So a cool paper came out a while back about using plots when attempting to construct stories as a mode of communicating in Earth Science. I cannot, as always, emphasise my frustration when someone writes an article that’s supposed to be broadly educational, and sticks it behind a paywall. In this case, it might have reached the target audience of practising institutionalised Earth scientists (hello), but not the many who aren’t fortunate to have a subscription.
Jon began university life as a geologist, following this with a treacherous leap into the life sciences with a course in biodiversity and taxonomy. Now undertaking a PhD in tetrapod biodiversity and extinction at Imperial College London, there was a brief interlude were Jon was sucked into the world of science policy and communication. He blogs at http://blogs.egu.eu/palaeoblog/, tweets as Protohedgehog and co-runs an [infamous, probably] podcast series called Palaeocast. Jon can usually be found procrastinating in pubs, trying to exchange bad science, usually about dinosaurs, in exchange for food and beer.
Tell us a bit about you and your social media project
I’m currently a PhD student at Imperial College London, investigating the biodiversity patterns of tetrapods (anything with four limbs/wings/flippers) about 145 million years ago to see what we can figure out in a macroevolutionary sense, and whether we can find a ‘hidden’ mass extinction in the fossil record. I commit some of my time to 3 major social media platforms: blogging, tweeting, and podcasting, with a bit of Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and others on the side. These activities are less of a project, per se, and more just stuff I do in parallel, and often with overlap, with my PhD research.
I recently wrote a small series about how geoscientists can become more effective communicators of scientific knowledge to the general public, and the pitfalls and issues associated with this. The overall strategy revolved around using the right type of language, along with a context and narrative to create relevant stories, but above all this, to just go out there and do it! That’s exactly what Imran Rahman has done, except he’s gone a huge step further taken palaeontology and science communication into the digital age!
In a new paper, Imran, along with two others, demonstrates the value of using ‘virtual fossils’ as a tool for science communication, I guess specifically to palaeontology, but there’s no reason why other fields cannot adopt (or already have done) similar methods. The use of digital palaeontology has been ongoing for quite a while now within the scientific community, with virtual reconstructions ranging from hadrosaur skulls using CT-scanning (computed tomography – the same process they use to peer inside you in hosptials) to early molluscs and arthropods using a process known as serial grinding. As such, it is pervasive throughout palaeontology, but has never really taken flight and been introduced to the public as an engagement resource.
Throughout this series, I have highlighted the pitfalls and issues associated with effective communication of scientific knowledge to and with the public. This has largely been fueled by a recent paper highlighting these points as stepping stones and hurdles which scientists face and can develop upon to create strategies for becoming better at public communication. However, I’ve yet to offer any kind of solution.
Yesterday, I wrote briefly about the way in which geoscientists can use different plots to help them reconstruct scientific information into a digestible narrative format, taking on the style of a refashioned ‘story’. Continuing to draw upon the analysis by Iain Stewart and Ted Nield, this post will focus on how developing a narrative and particular language can help researchers to ‘talk geoscience’ in a more engaging manner.
To reiterate the actual issue, I’m going to steal a quote from the Stewart and Nield paper citing the geoscientist and science writer Rex Buchanan (it’s like he was made to be a geoscientist with a name like that..):
“We do a mediocre job of helping adults to learn about and appreciate science. Many of the science stories that I read in newspapers or try to watch on television aren’t very engaging. Some are too long, and many seem irrelevant. Popular science often seems like castor oil – some we should take because it’s good for us, not because we want too” (2005)