What does Britain’s Science Media Centre (SMC) think of social media for science communication?

smcMost people working with science communication will probably have heard about Britain’s Science Media Centre (SMC) and perhaps also about its front woman Fiona Fox. In case you’ve never heard of it or can’t really remember what it is about the scientific journal ‘Nature’ recently published a news feature on SMC and Fiona Fox which gives a good overview of the centre, its concept and the critic it faces.

Science Media Centre (SMC) is an independent press office that works to get scientific voices into media coverage and policy debates. By doing so the aim is to improve the accuracy with which science is presented to the public. The Centre works with:

  • journalists by providing them with information about science and its related disciplines; and putting them in contact with relevant scientists
  • scientists, engineers and other experts by supporting them in engaging with the media and by creating more opportunities for them to get their voices.
  • Press officers by supporting them when they are working on complex science, health and environment stories.

In addition, the SMC provides expert advice and evidence on issues relating to science in the media.

I won’t repeat the background or work of SMC further on this blog but instead refer to the Nature article or their Science Media Centre website. 

Social media and SMC?

Reading the Nature article with the interview with Fiona Fox and looking at SMC’s website it strikes me how reflections on the use of social media for science communication seems completely absent. It is not mentioned once in the article and on the website they link to their own Twitter account and Fiona Fox’s blog, but other than that there is no reference to social media as a tool or as medium for science communication.

Even in their Top tips for media work to help scientists to work with the media social media is not mentioned with a word, despite the fact that social media provides an excellent opportunity for scientists to communicate their research. Neither is it mentioned in their 10 best practice guidelines for reporting science & health stories. Of course these two guidelines are meant to be a tool on how to prepare for meeting the scientist/journalist and interpret correctly what information they are looking for or sit with, but none the less social media is only growing in influence also among scientists, so advice on checking out if the researcher is blogging about his or her field or using other social media could be worth including. As could advice to scientists on using social media to communicate themselves and use this communication channel as a resource to guide journalists too.

In the Nature article, Fiona Fox says that the part of her job in which she takes the most pride, is convincing once-timid scientists to join the SMC database and speak out. “A real triumph for us is getting a scientist who has worked for 30 years on a really controversial issue and has never spoken to the media,” she says. I wonder if she also encourages them to take communication into their own hands and start communicating through social media as well or if she mainly thinks of them talking to journalists who then do the communication or sign up on the SMC scientist roster….. All in all, I guess I’m quite unclear about what SMC and Fiona Fox thinks of social media for science communication.

Exploring science communication in… Heidelberg, Germany

When I moved to Bonn, Germany six months ago it was with great ambitions of exploring the German (Public Health) science communication community. Somehow time flew by and different job opportunities, unexpected travels, practicalities and even sickness kept me from getting started on my exploring.

But last week, into my inbox dropped an email with an update from one of the LinkedIn groups I follow (it’s called Science Communication). The headline was Career Day in Heidelberg: Science Communication and Journalism. After orienting myself on a map and finding Heidelberg to be only two hours train ride from Bonn, I decided to sign up for the day.

heidelbergposterThe Career day is organised by Heidelberg University Graduate School (HBIGS) and German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ). It’s a one-day event organised as a seminar with presentations and panel discussions and then an opportunity to have a round table lunch with one of the speakers for a more informal chat. I have signed up for lunch with Dr. Monika Mölders, who is working for the medical company Roche.

As I understand it, the presenters are mainly scientists whom have gone on to become professional communicators. Some work at Press and Public Relations Offices others work with Corporate Communication at companies and others are science journalists.

Practically all the names on programme are new to me, so I look forward to meeting them and hopefully get into the German Science Communication community. Coming to science communication from a public health perspective it is also great to see that there is a good representation of people from health related organisations (perhaps not so surprising now that one of organisers is the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ)).

Should you want to join, but is not at as easy distance to Heidelberg as I happen to be then they give you the option of “receiving information without attending”. Am not sure what that means, but if you go to the registration page you can check this option at the bottom of the page and see what happens.

Creating a niche of public health science communication

When you sit in your own little world working on your things, it can be hard to assess how all the different loose ends relate to each other and whether there is any direction and overall frame for what you do. But then an external observer (in this case a journalist) comes along, interviews you for 45 minutes, based on which he picks 7 quotes and writes a short article. And Voila! All of the sudden it sounds like you are super focused, which you probably are, it’s just see hard to see for yourself.

This is what happened to me recently. I agreed to act as a ‘case’ for a journalist writing an article about the opportunities in Denmark to get government support for taking additional education. When I chose to do a one-year degree in Journalism, I was so lucky to be approved for SVU (the State’s Adult Education Support) which meant a monthly allowance during my studies equal to 80% of unemployment support.

