21 June 2012

Nice soapbox you have there

A few months ago I wrote a "conflicted" take on the Science Online 2012 conference. "Scientists continue to feel the effects of a withering, coordinated attack in our politics and our culture," I said, "but collectively I don't think this community has anything resembling the sense of urgency or strategic consensus required to overcome it."  Then I really got all self-righteous and smarmy - "I for one am tired of analyzing the contour and measuring the force of the fist punching science in the face."

And of course, I backed my words up with... well... yeah, not so much. But I will say this - many of the people I met at that conference (and many others) are building momentum to launch a bit of a pro-science charm offensive.  And that's not such a bad idea.

Lou Woodley put together a great series on science communication and outreach at Nature.com's Soapbox Science blog, complete with a handy Twitter hashtag #reachingoutsci.  She lent me her soapbox for a moment, and I used the opportunity to outline some of the key elements of successful PR campaigns to a community that probably doesn't spend a ton of time talking about PR.  I remain enormously grateful - not simply for the chance to share my thoughts there, but also for the opportunity to learn from others who participated - people like Ravi Subramanian, Mark Henderson, Miriam Goldstein, Jeanne Garbarino, Katie Pratt, and James Lush.  The series was followed up with a discussion at the monthly Science Online NYC event.  They even gave me a PR lesson of sorts - their use of the social media tool Storify to highlight the series and event is a great online PR case study in tactical execution. 

I stand by my basic points from my initial rant.  More needs to be done in establishing both a sense of urgency and a perception that this is absolutely winnable among science advocates. The science community would benefit from a coordinated, overarching communications strategy that includes tested messages and measurable outcomes. But the more I learn about the commitment and eloquence of those who believe in science outreach, the more optimistic I become.

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