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Science Blogging: The next generation

Blogging and other forms of social media can increase engagement among scientists, government and the public. How can it better be used, or used in new ways to influence science policy and how can Canadians use it to effectively participate in policy debates?

Science blogs serve many communities, including research, policy, the mainstream media and the public at large. They validate successful science, challenge weak conclusions, and are an increasingly important tool for providing valuable context and understanding of research via an open and public forum that encourages debate. Further, science blogging fills the void left by the changing media landscape with fewer resources invested in science writing and reporting. Policy makers are looking to trusted blogs and social channels for insight and information.

This session will provide an in-depth and hands-on look at science blogging and its impact on the Transformation of Science, Society and Research in the Digital Age. With a particular focus on tools and platforms, best practices, the current Canadian blogging landscape, and some predictions for the future, this interactive session will demonstrate how blogs are a platform for engagement, discussion and sharing of science.

Canada has many talented science bloggers, representing both the science reporting and documentary approaches. Our science blogging community has strengthened and grown in recent years, with Science Borealis, launched at the 2013 CSPC, providing a cohesive platform for discussion, discovery and delivery. The proposed panel will address how science blogs are useful for both policymakers and scientists.

Tapping into the power of the crowd, the session will interactively engage the audience in the creation of a quality, high-impact, policy-oriented blog post that will later be published on Science Borealis. The panel will provide audience members with hands-on experience in good blogging practice: goals, approaches, dos and don’ts -- and more -- to create a well-designed post accessible to government, the broader scientific community, industry and the public.

The panel will discuss the current state of science blogging in Canada showcasing best examples and demonstrating their impacts on the public perception of science and the transformation of science and research and. It will briefly explore this type of digital engagement with an eye to the future.

Check out Science Borealis' blog on their panel here:
http://scienceborealis.ca/blog/science-policy-and-blogging-mixing-it-up-...

Session Report: 
Blogging and social media bring public voice to policy issues

Panel: Science Blogging: The Next Generation

Organized by Science Borealis

CSPC 2015: November 27, 2015

Moderator: Brian Owens, General Science Editor, Research Canada / Science Borealis; Panelists: Amelia Buchanan, Blogger, Journalism Student, Algonquin College; Christopher Buddle, Associate Professor and Associate Dean, McGill University; Sabrina Doyle, New Media Editor, Canadian Geographic; Paul Dufour, Principal / Adjunct professor, PaulicyWorks / University of Ottawa; Lisa Willemse, Senior Communications Advisor, Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine

Takeaways and recommendations: 
  • Trust and transparency are paramount
  • Reference sources on blog postings
  • Consider having an editorial team review postings
  • Introduce academic incentives to reward scientists for outreach activities
  • Support hubs like Science Borealis that draw scientists, media, public and policymakers

The policy issue:

The media landscape is changing, leaving a gap in professional science reporting and writing. With the speed of scientific innovation increasing in many fields, more effective ways are needed to attract the public’s interest and attention.

A growing population of science bloggers is helping to fill this void. More scientists are also turning to new media platforms as a way to disseminate their research to the broader public and create communities of interest.

For policymakers, these online communities provide a new window to engage the public and gauge the public’s reaction—in real-time—to various issues. But the value of this interface depends on the trustworthiness of the science being communicated, as well as the audience or community being engaged.

At issue is how this platform can be used effectively to engage the public, scientists, policy analysts and government in meaningful policy debates.

 

The options:

The Canadian public is interested in the work of our researchers, said Buddle. “I have direct experience in knowing that because of the effects of a blog and a tweet and whether a journalist picks that up.”

A recent media analysis conducted by Dufour revealed that the words ‘science’ and ‘muzzling’ began appearing together in local and international media in 2013 largely because of the work of bloggers and social media organizations (e.g. Unmuzzledscience and Evidence for Democracy).

