Today I am at Day One of the British Science Association’s Science Communication 2014 conference, which is taking place at the University of Surrey, Guildford and where I am co-running a session tomorrow. These notes have been taken live so my usual disclaimers apply and comments, questions and corrections are, as ever, very much welcomed.
We are being welcomed to the event by Jim Al-Khalili, University of Surrey (and the host of the marvelous The Life Scientific), who notes that this is the first outside London (except for Scotland).
We are now getting officially introduced to the event by Imram Khan, British Science Association, who is thanking University of Surray. He is also welcoming those new to the event (including me). We have a huge range of people here, we have some of the biggest names in science communication as well, including Jim of course.
And including our keynote is Mat Lock, who founded StoryThing in 2010.
How we tell stories now – Mat Lock
I’ve been working in digital media for the last fifteen years and I really want to talk about how we tell stories now, and new ways we tell stories. And I’m a big geek – as are my daughters. I was working for the BBC and Channel 4 commissioning there. Now run StoryThing and we run The Story, annual conference.
I didn’t realise until recently how controversial “story” and “audience” really were. At channel four we certainly were concerned that audience could sound too passive, but we understood what that term might mean. And the term story can have quite a specific meaning for marketers and advertisers.
So, I have started to research the history of attention and trying to understand how we’ve understood stories and audiences. Right now we are about ten years into a thirty year transition, similar to the very similar to the early years of broadcasting at the start of the 20th century. Performers on stage have immediate and visceral feedback, but on radio or television how can you tell the audience response? Back when Richard Curtis was making blackadder there was barely interest in ratings, certainly little other feedback to storyteller. He talks about looking in windows in his home town to get that feedback of who was watching by peering through windows to see what was on their television.
We are moving from an era of broadcast attention to an era of digital attention. This feels bizarre but it’s more more normal than the static period we had in the postwar period….
So I want to share five things I’ve learnt about digital attention:
1. Digital attention is spikey
People sometimes talk about going viral, but that’s a terrible metaphor. Tweets happen, attention peaks. It can look like a broadcasting spike, but online the reasons for spiking are quite differnt. As a broadcaster you can create a spike in attention. As a broadcaster scheduling is the key a or science of broadcasting really. But digitally it doesn’t happen when people have been told to engage, sometimes that will map to a live event, the broadcast. But sometimes it bubbles up in some other way, the dynamics behind those spikes are really the accidental overlapping of something being shared between friends. Henry Jenkins talks about “spreadable media” rather than vitality. Virality isn’t about agency, but we aren’t forced to share cultural information this way. We are not dumb agents. When we share we have a reason to do that, understanding why someone might share something, why they want to tell that story about themselves, is incredibly important.
2. We are seeing patterns of attention
So we see groups paying attention to a thing, oaicularly rediscoveries at particular times. Many new patterns.
3. We’re moving from distribution to circulation
It used to be that the distribution network guaranteed attention. T&l an extent we still are BUT there are other ways to get attention, around circulation, around attention on your story… But…
4. Circulations depends on transgression
Inevitably people sharing is outside of your control. You can only control the story by not being successful, by it not being talked about.
So for instance my tweets typically get tweeted a few times. One, back in November 2011, about the US Congress has declared Pizza is a vegetable got retweeted 1069 times and went wild. It just happened to be retweeted by others with big or bigger networks. And each retweet took it further from the context… That transgression is a core part of the mix…
5. Transgression makes it hard to design endings
As a story teller I like a strong ending. So for instance a few years back Ed Balls must have been using a twitter tool where the search and tweet boxes looked the same. Tweeted “ed balls” and was a good sport, went viral… And now every year on Ed Balls day
Routes – project funded by wellcome trust. Huge project on genetics and the cultural and social issues around gene science. Games, videos, all sorts of stuff.
The stats for that show vague interest… Then the project finishes… And there was suddenly a massive spike in traffic. We had seeded a game called Sneeze on a games portal. What happened was that in May 2009 swine flu hit, that games portal changed description of our game, and then New York Times picked it up. But we couldn’t design that, just manage and respond.
