in the forefront of science communication, and it was pointed out by Imran Khan, Chief Executive of the British Science Association, during the session:

We don’t consider tennis or politics just as a thing that tennis players and politicians do, yet science and scientist seems to get that <impression>.  So there is still work to do cultural-wise.

China – Each year, CAST (the China Association for Science and Technology, the largest national non-governmental organization for scientific and technological workers in China) runs its National Science Festival. According to Yang Lijun, Director, Division of Public Science Events for the CAST, the annual participation is incredible. Unfortunately I don’t recall the exact number being either 20 million or 200 million (only that there was a huge gasp from the audience when she said the number), but a reference I found stated that in the past 10 years, more than 700 million people participated in the activities, a number that most of us could only dream of. The Festival is also a way to celebrate China’s National Law on popularization of science and technology, which again, is something that most of us could only dream of…

Europe The European Science Events Association (Eusea) has 90 members in 36 countries. This means that the association needs to cover 500 million people in Europe who speak different languages. Jan Riise, Director of the European Science Events Association, said that this makes it tricky to have a central conference and to coordinate different events. Because of the difference in language, culture, and geography, science centres, museums, and festival could be quite far apart from each other, leading to isolation and possible miscommnication.

eusea

However, the European Union is doing its job in keeping the Eusea together. EU recently announced (January 2014) “Horizon 2020” Programme

Horizon 2020 is the biggest EU Research and Innovation programme ever with nearly €80 billion of funding available over 7 years (2014 to 2020) – in addition to the private investment that this money will attract. It promises more breakthroughs, discoveries and world-firsts by taking great ideas from the lab to the market.

Within Horizon 2020, a specific program called “science with and for the society” with a budget of 500 million Euro (!!) will be included – and it seems that Eusea will be well supported via this channel.

US –  The Science Festival Alliance is a professional association of independent science and technology festivals, supposed by the US National Science Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. It is also the organization behind the IPSEC. The annual report for the SFA is now available online. According to the annual report, almost 1 million people attended SFA member events. The SFA also grew from 17 members in 2012, to 42 members by the end of 2013 – some of which are organizing their first festival event in the coming year. What’s in the future? Its manager Ben Wiehe from the MIT museum mentioned that live science events are finally being recognized these days; for SFA, how to come together to support [each other] but to also allow diversity, is still a puzzle and will be the goal for the coming year.

SFA Annual Report is now available for download. Image source:  www.sciencefestivals.org

SFA Annual Report is now available for download. Image source: http://www.sciencefestivals.org

Italy (Genoa Science Festival) – “In Italy, it is better not to be coordinated.” Arata Manuela, President of the Associazione Festival della Scienza, started with this jokingly. The Genoa Science Festival / Festival della Scienza is an annual cultural event (in fact, this is something that was discussed many timely throughout the conference – should science events be about just science, or about the culture of science? Many, including me, agree that is should be the later if we do want to reach the general public). The event was described by Arata as

a model at international level for science dissemination; a bench mark for science communication; a melting pot of researchers, artists, creative people, opinion makers with people keen on science, schools, and families; a think tank; an added value for the Country namely the City.

(Oh man, I want to go to this too)

The impact of the Genoa Science Festival has been significant, both culturally and economically, as the event brings in a large number of visitors that hotels in the city are typically fully booked. And, this is quite an interesting take on the event – the event charges admission. In some ways, this actually makes sense; the rationale goes that if we pay tickets to see a theatre performance or a concert (cultural events), then perhaps we should pay to attend a science festival. The festival also involves ~700 scientific explainer (university students, graduates, young researchers) during the festival. These explainers go through a training called EASE (European Academy for Science Explainers) and are given the tools necessary for communicating with the general public. In fact, through a collaboration, there is now also a EASE program in Shanghai, China.

The festival will be from October 24th to November 2nd this year. In 2015, the festival will be in France in 2015. An exciting time to come – with international exchange, collaborations and contributions!

Canada? It is very interesting to see how science event/outreach/communication leaderships take different shapes in different countries – via government agencies, non-profit organizations, and professional associations. All these reports from groups around the world actually make me a little sad and well, envious.  At the moment there is no government or non-profit organizations to take on that important leadership role to encourage more collaboration and interaction between different science engagement groups within Canada. Even worse, with how things go in Canada, I personally expect negative news about budget cut, muzzling, or elimination of science programs by the Canadian Government almost regularly. The good news is that there are now many more local efforts for science events and festivals (for example, there are now several major science festivals across Canada – Science Rendezvous, Eureka!, Around the Dome in 30 days, Beakerhead, and likely a few more that I missed. The BC Charter of Science was kicked started a few months ago. The future is looking slightly brighter…but we are now years (if not decades) behind and there is much more catching up to do.

How to expand your science outreach program? My slides from #IPSEC2014 conference

5 Mar

I had the opportunity to lead a session with Melissa Beattie Moss from Penn state on expanding outreach programs during the International Public Science Events Conference. I figure that I might as well share my slides and notes here 😀 I do warn you that the presentation is a bit dry only because I tried to cover a lot of the logistics and management stuff that one needs to think about when expanding a science outreach program. If you see anything interesting and would like me to elaborate, feel free to let me know. You can find my personal notes below the slides (only for those that are not self-explanatory). Enjoy!