The article was published this week in the magazine of the The Association of Danish Lawyers and Economists (and lots of other academics, including people with degrees in Public Health Sciences). Its in Danish, which may prevent lots of my readers to read it, but none the less: below is the article (you can also read it on page 26-27 in DJØFbladet).


What was pleasant for me to read was that the journalist, based on our talk actually assessed that I had created a niche for myself:

“Today, Nina has created a niche for herself where she mixes the methodologies from both of her tool boxes [public health sciences and journalism & communication, edit], when she communicates in her field or teaches at the Faculty of Health [at University of Copenhagen]”.

A field of Public Health Sciences and communication, or Public Health Science Communication. The sound of it feels right to me, and I guess its time to embrace and articulate the niche more to myself and in my introduction of myself to others. I guess it also shows that I wasn’t completely off, when I some time back chose the to name this blog Public Health Science Communication 2.0.

ScienceNordic – Spreading the news of nordic science beyond the north

Is Danish research being spread effectively enough to the world? Do researchers in the US, India and Australia know of the findings researcher in Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Finland and Denmark are making? If not, a new online initiative called ScienceNordic is hoping to change that – or at least add an additional and lighter component to the peer-reviewed journals.

At a seminar hosted by the Danish scientific news portal, Videnskab.dk, on the visibility of Danish research, a sneak preview of ScienceNordic was given by editor-in-chief, Vibeke Hjortlund.

ScienceNordic is an English language news site for scientific news from the Nordic countries (Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland). The website is independent and the purpose is to take the results of the scientists and disseminate it in a news orientated journalistic manner. It will be launched 15 November 2011.

Objectives and content

Vibeke Hjortlund presented the objectives of ScienceNordic:

  • Give research from the nordic countries a place on the world map
  • Be a communication channel between researchers in different countries
  • Promote the high quality of research from the Nordic countries

The targeted audience is quite broad ranging from the international media over the academic environment to students, businesses, policymakers and the general public.

According to Vibeke Hjortlund, there will be 2-3 news stories per day and news contributed from partners (such as universities and other research organisations). The website will be divided into six sections (Health, Society & Culture, Environment, Technology, Agriculture & Fishery, and Natural Sciences). . I’m happy to see that health is a separate section. It would be cool if public health researchers would actually think in terms of my wide-spread communication of their research other than peer-reviewed journals, but perhaps also share their research as it happens. ScienceNordic could be an opportunity for that.

In addition, there will be a newsletter to which you can subscribe (if prefered, just to subsections)

Interactiveness will come later

Since the news portal has not been launched yet, it is hard to tell how much interactivity there will be. Initially, it will not be possible to comment on the articles, but it is the plan to implement that. Just as Videnskab.dk, there are also plans of blogs and debates in the pipeline. Hopefully it will a lively website that can inspire researchers to become interactive also in other web2.0 fora.

There is already a ScienceNordic Twitter and Facebook page. Naturally, both a so far low on tweets and followers but I look forward to see what happens there.

Who is behind ScienceNordic?

The initiative for the site comes from Denmark and Norway where the scientific news portals, Videnskab.dk of Denmark and Forskning.no of Norway, have joined forces and together with partners from Sweden, Finland and Iceland have developed the website with the financial support from NordForsk, an organisation under the Nordic Council of Ministers.

A lovely confusing mix of journalists, science communicators, Google+ enthusiasts, communication experts at seminars

My own educational background is interdisciplinary. Public Health is interdisciplinary at its core and adding journalism to it adds a world of not just traditional journalists as we know them from newspapers, radio and television but also communication experts in various forms. Working with social media at Medical Museion in Copenhagen have added a new group of people coming from the world of technology, enthusiast in social media etc. This grand mix of people have all been represented at the different seminars I have been so fortunate to attend over the last couple of months.

Some of the seminars and conferences I have mentioned here previously, but I thought I’d just give a small insight into some of the events I have attended where science communication is discussed directly or indirectly.

London – scientists – social media – enthusiasts – TWITTER

I have already shared some thoughts from my participation at Science Online in London this September in Changed by Science Online London 2011? Thinking back on it the keyword for me from the conference was lots of enthusiastic people. A complete different crowd of people from my previous world. Real scientist eager to share their knowledge and spread the word about the potentials in social media. It was about live-tweeting. Not only about what you heard, but also what it made you think of or how you liked (or disliked) what you heard. Quite a crash introduction to a new world to me. Can’t wait to joining the “big brother” conference ScienceOnline2012 in North Carolina in January 2012!