How to plan for digital attention…
Pattern: self scheduled
Metrics: subscriptions, sales, series-links
Increasingly it’s about genre not content. People are up their attention. We want to spend attention on the stories we love. This is changing how drama is commissioned – Netflix released series two of house of cards all at once. Works for them as business model isn’t advertising. For broadcasters this is catastrophic, really struggling with it.
Pattern: campaign and aftermath
Metrics: pledges, sales, shares
This is kickstarter and similar, but also campaigns like Hugh’s fish fight. This is really significant. Back when I was in broadcast digital disruption could be fobbed off by saying “it’s really small”, but then they go big, “it’s only geeks”, but then it goes mainstream, and also “it takes lots of effort to find the hits, we have to invest in a lot to get a success”, except now you can talk to the audience before you make the thing, who can give inout, who can tell you what they want. How do you cope with that? What happens is you don’t deliver? Or if audience doesn’t like what you do? Can be a backlash… This is a really new thing…
The long live event
Pattern: ambient and flocking
Metrics: follows, views, participation
This is also called slow TV, like the Norwegian ambient TV, the streaming of ferry journeys. But during long events you get flocking, sudden excitements on screen. So in Norway local villages came out and started performing on a cliff! Some lovely stuff at channel four here… c4’s Easter eggs live in 2013 for istance. So you have this interesting ribbon… Slow ambient TV, twitter and discussion, and flocking… Really interesting.
Pattern: setting up, alerts
Metrics: registration, goals, events, sharing
Our data trails are becoming really rich and how we tell our stories will change with that, there are stories to tell about these data. So you currently have charts or leaderboards for fitness (eg striva), but these are terrible ways to tell stories….
But a tool like Doppler, which showed you where you travelled, if friends were nearby, and every year they did an annual report for you, a real thing of beauty. So your average velocity would be calculated for the year, turning their year into a story – “hey, I’m a squirrel”.
We did a project with John Lanchester and Faber and Faber to do something like this… Told you stories every day for ten days about what your life would be like in ten years.
So four big ideas there for you to think about
Q: that issue of transgression can be really challenging
A: it can. I think you need a new set of skills. A friend ran social media for radio 1 and she did make a few epic failures. At Glastonbury she had both personal and professional accounts on her phone. She swore and slagged off a welly brand on the official account. Terrible! But no one died. It taught them to use separate devices. We all have to learn about how to tell stories… On TV we show the same programme to everyone at the same time. Online everyone will reinterpret your stories… I don’t think it’s an accident that some of best people in early days of twitter were musicians and comedians – great and experienced with hecklers. Worst were filmmakers, writers, TV people as they rarely met audience. One of the big skills for 21st century is learning how to deal with hecklers!
Q: question for me is how do ewe avoid trivialisation on digital media. Everyone you talk about here is trivial. It’s not TV, it’s stuff that matters. How do ewe avoid getting lost in morass of cat pictures.
A: I don’t agree. Everyone assumes I’m saying that people’s attention is getting shorter. We have an incredibly broad attention span. Broadcasters have made one hour shows, that’s been the assumption for attention. Suddenly we have both 6 second vines and 13 hour TV binges. Sharing can look trivial, but much richer sharing also takes place. It’s in different places, it doesn’t all look the same. Of you require depth and commitment, look for where people spend time. Twitter probably isn’t place for deep attention, but a game might be, or a binge format, or museums or events. The canvas has expanded hugely here. It was a similar thing in the early days of broadcasting. Newsweek was the Buzzfeed of magazines/newspapers – Jonah Paretti says that it published cat pictures of its day, but just because you pet a cat whilst reading Satre, doesn’t mean you are not interested in Satre.
Q: back in broadcast days many conversations started by broadcast did a happen, but at home, work or pub. My slight disagreement is that we aren’t seeing a change in attention, it’s just more visible…
A: completely. That elision of public and private matters. When I started at channel four I wrote a piece on the six spaces for social media. I wanted explain not the tech but the types of spaces… Private spaces, participating spaces, community spaces, publishing spaces, watching spaces… Although they do transgress and stories move between them… So when last season of Sherlock was on it was a big thing… All those red herrings – a brilliant way to handle drama in age of twitter so I tweeted that… And it made it into the daily mail. That’s very strange and can be unsettling so we are still learning about what happens when story moves like that.
