How Can Scientific Findings Be Effectively Communicated, Transfered For Public Consumption? Who or What Should Fill The Void Between Scientist/Researcher & Journalist/Media? Does New-Media Solve The Problem?
Science, as ecology of practice, field of employment, publishing industry, and catalyst for advancement, is being forced to undergo a reverse reaction in which the products – media, culture and social changes – become the reactants. A contemporary digitally-driven society hypothesises that Science must transform to meet the demands of rapid information dissemination, adaptation of new-media technologies, and transparency of research findings for it to advance. Science must become “Open-Science”, where the public can witness the research process (Pisani 2011). Part of this transition is the aim to develop more effective ways for researchers to communicate findings beyond the realm of experts, and more effectively than the media does.
But does this go against the “nature” of science? Can it, and does it effectively transform to meet demands of speed, new-media usage, and transparency? Should we be experimenting, or leaving it up to natural adaptation? Who or what is needed to fill the communication gap between scientific experts and the general public? Much like the media has been made to break away from traditional print practices, can science to do the same?
The ‘Nature’ of Science: Can The Traditional Be Transformed?
As Thomas Lin writes in the 2012 NY Times article ‘Cracking Open The Scientific Process’:
“The [scientific research] system is hidebound, expensive and elitist..Peer review can take months, journal subscriptions can be prohibitively costly, and a handful of gatekeepers limit the flow of information. It is an ideal system for sharing knowledge, said the quantum physicist Michael Nielsen, only “if you’re stuck with 17th-century technology”. (Lin 2012)
Although it may seem ironic that Science, the catalyst for advancement, is being left behind in the digital age, an examination of traditional practices shows that while some new-media technology has been adapted, the dissemination of scientific knowledge remains a long and measured process tied strongly to both print.
“The very fact that we call a scientific-knowledge unit a “paper” is a powerful illustration of how deeply the idea of knowledge is tied to the medium” (Wilbanks 2012)
The transferring of scientific knowledge beyond the realm of experts in the field for general public consumption is prolonged, particularly when it “does not clearly lend itself to technology development” (Seed 2010), because of print nostalgia. As John Wilbanks explains in his online article ‘On Science Publishing’, the transferring of scientific knowledge became an “economic transaction”, as print was the easiest and fastest way to distribute knowledge (of course, that is not the case today).
As Lin (2012) explains, scientific research was and in majority still is done in private, then submitted to science and medical journals to be reviewed by peers, and then published. But implementation of new-media has allowed for some changes that shift away from traditional print constraints. Peer review practices occur through online digital networks, and research papers and data documentation have now moved into digital formats, such as accessible PDF files, which remove the need for print publishing costs and lessening publication time. However, copyright infringement issues have haltered an open-access dream.
Libraries are cancelling subscriptions to physical scientific journals, and the transition to digital libraries has made access more difficult, with knowledge hidden behind a username and password (Wilbanks 2012). While search engine tools such as Google Scholar can source online material, limited amounts are accessible for free.
Media As A Barrier To Scientific Knowledge
Not only is the establishment of scientific knowledge transfer as an economic transaction haltering progress in the digital age, but communication from researcher to the general public gives rise to distortion of information.
Scientists focus on the impact their research has within their field, and aim their research for those with familiarity, rather than for a widespread audience. For the general public, news of scientific findings or breakthroughs are communicated via the media, primarily through newspapers, broadcast bulletins and online news websites. Expert knowledge is added through quotations or opinion pieces to strengthen analysis.
But news organisations will not always publish the same information about a piece of research, particularly when the findings go against their pre-conditioned attitudes towards topics, such as Climate Change. It is well known that the News Ltd owned The Australian has a preference for anti-climate change articles. Hence, information is used to set a different agenda. Even data journalism can be subject to bias.
Although Science Journalists can aid in making scientific information and expert terms understandable for those without expertise, the communication process is still a complex issue.
‘Multiplatform, Open Science’
As Wilbanks (2012) explains:
“Those who pay for science—especially the taxpayers—are starting to understand that science in a digital age requires thinking not of research as a finite process that ends with a “paper” but as a perpetual process that begins with thousands of bits of information, some of which might be in narrative form, others in data sets, still others embedded into research tools and engineered materials, all scattered across the network and linked into a common infrastructure framework”. (Wilbanks 2012):
What’s next for Science in the digital age to make it “Open-Science” may be broad, but here is a list of potential practices have been, and if not, should be developed:
- Open access archives and science journals such as arXiv and the Public Library of Science (PLoS) (Lin 2012)
- A professional social networking or P2P website such as ResearchGate. It functions like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn in which scientists can answer one another’s questions, share papers and find collaborators.
- Multimedia/Interactive research papers in which, like a newspaper iPad application or eBook, the public can engage with various media such as videos, image galleries, hyperlinks and different navigation.
- Establish an comparison website where the public, journalists, media and related organisations can view the research methodology, clear outlines, find out who is conducting the research so that authority is solidified, and engage in multimedia content.
- Media training for researchers to become multiplatform science journalists who write not only for those within the field, but can translate findings, key terminology and scientific processes to the public.
Kelly, K. 2010, ‘Evolving the Scientific Method: Technology is changing the way we conduct science’, The Scientist <http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/57831/>
Lin, T. 2012, ‘Cracking Open The Scientific Process’, New York Times, 16 January, <http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/17/science/open-science-challenges-journal-tradition-with-web-collaboration.html?pagewanted=all>
Pisani, E. 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>
Sample, I 2010, ‘Craig Venter Creates Synthetic Life Form’, The Guardian May 2, <http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/may/20/craig-venter-synthetic-life-form>
Schmidt, G. 2011, ‘From Blog to Science’, RealClimate <http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2011/02/from-blog-to-science/>
Seed 2011, ‘On Science Transfer’, Seed <http://seedmagazine.com/content/print/on_science_transfer>
Wilbanks, J. 2011, ‘On Science Publishing’, Seed, <http://seedmagazine.com/content/article/on_science_publishing>
Woelfle, M. Olliaro, P. Todd, M. 2011, ‘Open Science Is A Research Accelerator’ Nature Chemistry, <http://www.nature.com/nchem/journal/v3/n10/full/nchem.1149.html>