Keynote Debate: The cultural corridors of power – should scientists be opinion-formers outside their fields?
Chair: Beccy Meehan (BBC North West Tonight)
The keynote speech of the second day of the conference focused on the role scientists should take in the decision making in fields other than their own. A good range of speakers made up the panel, with Dr Jack Stilgoe intentionally playing the devil’s advocate, taking the opinion that scientists should only inform their area of expertise and not have further representation outside of their field. After a quick straw poll at the beginning of the session one or two members of the audience shared this view, whilst the majority of the audience thought that scientists should be opinion formers. The rest of the session moved fairly quickly from topic to topic as more questions were asked, including current barriers to scientists being able to become opinion formers. An interesting point was that this may not be due to the public but rather that scientists don’t trust the public enough to either understand or represent their data correctly and so don’t share it. While no definitive answer was reached, this session definitely generated a lot of discussion and served as a good primer to the afternoon’s challenge sessions.
Where’s the UK serial?
Chair: Gareth Mitchell (BBC)
The “serial” of the title of this session refers to an American made podcast series which has generated massive support and interest since its initial airing in October 2014. It is incredibly well made and tells a riveting and perplexing story. Using this series as a focal point the aims of this session were to try and understand why podcasts haven’t achieved a similar level of interest in the UK, and to serve as a platform for members of the audience to share tips and suggestions on ways of making podcasts. All of the panel members have extensive experience creating podcasts; Deborah Cohen is a Science Editor for BBC Radio, Dan Shepard and Jo Meek both run independent audio production companies, both producing content for BBC Radio amongst others, and the chair Gareth Mitchell is current host of “Click” on the BBC world service.
The discussion seemed to center on the financial support as a big reason why British podcasts haven’t achieved the same level as similar American podcasts. Many podcasts in the US are supported through advertising as well as through the public radio network. Most podcasts in the UK though are either BBC productions and are therefore edited radio shows bound by the mandate of the BBC brand name, or are produced by people in their own homes.
The discussion then turned to what makes a good podcast. While high productions values and especially good quality sound are important, much of the audience agreed that it was the story, content or presentation that kept them listening to a podcast series. ___________________________________________________________________________
Challenge 2 – Science for all
For the last session of the day, the delegates self organised into five different challenge groups. The aim of this session was to discuss several issues that are currently important in the field of science communication and to try and come up with plans of action to tackle them. The five challenge sessions were “Science media: the hype machine”, “Science for all”, “Citizen science”, “Diverse role models” and “New parliament, same problem?”. The ideas and thoughts of the individual work groups were then discussed with all the participants and presented by a designated speaker to the whole conference at the conference wrap up. This offered a great opportunity to get involved with the development of the field and come up with new strategies for recurring problems. In the “Science for all” workshop, issues discussed included introducing an official recognition scheme for public engagement efforts and making public engagement courses a requirement for PhD students. The suggested recommendations from each challenge session will be made available in a full report from the British Science Association in the future.