Q: can you say more about spikes
A: so I did a talk at Shoreditch about this last year. People generally have to see something four times on twitter before they click through. Creating one spike is where a lot of effort goes, but actually for us, for StoryThing, it’s about much longer conversations, about how to get people to come back and hold their interest… We are working on an 18month project. The way to be successful online is to make a lot of stuff – many many videos created cheaply are far more effective than one expensive video.
The people, the people: engaging under-served audiences
Session inspired by a Maori expression, that it is all about the people.
To start with we are hearing about National Science and Engineering Week, who run kick start grants to help reach under represented groups, for instance in 2013 those grants supported activities for pupils eligible for free school meals, pupils from BAME backgrounds, and those in remote and rural locations.
Audience development… Can be an effective and systematic way to reach hard to reach audience. And that starts with understanding who your audience are, and who you want them to be. So that process can look like, (1) literature review (2) focus groups (3) case studies of best practice (4) fieldwork sampling.
Literature review not unusual, but there is extensive literature in this field, and a lot relevant to science and engineering. The main findings were that people enduring socio economic hardship regardless of age, gender or ethnicity, specific ethnic groups, and women and girls.
The fieldwork sampling was focused around national science and engineering week. Also targeted towards particular groups of interest. Participants took part online or at national science and engineering week events. The sampling used ACORN groupings to define participants SE background. This helped us understand who was participating in the week, how representative our audience was of the wider uk. We saw that affluent achieves were over represented (~9%), urban adversity was under represented (~5%). So we have this type of data… What next?
Will we build this into out engagement cycle (1. Identify, 2. Understand, 3. Audit, 4. Plan, 5. Deliver, 6. Evaluate). And we use the information on our audiences to shape and improve that work….
And now an activity… We have to think about:
Who do you think are your under served audiences?
Why do you think you should engage with them?
Mat Hickman from the Wellcome Trust is now talking about science learning. Particularly the 2012 Review of Informal Science Learning. One of the interesting statistics from some us work, reflects in our report, is that most of young people’s time is not spent in schools. Particularly under 5’s, those in lower SE groups, etc. Explored through in depth interviews with pupils and parents and teaching.
We wanted to find out what young people do. Not just outcomes – that’s easy to track – but why those occur. Found a huge diversity in low SES groups and attitudes varied wildly. Some thought “it’s dull, proper dull”, “science makes me feel bubbly”, ” I want to be a doctor but I don’t like science” and “I don’t like science but I love experiments”. Common themes of gender, ethnicity, and some intersection around these factors, for instance around young Muslim girls.
Also younger learners tend to be more enthusiastic but is tails off… So teachers and how inspiring their teachers and learning environments were mattered a lot. And families and parental attitudes to science mattered, religion mattered too.
Very few people spontaneously talked about science based activities in their spare time. Tended to talk about after school clubs, sports… Few science clubs. Very few visits to museums and galleries, heritage sites etc. versus advantaged groups. Often go once. Often only when arranged by schools. Cost may be a factor there.
Influencers on activities they do do include friendship, enjoyment, having some control…
So the recommendations?
1. Know your audience and objectives
2. Engage a champion and be mindful of family influence. It’s not about celebrities.
3. Ensure the activity is young person led, give them some say.
4. Ensure the activity is relevant and pitched at the right level.
5. Invest in long term relationships for maximum impact. So much more powerful than one off activity, even if highly concentrated.
6. Make it practical and interactive.
7. Facilitate sociolisimg with friends.
8. Be financially and geographically accessible, in the community, not giving access to you.
9. Celebrate and reward success.
10. Communicate carefully and through trusted channels – Be mindful of language, talk about experiments rather than science perhaps, don’t focus on celebrities…
We are very committed to this, want to work with these audiences, and please do get in touch and we’d love to have these conversations, to take this forward….
