Are we communicating science effectively?

Are we communicating science effectively?

What methods are we using to evaluate science communication efforts?

What methods are we using to evaluate science communication efforts?

There are conflicting views of whether science is actually improving our quality of life, and this could possibly be linked to how science is being communicated to our society. What are the stories and images that are being communicated to produce lasting memories, and how are they being portrayed? There is no doubt that engaging different audiences with science takes time to plan and execute. So how can science communicators and people involved in communication gauge how effective their method of engaging citizens with science is?

Nowadays access to knowledge is readily available with a couple of quick searches and clicks. Consequently, it is even more important to understand the impact of these science stories on society. Evaluation can seem very pedantic and a daunting task to take on, but if used effectively it can provide insight to creating events/activities/stories that respond to society’s needs.

Barriers to effectively evaluating science communication include limited resources devoted to communication and coming up with the right methods. Ultimately, how can our evaluation methods guide how science communication activities are to be implemented?

EU research grants expect researchers to include aspects of science communication. The impact of research encompasses various facets including the economic, social and wider aspects of science, also referred to under the umbrella term of Responsible Research and Innovation. While generating many likes on social media can give a glimpse of what the generic attitudes are about a particular controversial topic, this kind of feedback is very limited in what it can offer in terms of what the effect on behaviour is.

Indeed, the nature of understanding the impact of our stories, which can take the form of writing, videos and dialogues, is a complex one. Measurements should not only include the quantitative side, but efforts need to also be directed on how to measure the influence that these stories are having on society.

Evaluating science communication efforts will advise the organisers about the impact of their engagement in relation to what the desired objective is. Research in this area needs to tackle how to measure the actual impacts of science communication and whether these activities and stories are having the desired effect on the action of different audiences. 

Methods of measurement should be based on empirical and measurable evidence, established on accurate processes and tools. In turn, we are equipped with information that targets our objectives and communicates scientific research in an effective and responsible way.

Danielle Martine Farrugia is a PhD student and science communicator at the Department of Physics, Faculty of Science, University of Malta. She is a Science Communication lecturer, hosts Radio Mocha Malta and runs Malta Café Scientifique.

Did you know?

• Thanks to the Magnus effect, if you spin a ball as you drop it, the direction of the ball will curve slightly, due to differences in pressure.

• Unlike us humans, the ears of a cricket are located on the front legs, just below the knee.

• In the Middle Ages a moment was equal to one-and-a-half minutes, with an hour considered to be made of 40 minutes and not 60 minutes.

• Penguins, emus and kiwis are all flightless birds.

For more trivia, see:

Sound bites

• Why doesn’t our world go black when we blink? Research conducted at UC Berkeley, Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, Université Paris Descartes and Dartmouth College have found that blinking is important not just to lubricate our dry eyes and protect them from irritants such as dust. In order to stay focused on what we’re viewing, our brain repositions our eyeballs on what we’re looking at. When our eyeballs roll back in their sockets during a blink, it is possible that the eyes don’t return to the same spot when we reopen them. These researchers found that this misalignment indicates to the brain to activate our eye muscles to realign our vision. The brain needs to constantly make up for our eyes being sluggish and imprecise, and adapts its motor signals to make sure our eyes are pointing where they’re supposed to.

• Hummingbirds’ courtship is quite a complex one. A group of Princeton biologists had a look at how male hummingbirds flirt to attract the attention of females, by flashing their iridescent throat feathers making a buzzing sound at the same time. Male hummingbirds put on a snazzy diving performance when courting. The performance of the broad-tailed hummingbirds includes them flying up to 100 feet in the air before swooping down next to the female, and then climbing up for another dive in the opposite direction. What is truly fascinating is the aerial acrobatics that these hummingbirds go through, to impress the female. This includes diving at high speed, the mechanical buzz and the colour change that happen almost all at once within a 300-millisecond window. This is roughly the duration of a human blink.

For more soundbites listen to Radio Mocha on Radju Malta every Monday at 7pm, with a repeat on Thursday at 4pm on Radju Malta 2.

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