Week 10

Well, this week’s focus corresponds nicely with my chosen field of study. ‘I’m interested in science communication, science media, bringing the scientific community closer to the public’ is the answer I always give when, after telling someone I’m majoring in media and genetics, I’m met with a quizzical look and the statement ‘that’s an…interesting combination.’ Thank you, Week 10, for giving me some more evidence that these two areas are not so far apart.

Even so, it’s clear to see there is a general lack of communication between the established, traditional scientific community and society. In an era where knowledge is so easily transferred, this seems unacceptable and this is one of the main points being made by Seed, that “If reliable ways are found to increase the speed and efficiency of such “science transfer,” the results could not only be increased prosperity and knowledge but also increased stability and wisdom.” (Seed 2011) Science is not stagnant, theories are being revised and tested all the time, and new results are turned up from the same experiments. I saw this just last week in my ecology lab. The flexibility is there, it just needs to be brought out into public domain so that “the publication of research serves as a distributed commons of knowledge, as the beginning of millions of research cycles, not one where a short set of “pages” represents the end of a research investment.” (Wilbanks 2011) One could say we need to mix Nature with Wikipedia.

However, taking this too far would be, I believe, detrimental. “Science publishing isn’t just an industry. It’s also the core factory for knowledge transfer in the world” (Wilbanks 2011) and reliability is a huge factor. Everything that is published is reviewed and scrutinised and before you even get to the editing stage, experiments, ones that could take months or years, must be checked and repeated. I love that fact that the Internet means almost everyone can have a voice, but in the scientific field, due to its very nature and its importance to society, standards of accuracy must be upheld. Blogs “cannot replace the peer-reviewed paper – however painful that publishing process might be.” (Schmidt 2011) It is a slow and painful process, and one of the challenges we face is how to speed it up to match the pace that the digitalised world moves at, without losing any rigour or accuracy. One way may be the sharing of data, an idea being embraced by a range of organisations (Pisani 2011), as it could mean result in less need to repetition, quicker processing of results. Two brains and eyes and hands are faster than one.

So there is hope. As Kelly points out, “The scientific method, like science itself, is accumulated structure. New scientific instruments and tools add new ways to gather and organize information” (2010) and if the scientific community is smart, and that’s the impression they give, they will embrace the easy transfer and remixing, editing and adding to of knowledge. And if the general public is a little more patient, science will be able to do this without compromising its principles. I don’t know exactly how we will reconcile these two speeds but the challenge is, quite frankly, something I’m willing to devote my career to.

Kelly, Kevin (2010) ‘Evolving the Scientific Method: Technology is changing the way we conduct science’, The Scientist <http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/57831/> [accessed 8 May 2011]

Pisani, Elizabeth (2011) ‘Medical science will benefit from the research of crowds’, The Guardian, January 11, <http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jan/11/medical-research-data-sharing> [accessed 8 May 2011]

Schmidt, Gavin (2011) ‘From Blog to Science’, RealClimate <http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2011/02/from-blog-to-science/> [accessed 8 May 2011]

Seed (2011) ‘On Science Transfer’, Seed <http://seedmagazine.com/content/print/on_science_transfer> [accessed 8 May 2011]

Wilbanks, John (2011) ‘On Science Publishing’, Seed, <http://seedmagazine.com/content/article/on_science_publishing> [accessed 8 May 2011]

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