Laura Fogg Rogers – University of the West of England
I was based in Auckland until recently, hence the Maori title. So, first of all, it’s crucial to know your audience. Cultures vary and we have to know how to cope well with that, none are wrong. That brings us to social constructivism and the clash between absolutism and relativism, in which our own context is inherently part of our understanding.
To work with Maori communities there is a challenge… Science believes itself to be the truth, Maoris do not see the universe that way, so can be a gap to bridge there. We ran a brain day, which we thought was a fun way to reach out about the brain, but Maori participation was very low. Several barriers there. Firstly the brain is held as sacred. But also real colonial overtones to science which can be problematic. But Maoris are 17 percent of the population, have real literacy needs and health needs. They should be focus, how to reach them? Well we worked with teenagers – in schools system but also embedded in their communities. We had a. Maori advisory board to informs, a Whaea advisor or “auntie”. We had mentors who were scientists but also 100 family members. The teenagers (44 students at 6 schools) designed their own experiments, ran their own experiments at the brain day, and reported back. They brought their community into the event and kept them invested and informed. Evaluation also looked different… This is an oral storytelling culture so video, storytelling, key.
So how do these relate to uk contexts? Well different ways of viewing the world, historical mistrust of science and scientists, power imbalances, health imbalances all apply.
So what works? Respect other cultures. Find gatekeepers or bridges into the community. Co-construct your meaning together. Find a topic that motivated you both to work towards changing it together.
Q: interested in subtext of one of the wellcome recommendations.. Why increasingly pervasive message to science communicators, that “science” is a dirty word. It should be the hook, not a dirty word.
A: it’s to do with the importance of the schools environment. If you lose engagement in a poor teaching environment, that can kill interest. If you lose interest and engagement in school then you won’t be interests in science activities. It’s about removing the academic stigma there.
Comment: science often seen to be in hands of the powerful, and about how kids have control in their life.
Q: in time cultures, particularly Asian cultures can be really powerful, learned ness is very positive
Comment: for the Maori learned people have been negative or oppressive forces. That can apply for some more repressed or disadvantaged communities here too.
Q: maybe we can learn from sports here. No one likes PE in school, yet this survey sees sport as super positive. Those associations matter. Very practical sense of how the terms matter.
Comment: teaching methods really matter. Many disciplines are about questioning, learning how to explore… Empowering people that they can do science, that we do science every day, that active empowerment is so important.
Q: people really dislike science being seen as hermetic information, like engaging in process themselves. The other thing with under served audiences. Lot of attention and money focused there… But actually we only hit small percentage of the “served” audience. W need to get more of those easy win people in as well!
A: research I had on lectures showed exactly that. It’s not about forgetting that audience, but about adding to it…
A: in audience development you do do that, you expand your audience
Q: in theory. But many funding schemes exclude current audiences, just want to fund this specific new audience, or that new audience. But you still have to fund and develop new activities for your current audience.
And now to the last part of the session… Some discussion within our groups around one of four topics: evaluation, partnership, institutional change, networks.
Key outcomes: make science relevant, be long term (including funding), make space for risks and inventive approaches, listen, be less elite in approach, bring something exciting to the mix, use what’s already of interest as a hook, think about who social media misses (those too old or young, digitally challenged, etc.), use peer support – older kids to younger kids as a rolling programme, capture/be aware/reflect on what happens beyond your organisation, content matters not just visible minorities, and statues cultural representation etc also send message or who is in and who is out of the mix so should be opened up, role models matter.
The role of design in science communication Lizzie Crouch, Science Communication Partner, DesignScience; Ellen Dowell, Creative Producer; Anne Odling-Smee, Design Partner, DesignScience; Andrew Friend, Interactive Designer
The idea has come out of discussions at last years conference about the lack of discussion about design in science communication. So this session is all about that discussion.
What is design? Well we talk about it as “the glue between someone else’s content and an intended audience”. The design council have a video… But definitions are huge, design is huge. Everything is designed. It’s everywhere. The design process looks quite a lot like the scientific process – we debated this (quite heated) as this is quite controversial… But both start with the question and involve iterated approaches.
Projects for design in science have included turning an edinburgh physicists research paper into a video (ongoing), work with the UCL website, installations… One drawn up by LSHTM.
