Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Share it!

“If we give up on the public, in the end, it may give up on us."

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Dr Ayelet Baram-Tsabari: pioneering the sharing of science

Climate change is a myth. Cellular phones will fry our brains. Vaccinations kill children. Evolution is just a theory.

Without scientists engaged in public dialogue, how can we expect to have informed citizens? 

Man on the moon?

Science and technology, especially at the ‘Eureka’ moment, is fun, fascinating, wondrous, and affects us all. Why is it that so often, we fail to get the message across?

Take a clue from one of Technion’s top communicators: long after the battle of the languages, in which Technion affirmed the right of Hebrew as a language of instruction, scientists are still not able to talk in a language that people can understand.

The public-media-academia dialogue is a proven premise of progress, from the cultivation of scientifically inspired high-school students to the engagement of a technologically proud public. As such, Technion is actively researching, training and developing tools to empower science communication and education.

“We need to actively change the norms,” says Dr. Ayelet Baram-Tsabari, a dynamic new recruit in the Department of Education in Technology and Science. To communicate science is not to degrade it reduce it to “layman’s language”, she argues. It is to accept the responsibility that we, as scientists must communicate science to the general public. This may lead to more trust, more public support, and also to a dialogue that can make science more relevant to what matters more to people.

The Technion is the first place in Israel to open a course for science communication. There are programs to train graduate students and faculty in communicating with the public. “Israel is a great laboratory for the rest of the world,” says Baram-Tsabari, who believes that the starting point should be to listen to what the public is interested in. “It is not a monologue but a dialogue. It’s not Eureka... and keep it. It’s Eureka! - and share it!”

Tips of the trade:

1.      Speak a language people can understand. Dont use jargon.

2.      Use analogies. Explain the unfamiliar in terms of the familiar.

3.      Not monologue but dialogue. People care when it affects their lives. You need to hear what matters to them!

4.      Where possible, use narrative, build a story.

5.      Communicating science is as integral part of doing science. SHARE IT!

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Related News:

The scientific establishment – exemplified by the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, but including university professors and lecturers – has abandoned its ivory towers gone out to talk to the people. Coverage of Baram-Tsabari's international impact in the Jerusalem Post:

Bruce V. Lewenstein, Professor of Science Communication, Cornell University, @Technion.

Many leading universities and scientific societies promote "public understanding of science" in their goals and activities. Many scientists wonder why they should bother, since they think the public won't understand or care about the science anyway. Why should they waste their time? This talk will provide evidence for why those scientists are wrong, why they -- and you -- should care, and what you can do about it.

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