First few slides: bragging about Vancouver, UBC, and our outreach program.

Slide 10 : First thing I did was to start a e-mail newsletter list. I used MailChimp to manage subscribers, make pretty newsletters, and track what our subscribers are interested in. It will send 12,000 emails to 2,000 subscribers for free. Impact: now have 450+ subscribers, camps get fully registered really quickly, we stop buying ads for paid events, which usually cost us about $1200. There are a few other similar services out there – I just decided that MailChimp fits our needs. Another option I often hear is Emma Inc., although they do charge a fee to start.

Slide 11 : I use survey monkey to collect feedback from activity participants. It is a good way to get qualitative feedback for funding or promotion purposes. Also good to let them know you are listening and looking for ways to improve. If you run your own server or have IT people to help you, you can consider LimeSurvey, which is free and open source.

Slide 12: I actually put together a list of all public event listings in Vancouver. You only need to do it once – can use the list over and over again for different events.

Slide 13: Social media. Won’t elaborate much here because it is another talk perhaps. If you want to tap into social media power, only use the relevant ones that will allow you to connect to your audience. This is only general. There are of course exceptions – ask me if you have questions about this.

Slide 14:  Having an event that you can all work on together is a good way to start a collaborative relationship.

Science vs. Politics in Canada Update: Link Roundup

14 Nov

I was originally planning to include the links here in my next general link roundup, but considering that the Canadian Science Policy Conference will be coming up in a week in Toronto, these links sorta deserve a specific post. I previously wrote about Science vs. Politics in march – I therefore consider this a follow-up post.

1. The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC), “the largest union in Canada representing scientists and professionals employed at the federal and some provincial and territorial levels of government”,  recently commissioned a survey of 4,000 Canadian government scientists. They found that:

  • 90% of the federal scientists do not feel like they can speak freely about their work.
  • 37% reported that they were prevented from answering questions from the public and media in the last 5 years
  • 24% were directly asked to exclude or alter information for non-scientific reasons
  • 50% were aware of actual cases where the health and safety of Canadians or environmental sustainability has been compromised because of political interference with their scientific work

Check out the full reports on their page: Most Federal Scientists Feel They Can’t Speak Out, Even If Public Health and Safety at Risk, Says New Survey.

This story was covered by CBC (Muzzling of federal scientists widespread, survey suggests), and Nature (7 days – Trend Watch).

2. Sarah Boon (a great science communication colleague) organized a series of blog posts on Canadian science policies. John Dupuis has organized all the posts (so far, 10 of them) on his blog Confessions of A Science Librarian. Topics in the blog series range from the muzzling of government scientists, the experimental lake area, science and politics, and open data.

3. A few UBC students put together a great podcast – Silencing the Scientists, via the Terry Project. Excellent work, by the way, especially since this came from students – hope to see more from them.

Has Harper politicized federal science? Since 2006, the Canadian government has laid off scientists while expanding its communication staff. On this episode of The Terry Project on CiTR, Gordon and Sam speak with scientists, journalists and activists about the state of science and spin in 2013.

Graphic Design by Talal Al Salem/Terry Project

Graphic Design by Talal Al Salem/Terry Project

4. This came out a while ago, but I thought that it is worth sharing here again. Tom Spears, a reporter with the Ottawa Citizen, was working on a story for which he was hoping to talk to scientists from the National Research Council Canada (NRC) and NASA of the United States. Here is an infographic on what he went through: Comparing Science Communication in Canada and the USA. It has been pointed out to me in the past that this might not be a fair comparison (NRC and NASA might have different priorities when it comes to outreach), but the difference is astounding.

5. Simon Fraser University graduate student David Peddie recently wrote to Georgia Straight (a local Vancouver Community newspaper with a large circulation). In Evidence-based dissent and Canada’s war on science, he talk about the response from former chief economic analyst for Statistics Canada, Philip Cross, regarding the “war on science.”

He argues that government scientists have no right to complain of muzzling… Cross looks at the situation like a good business manager—employees exist to serve their employer; should they feel the need to give an opinion (however knowledgeable) that the public relations department deems damaging to the employer’s mission, they’re welcome to post it anonymously in a blog or resign…Cross’s outlook is the root of the whole problem. Acceptable business practice is not acceptable government practice. Democracy is not the act of electing a representative corporate body to power to execute its agenda. A corporation is free to pursue its objectives as it pleases within the confines of the law but a government has a responsibility to be accountable and transparent to its electorate. The public is not a body to be manipulated and appeased by a public relations department; they are the raison d’être of the government. Open channels of honest communication should be made available to encourage an informed, engaged, and critical public.

6. CBC Radio Program The Current recently covered the story about the War on Science. Anna Maria Tremonti, the host of the program, also interviewed Tim Powers, Vice-Chair of Summa Strategies and Conservative commentator. Tim Powers’ stand that “there is no war on science” triggered a strong response from brain research scientists from the Dalhousie University: the Decreasing Funding of Scientific Research Funding in Canada.

Have you come across a few that I should have included? Let me know by commenting below.

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