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How long can a conference continue after it has ended? I don’t know the answer, but I know that Science Online 2012 is definitely not over yet, despite the fact that the last plenary session ended more than two weeks ago. On the Wikipage of the conference the list of blog coverage after the conference just seems to keep growing, and on Twitter #scio12 tweets keeps rolling in. People I didn’t meet at the conference, I am now meeting two weeks later, meaning that I can still add names to the list of “people I met at Science Online”. Quite amazing.

It is great to read other people’s reflections on the conference, their follow-up sharing and their excitement over Science Online 2013, although it is almost one year away (a wikipage for planning Scio13 is already going strong).

As many of the Science Online related blog posts already portray, it is easy to become a fan of this little big unconference. Even though this was my first experience with the original Science Online conference (I attended Science Online London 2011), I felt so very welcome and almost automatically as member of a group or family I didn’t know I was a part of until I joined them there live, in Raleigh, NC.

The hundreds of interesting topics which came up during Scio12 could fill hundreds of blog posts, but here I’d just like to share two things that I really like about the conference, and articulate two of the weaknesses which I encountered.

Science Online 2012 pluses (two reasons why Science Online is great!)

  • It is full with passionate people. People who have a passion for communicating science, whether they are scientists, journalists, editors, communication officers etc. Beginners, longtime experts – they are all there with a passion which they are willing to share!
  • Titles are not important. On the name tag what is important is communicated (a great example of science communication to the point!). And this it not what your title is, which institution you represent, or where in the world you are from. Your first name is central (because this is by which you should approach other people). Second comes your last name, so that you actually have a fair chance of finding people  later on; and third of course their Twitter name, so that you can contact them! Especially the non-existence of titles and affiliations makes you feel equal with your fellow conference participants. No worries in approaching someone who then might turn out to be your favorite blogger or head of communication in the coolest organization.

Science Online minuses (A little bit of critique)

  • The conference brings together enthusiasts of science and communication. Most of them are either already good communicators or are thriving to become so. This provides a basis for valuable sharing of experiences and ideas, but not in all cases does it create a forum for fruitful for discussions. The eternal ‘battle’ of the ‘mean journalist’ and the non-communicating scientist often ended up dominating the discussions. And without the presence of either the bad journalist or the narrow-minded scientist, the discussion could at times end up a bit cliché and useless (or ‘in a rabbit hole’ as one of the people I follow on Twitter wrote). This was a shame for some of the discussions. I (perhaps naively) expected that at a Science Online conference focus would be more forward-looking and centered around how the social web might improve this journalist/scientist relationship. If the other discussion is wanted it might be better to bring in some bad journalists and some scientists who prefer staying hidden away in their lab or behind their desk and have them participate in the discussion.
  • What is science? To my knowledge there is no rule to how broadly science at Science Online should be defined. And that is how it should be. However, despite having met participants at the conference who do research in language, risk and other less ‘fact-based’ science, many of the discussions I participated in tended to centre around science which can be done in a lab, can be boiled down to numbers or relates to  theoretical science like physics and math. These are often difficult topics to communicate, so they deserve all the attention on the communication side that they can get. However, it would sometimes have been nice to have a more articulated discussion about how to communicate the much less fact-based science. I come from the area of public health. An area where there a lots of facts, but even more theories and unknowns. Ethical concerns, moral values, personal opinion, theoretical stand points all matters and makes communication of research in for example the wellbeing of asylum children, the best approaches to prevent stress from causing disease, behavior change’s role in preventing obesity etc. extremely difficult. It would be great if the challenges of communicating less ‘fact-based’ research could be discussed also at Science Online. Or at least that it is made clear that science is a broad thing and that the discussions may become blurry when they are all put under the one hat of “science”.

I guess my two ‘minuses’ could actually be converted into a suggestion for future sessions at Science Online 2013. For example the “Health/Medicine track” is still empty. Maybe this was a occation to make sure that the less medicine-oriented side of public health is also represented at Science Online. Will let the thought boil a little bit in my head..