“I was intrigued by the incredible rise of advocacy groups using social media to trigger a debate in this country around a very important issue,” said Dufour. “The power of that has led to what we have seen yesterday,” he added, referring to Science Minister Kirsty Duncan’s CSPC speech that the new Liberal government will value and respect science and scientists and rely on evidence-based decision making.

Blogging and social media are among the easiest ways to do outreach today, Buddle said. He noted that scientists who lift the curtain on how research works help to “humanize the process of science.”

If scientists are going to participate in science policy, Buddle said “they have to move from behind pay walls and ivory towers and talk to people about their work.” We cannot rely on media offices to do all the work as “they have their own agendas and priorities.”

The audience generally agreed that social media and online communities are useful for gauging public attitudes to science and science-based issues. But as one delegate cautioned, “anecdotes don’t make policy.”

Building trust with the public is important and this starts with transparency. Since Single-author blogs are often unedited, Willemse said “the onus is then on the reader to assess the veracity of that blog, so you want to make sure that you … present your facts in a way that people can actually understand where you’re getting your research from.”

Understanding your audience is also key. “If the whole point is to get more people to interact with you and pay attention to your words then make it easy for them,” said Doyle. Avoid jargon, write clearly, think visually, and try to make it as interesting as you can, while staying within the bounds of facts, she said.

Delegates told the panel that it’s important to provide information that can be reproduced so that someone who works with that data will end up with the same findings.

Buchanan, who runs a single author blog called Lab Bench to Park Bench, said she references all sources in each post. As an unedited blog, she said she knows the importance of being open with the public.

Buchanan is also affiliated with Science Borealis, a science blogging hub launched at CSPC 2013. It is a growing community that connects science bloggers to the public, policymakers and media. Her submissions are reviewed by an editorial team, which helps validate her work.

But Buchanan’s science education did not prepare her for the world of communication. “As someone who is trained as a scientist, we’re not given any communication education whatsoever,” said Buchanan, who decided to top-up her biology degree with a journalism degree.

Buddle agreed that there are few incentives for academic scientists to do outreach. “Without support for these activities, only small number of academics will take any time to think about science blogging…and to link their work to science policy.”

If we solve this issue around incentivizing outreach, Buddle said, “I think the landscape of Canadian science policy will shift rapidly and in many positive and productive ways.”

 

References:

Science Borealis; http://scienceborealis.ca

Unmuzzledscience blog; https://unmuzzledscience.wordpress.com/

Evidence for Democracy blog; https://evidencefordemocracy.ca/en/blog

Moderator(s)

General Science editor
Research Canada / Science Borealis

Brian Owens is General Science editor of Science Borealis, and the editor of Research Canada, the newest member of the international Research Professional family of science policy publications. He has previously worked in London as a reporter and... [ READ MORE ]

Speakers

Blogger
Journalism student at Algonquin College

A recent convert to science communication, Amelia Buchanan is a journalism student with a biology background. Her blog, Lab Bench to Park Bench, is a study of the everyday plants and animals that share our parks and backyards. For 18 months... [ READ MORE ]

Associate Professor and Associate Dean at McGill University’s Macdonald Campus
McGill University

Chris Buddle is an Associate Professor and an Associate Dean at McGill University’s Macdonald Campus, where he has worked for over 12 years. He teaches in the area of field biology and ecology, and has an extensive research program focused on... [ READ MORE ]

New Media Editor
Canadian Geographic

Sabrina Doyle is the New Media Editor at Canadian Geographic, where she’s in charge of assigning, editing and writing for the CG blog, among other duties. Before this, she handled the magazine's social media, and spent six years writing about... [ READ MORE ]

Senior Communications Advisor
Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine

Lisa Willemse is a communications professional with 18 years experience working in the technology, child development and health research fields, and is currently a Senior Communications Advisor with the Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine... [ READ MORE ]

Principal / Adjunct professor
PaulicyWorks / University of Ottawa

Paul Dufour was educated in science policy and history of science and technology at McGill, Concordia and Université de Montréal. He is adjunct professor at the University of Ottawa’s Institute for Science, Society and Policy and Principal of... [ READ MORE ]