Science isn’t a bore. It’s amazing! Trust us. But for anyone doubting, maybe you just haven’t been exposed to some of these awesome experiments in sharing the stories of science.
Say What? Talking about science—whether you’re a scientist, journalist, or enthusiast—isn’t always done in the most inspiring way. In fact, it can be a downright snooze fest. But experiments in new formats and techniques in science communication are helping bring sometimes dry and intimidating subjects into focus in exciting new ways.
Here are some of our favorite examples:
RadioLab (downloaded 4 million times per month as a podcast) uses a mix of interviews, voice-overs, music, and sound effects to intricately weave tales of how diseases spread, the history and future of the Galapagos, and the story of a family struggling to break through to their autistic son. RadioLab and another story-centered vehicle, This American Life, recently gave birth to Invisibilia, which explores invisible things such as emotions, beliefs, and thought.
The Story Collider podcast, meanwhile, curates yarns about how science affects people personally, emotionally. These stories are told live and are sometimes funny, often touching. What do you do if you’re an anatomist who couldn’t harm a fly? Use roadkill. How fares a fossil hunter chased by a very alive bear? Gripping stuff. Listen up.
Live and On Stage.
In the Bay Area alone we’ve seen live versions of RadioLab, Story Collider, and Tested, a show from the minds and hands of the Mythbusters gang. There’s also the regularly occurring Nerd Nite events—like the Discovery Channel with beer, as their slogan promises—showcasing science talks to an irreverent, sometimes drunk crowd in a bar or movie theater. Nerd Nite has even taken to sea.
Classic examples of data journalism’s power in science and environment reporting include The New York Times’ “Toxic Waters” series and San Francisco-based journalist Peter Aldhous’s “How Many Earths?” and “Your Warming World” projects for New Scientist. Aldhous has a good list of data journalism resources for those interested in learning more.
Yep, actual scientists turn the content of their Ph.D. thesis into a dance that everyone can understand (and sometimes laugh at). This year, winners interpreted how tree seedlings benefit from fungi in the aftermath of a tornado, how to create stable reduced fat mayonnaise, and nuclear fusion.
Last year’s winner depicted sperm competition with a troupe of dancers that look to be a men’s water polo team. Super silly, super fun, and takes hard science out of the realm of the unapproachable for a change.
The MinutePhysics video series tackles why the Solar System is flat and the Conservation of Energy through hand-drawn stop motion and narration. They’re not actually under 60 seconds, but they are just a few minutes in length and convert topics that usually make my head spin into educational and visually compelling entertainment.
Three Minute Thesis is a research communication competition in which Ph.D. candidates present engaging lightening talks of their work to a panel of judges. Developed by the University of Queensland in Australia and now held in 17 countries, it’s become an annual event at the University of California, San Francisco, and part of the local Bay Area Science Festival.
NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars has an online social presence, too (@MarsRovers), as do many other research projects around the world. But it’s scientists and science communicators who are becoming seriously relevant. Bill Nye @TheScienceGuy has more than 1.2 million followers on Twitter. Neil deGrasse Tyson @neiltyson has 3.08 million (for context, celebreality star Kim Kardashian has 28 million followers, but still, yay science!). Both are nominated this year for Shorty Awards for exceptional social media content. Looking for another science star to follow? We recommend @BadAstronomer, Phil Plait.
Scientists are sidestepping subscription-based journals for open access. And platforms like the Science Exchange enable researchers to share experiments and equipment. In science journalism, practitioners are swapping tips and tricks to hone their craft on The Open Notebook.
What trends in science communication (#scicomm) are you loving lately?
This topic will be the focus of a study tour series swissnex San Francisco is launching called Inspiring Science Communication, geared toward the Swiss science communication community.