Andrew is talking about some of his projects: we did an exhibition where researchers and designers worked together to engage the public. This one was done with group researching microbe communities… A giant Petri dish with microbes and counters that can be moved to show interactions. All at large and tangible scale… Showing strategies and tactics…
This is a very different project. An EPSRC grant allowed myself and a colleague to work with a team working on composites that absorb shock waves. This was more of provocation. This was taking an idea and seeing where it could go. So this was a large test mechanism for testing shock absorption composites. Carefully designed, particularly for theatre of experience.
This project was a collaborative project between three designers taking specks of energy research for audiences at a music festival. Taking the laboratory to a muddy field in Wales. It was about finding hooks into the subject. So this was a carbon capture relay. We also did a carbon capture crystal maze. Another was to do with wind… Also had solar powered, radioactive treasure hunt, etc. so taking approaches and using design as a tool for questioning….
So, the potential of design in science… ? Isn’t a well known name in design but he designed the two dimensional cell that you can walk through, huge impact and potential here. Visual metaphors for e.g. Schroedingers cat, can help. But we are aware of the risk of metaphor. Infographics have potential but we are very skeptical of these… A tiny bit of information does not allow communicating issues of uncertainty, which science is all about…
At a British library event in february we talked about the challenge of not cleaning up and over simplifying information. We like concepts such as the probability simulator.
One more thing is that design has a budget of funding available usually… Not huge but seem to be absent in science world for this type of experiment.
Collaboration is important from an early stage… But it isn’t going to be easy. Lack of understanding and lack of information of what design is, and of designer in understanding what science is. We have to overcome initial opinions or misperceptions. Interestingly at an event with MA students and researchers and futurologists they found that saying “this may happen” or “this could happen” resulted in students feeling like much of what was presented was science fiction… Very frustrating to researchers and futurologists! So understanding each other’s perspectives and overcoming barriers such as language really matters.
We are currently creating guides for designers to help share that understanding. We have also run workshops recently as well. Science communicators play a key role in facilitating this process…. Designers coming out of university today are poorly educated about science and that can be a barrier of working together. It’s a two way process of learning between science and designers…. Science communicators can help here, through translating, and through networking.
So picking out key points for facilitating…
1. Defining the brief – the constraints of the project, any detail that will shape the project. Important to have a clear detailed brief up front. For example the imperial college knitting installation Blood Lines. This wasa. Participatory installation designed to trigger conversations with researchers and participants.
2. Bringing collaborators together. Absolutely essential.
3. Acknowledgement of expertise. This has already been mentioned, exhibition “interplay” here at university of Surray, all designed to stimulate conversations between researchers and project. It is crucial to be clear that everyone values the expertise of other collaborators in the project. It doesn’t matter the background or level, all of their expertise needs to be acknowledged. Leave your ego at the door. This is also about giving the designer space to design, not to fabricate a picture in your head.
4. Trusting the process. And don’t skip ahead. Designers can only respond to the science once they understand it a bit. Scientists can be ahead of the game but there is a real need for balance across the partnership. This project was an endocrinology project – really complex which meant lots of time up front. But it was a really successful Project as a result.
5. Playing for both teams. About language and terminology. And it’s about overcoming politeness…. And ensuring expectations are managed, and realistic. So I am working at Kew at the moment and for that project there is huge enthusiasm but a need to include only a realistic of science.
6. Pushing ideas. It’s part of being a facilitator.
And with that we moving to questions and discussions…
Q: there is a whole industry developing interactive exhibits for science, answering many of these questions… I remember hearing this stuff thirty years ago. Design is already being addressed… Loads of this stuff that has been done. Look at how we get to the exhibits we create for science centres and museums. Some real public engagement gaps in some of the projects you have shown.
Anne: why are my design students so poorly informed about science? I come from a design institute and they don’t know about this world. There are good things out there. And many science communication programmes do not have visual communication elements, as designers that’s inconceivable to us.
Lizzie: there is a need to both take good the stuff and the new stuff, and talk about this more in the science communication world.