Crisis communication – Experimentarium – Science Media Centre – UK – Denmark

The Experimentarium (the Danish Science Centre) hosted a conference in October called When Science Meets The Headlines. Participants were a great mix of journalists, communicators, scientists and researchers. The conference was divided into three session. The first session focused on the current situation in Denmark when it comes to researchers/scientists engagement and efficiency in communication to the public. Both journalists, researchers and communicators shared their perspective. Unfortunately, the mention of social media was almost nonexistent – perhaps as a symptom that it is not used, perhaps due to an oversight from the organisers. Second session was a presentation of the English Science Media Center (SMA), an independent venture working to promote the voices, stories and views of the scientific community to the national news media when science is in the headlines. Three speakers from London joined and gave a (over?) positive description of the SMA. Personally, I really missed a more critical perspective and some reflexion on where it might work less well. Third part was then a discussion of the future of science communication in Denmark. Again, it was surprising to see of how little attention was given to the potential in social media. A big shame! It was however clear that the main objective from the organisers side was a promotion of a future Danish Science Media Centre hosted or driven by the Experimentarium. No debate was initiated on who would be most appropriate to host such a centre or whether the needs in Denmark might be different from the UK and therefore require an alternative strategy and organisation. This was a shame. Despite some critic of the conference it was however all in all a very inspirational day with a really good mix of participants.

Google+ – communication officers – Social Media Club

In October an organisation which I had not heard of before, hosted an afternoon session on the wonders of Google+. The organisation, which calls itself Social Media Club Copenhagen had invited three speakers to share their experiences and knowledge about Google+. I am not sure how many of the participants had a health background, but I definitely felt like a minority group. Instead the room was full of people from the communication office of this and that company, from media organisations and other communicative people. Although only one speaker was actually from Google it felt a little bit like all three of them had been paid to salute Google+. Perhaps their recommendations were very heartfelt and real, but it did just seem like a little bit too fantastic. Despite a seminar where I wasn’t quite sure what I got out of it, it did reawaken a curiosity to this new platform and  I took home some useful G+ tips which were shared during and after the seminar. Eg. the ‘Hangout’ features seems to contain lots of potential as useful tool!

Journalists – social media – drinks – debate

The Copenhagen section of the Danish Union of Journalists have applied a wonderful concept called “Drinks and Debate”. Every last Friday of the month they invite members to meet up at Library Bar in Copenhagen and participate in a debate and enjoy one (sometimes two) free cocktails. In October the theme was what journalism can learn from Social Media. Once again this was not a crowd of health people, but a majority of journalists who for a great part (still) feel threatened by this scary phenomena of social media. Astrig Haug from the Danish media hos Berlingske talked about her experiences with using social media and shared thoughts on Danish media’s adoption (or lack) of social media. Interesting thoughts on how newspapers are still thinking in print articles when writing to the net and the need for the journalist to adapt to a changing world were brought forward. Astrid Haug encouraged journalist to turn their heads towards the bloggers for inspiration both as information sources but also for their methods and style. For example by being better at putting themselves out there and also expose what you don’t know. All in all an inspiring debate.

Mixing it all up and seminars to come

Attending these different seminars and conferences have been very inspiring for me. The quality as varied but all have has contributed to increase my understanding of social media and its current and potential role in communication broadly and in science communication specifically. What I now await is a Public Health conference that could put social media on the agenda. Sadly the upcoming annual of conference European Public Health Association (EUPHA) which takes place in Copenhagen 9-11 November, does not have it on the programme. The social media presence prior to the conference has also been very limited. A hashtag #EPHconference  have however been promoted and I’m curious to see whether it will be used. Right now I’m sceptical but hoping to be positive surprised! Later this afternoon I’m heading to a seminar at Videnskab.dk (a Danish science communication website) about the visibility of Danish research and a preview of a new international research platform called ScienceNordic. Will share more about this seminar later on.

Journalism and science communication

Just thought that I’d share a few links to some articles about the relation between science, journalism and science communication through times. To me they give an interesting perspective on how social media is an obvious channel for communicating science to both a narrow and a broad audience and how it is linked to the previous formats for communicating between scientists.

I both articles references are made to how scientists in pre-scientific journal and early-scientific journal times used letter correspondence to discuss, comment and criticise each others theories, methods, findings and conclusions. The use of letters and the sharing for the content of these letters at scientists meetings.

Read the two posts, both are well articulated and contain fun and surprising examples of how Albert Einstein for example was not the biggest fan of peer-review.

The line between science and journalism is getting blurry….again” by Bora Zivkovic in Scientific American, 20 December 2010.
Richard Smith: Scientific communication is returning to its roots” by Richard Smith on BMJ group blogs, 26 July 2011