Looking at the future of science communication in Germany

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Tatyana Dubich was one of the organisers of this year’s N2 Science Communication Conference that took place last month to encourage science communication among early career researchers in Germany. In this guest blog, she gives us a round-up of some of the discussions that took place during the conference.

How could we improve science communication? If you were to ask a scientist, a journalist or an artist, you would most likely get completely different answers from each. All of them, however, would probably agree that efficient science communication is crucial. The N2  Science Communication Conference in Berlin brought together 160 participants that included scientists, journalists and artists in order to discuss and learn from each other. The N2 organizational board aimed to actively involve doctoral researchers and provide them with a set of effective tools to increase the impact of the scientific message.

N2  (N-squared) stands for “network of networks” and unites more than 14,000 doctoral researchers of the non-university doctoral research networks: Helmholtz Juniors, Leibniz PhD Network, and Max Planck PhDnet. In a statement (PDF), issued in October this year, the N2 board summarized their joint views on the current situation facing doctoral researchers in Germany and defined joint goals. These include improving working conditions, career development and supervision as well as enhancing societal impact, in particular through science communication. In the opening address of the conference, the N2 board emphasised that “science communication is part of the role and ethical duty of every scientist. In particular, doctoral researchers should take an active part in disseminating science.”


Highlighting the importance of science communication

Image credit: Kai Mueller

Johannes Vogel (Naturkundemuseum, Berlin) urged that every scientist should leave their ivory tower and use every opportunity to communicate with the public. Onur Güntürkün (Ruhr-Universität Bochum) agreed with him and added “communicating science is our duty to taxpayers and to society.” Tobias Maier from the National Institute of science communication (Nawik) added: “science communication is not only a responsibility of researchers, but it is also beneficial for scientists because it allows them to increase the impact of their own research.”

From the outset, it seemed that doctoral researchers didn’t need to be reminded of the importance of science communication as those participating in the conference were all very enthusiastic about the topic. During the final day of the conference Jule Specht (Humboldt Universität Berlin) asked the participants, how many of them would like to do some form of science communication in the coming weeks, unsurprisingly, all the hands went up.


Getting involved

It was clear that the early career researchers in attendance would like to be actively involved in science communication, but the main questions were: how to do it efficiently? What tools can be used? Where to begin?

The N2  Science Communication Conference offered a series of lectures to answer those questions and workshops to put science communication into practice. Participants tried to explain how CRISPR/Cas9 works to a five-year-old and searched for the right angle for the story during a workshop by Benjamin Denes, a journalist from Spiegel.TV.

Attendess also learned how to use social media in order to make a significant digital footprint and designed their first policy brief together with Rosemarie K. Neuman from Impact Dialog. Gwilym Lockwood (The Information Lab) provided a whirlwind tour of data visualization and Gijis Meeusen (Artesc) challenged the participants to find the right tempo for their scientific presentation.


Communicating science in many different ways

During a public event called ‘Science beyond borders’, which was part of the Berlin Science Week, Sam Illingworth (Manchester Metropolitan University) elegantly showed that there are unconventional ways to present and communicate science.

In his inspiring keynote lecture ‘The poetry of science’ he shared extremely beautiful scientifically-themed poetry about complex issues, such as ethics, astronomy, biodiversity and genetics. From his talk we learned that art can be extremely powerful in communicating science. In contrast, Sascha Vogel (Frankfurt International Graduate School for Science) used his lecture ‘Physics in Hollywood’, to demonstrate how science and depictions of scientists in popular culture can be misleading.

Image credit: Kai Mueller

Can scientists have an impact on the image of science and scientists themselves? Absolutely, by actively engaging in science communication!

Modern technology and social media has turned everyone into a local news station, which should be used to broadcast science fact rather than science fiction.

During the panel discussion, Sibylle Anderl advised attendees “to communicate methods, because research methods are the main difference between the science and fake news.” Stephan Balzer agreed with this approach and added that it is not only important to communicate our science, but also share the human side of scientists – “we need more science rockstars!” he exclaimed. But research is not always a success story, as pointed out by Onur Güntürkün. Our failures and everyday struggles might also be worth sharing to make scientists relatable to the public.


Looking to the future

The March for Science has long finished, however, the battle between science and pseudoscience continues. Climate change, vaccination, evolution and gender roles, all those questions should be discussed objectively and openly. One doesn’t have to be a professor to be entitled to talk about science in an open, truthful and convincing way.

These conversations can start now – discuss your research with your friends or start your own blog, Facebook page or Twitter account and talk about your research. This is the only way to stop the flood of fake news in science and to disseminate validated knowledge instead. Communicate your science and, as Onur Güntürkün says: “take no step back!”

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