Comment: I’ve done work with the natural history museum who had created that huge new Darwin centre, with all the new tech, but had forgotten to think about interactions and how they worked. It’s weird to press a button to interact. So not all all the design problems are solved here.
Ellen: we really wanted to start a conversation here, we are not saying we have the answers, we are wanting to have those conversations.
Anne: that centre is a really good example of bad design. Not much content there. So much science communication is so aimed at children, not much out there for adults without children to engage with science.
Comment: I wanted to add that addressing a specific audience – part of design – is so important for science communication.
Comment: I was at a citizen science event and a scientist spoke up about how a designer redesigning her app made it so much better, such a radically improved experience. Ad she went on to say how lucky shed been to have that for free! So how do we get scientists to value design and the work and benefits of the work of designers? And how do we get scientists to approach designers.
Ellen: we need to demonstrate what makes a difference. Networking events can be helpful too.
Lizzie: we do find in our projects talking about what we do can be confusing, budgets more so, but showing past projects, explaining why it matters. It can really help in a practical way.
Anne: we did deliberately set up design science to try and help with that, to make some links.
Comment: been working on a project at central st martins. For Those not in arts science can really change how we operate as designers… Evidence basis, methodical approaches, they makes you a better designer! And failure matters as much as success.
Anne: It can be tricky to design whilst also managing the aesthetic aspirations of scientists you are working with though.
Comment: I want to address that issue that there isn’t science communication for adults. At the science museum we had a recent Turing exhibition there was some brilliant design there. In some of our recent projects designers have been hugely important. But anything to help connect scientists and science communicators with designers would be great.
Lizzie: been talking with colleagues in the us about a virtual network to allow those interactions.
Comment: we are also redesigning our horrible websites… Designers and scientists on boards. And communicating internally why it needs to change, what peers do, etc.
Comment: for charities there is a website called pimp my charity is a good place to find web and graphic designers.
Ellen: arts job, the arts council mailing list for jobs, allow you to find new collaborators, to advertise projects, to connect with new people.
Comment: you are talking about importance of design thinking for science communicators and scientists. For me being a science communicator is about being a good and informed client. Do you have a view on that?
Andrew: I think it’s incredibly important to understand the client, for both parties to respect each other in the process.
Anne: I think that’s what our workshops are all about. To educate each other about how we work.
Ellen: part of my role is to facilitate between disciplines…. Scientists are really familiar with interdisciplinary work but the fields of art and design are so pervasive in culture there can be an initial feeling that the scientists already has expertise in it. So it’s getting scientists to step back and recognise art and design expertise as equal to that of researchers in other disciplines.
Comment: one of the themes seems to be that scientists don’t appreciate design until they have done it. Maybe it’s an opportunity to engage young people in events that link science and design for them.
Anne: we have linked up with Central at Martins, with KCL for instance, pairing up.
Comment: you mentioned that the scientific process is like the design process… I’m quite interested in hearing more…
Anne: you can’t say it’s the same but there are both parallels and differences. I think that design would be better aligned with other subjects than art as we are about communicating any subject – but we disagree here.
Ellen: when scientists design scientific research they are very methodical, but when they design a public engagement process they tend not to… And I’m really untested in design as a way to make that process more methodological.
Data visualisation for public engagement – Damien george, andrew Steele, Artemis skarlatidou, and chaired by Martin Zaltz Austwick
Data visualisation has become mainstream in journalism, commentary and social science. Areas like policy, education… People subjects really. I’m not really from a social sciences background, my background is in physics, so I’m interested to see how these data visualisation techniques for communication in sciences.
So our panel hopefully spans the range. Someone from physical sciences data background, science funding, and science policy and communities background.
This isn’t about the history or overview of data visualisation – goes back to Manard or Florance Nightingale – so I’m taking a broad church of data visualisation here. More about case studies of using data visualisation to engage.
Damien George , cavendish laboratory, Cambridge
My background is computer engineering and physics, from Australia but now at Cambridge. My work loops at data from CERN and on the early universe and Big Bang, so there are two projects I want to talk about.
Firstly the cosmic microwave background (thecmb.org). Since the birth of the universe it has been expanding… And light comes back to us… So a picture of the universe when it was born can be experienced, and allows us to understand how the Big Bang works. I wanted to make the actual data from the satellite available to the public, you can zoom in and, at highest resolution, you see information, the raw data that is actually processed by scientists, from the satellite. Can answer very fundamental questions with this raw data… But also there is this big wonderful picture of the universe when it was born. This thing really is a sphere…. It’s just the technicalities of doing that. But a useful tool to understand the data. You can add or remove certain frequencies to understand removed noise/additional data. So a researcher can use the visualisation to preview, and get an overview before detailed an,asks of data…
The other example is different. In physics we have arXiv, where all of the high energy physics is shared. What I tried to do on paperscape (paperscape.org) is to visualise all of the all papers being shared and how they are clustered. I used an algorithm to produce the graph. Circles are sized by citation count, the influential papers. Smallest dots are least or uncited papers. Papers citing each other creates clusters. Colours are added by category given to the papers. This is like a map, interactive, you can zoom and scroll…. And you can see overlaps between fields. And each paper can be clicked on and explored…. And you see links between papers.
Q: do you have a time evolution of this?
A: we are working on it! You can view shading by age which let’s you see recent versus old already. But not yet a time slider. Working on that and a movie of that over time.
It’s useful for the scientists as well as the general public to have such a map. A new student has a million papers to read… They can easily find the big papers this way, explore connections, etc. great for working science as it’s a map of their actual research. And all of these papers are free to access… A big body of knowledge. The visualisation is a way into understanding and exploring that. I think it’s a useful tool… It’s metaphysics of a sort!
So these are my examples… Side projects to my PhDs really but interesting I hope.
Andrew Steele – The Scienceogram
So I am going to start by giving a talk I’ve given before outlining what this is… Let’s start with money… I have trouble understanding a million pounds, let alone billions… When you distill figures down into understandable levels the numbers make more sense…
So the uk government spends 695 bun per year. Huge number. SL how about dividing per person per year (£11k). Most is spent on laudable things – social protection, healthcare, education, defence… Science research gets £160 per person per year. Is that good or bad?
Well what’s the context… Cancer kills a third of us, gets £4.30 per person and that’s by far the bigger amount. Strokes get just 28p. That’s tiny. The spend is disproportionate to the scale of the problem…
Now let’s talk Energy… As a recovering physicist this is particularly close to me, particularly the possibility of nuclear fusion. People often comment “wasn’t that thirty years away, thirty years ago”. But be fair, it’s nerd hours that matter here… Scientists reckon it would cost £60bn to develop a prototype fusion reactor. That’s £50 per person in the developed world. Definitely worth it for inexhaustible clean energy.
So you could compare LHC to Crossrail. Crossrail costs many times more compared to people who benefit. The cost of nuclear fusion could be entirely covered just by Apples iPhone profits!
Or we can compare expenditure on diseases versus alcohol…. The spend on weddings per person per year is £160 (or £700 per year of the marriage!).
So what’s the point here?
It’s about putting data into context. It’s about meaningful figures, things that are tangible. Things that make sense. By default by person surely? Meaningful categories – not government departments! And you want to make meaningful comparisons.
User issues: spatial visualisation for public engagement – dr Artemis skarlatidou
I want to particularly look at trust in statistics. Visualisation and visual representations of geospatial information are fundamental to humanity – from cave drawings to google maps. We use maps all over the place. There are some issues with using them but in my research I found that people trust and rely on maps more than their spatial cognition and ability to navigate and people trust maps more than other types of data visualisation despite the fact that all maps lie (monmonier 1996).
PPGIS studies find that people better understand information when maps are used. In public meetings maps increase sense of commitment, increased user satisfaction, create realistic expectations. And increasingly maps used to engage and represent indigenous culture.
So, for instance, applications showing flooding areas allow the ouboic to assess risk in, e.g. Purchase of property. Another project works with indigenous people to geotag fruit trees using visual keys. And another example here, spatial maps can be used to visualise research information.
But what about the users? Is it easy to use? Is it trustworthy? Is it useful? What is the context – cultural, ethical, social in which these case takes place.
So in my research I used nuclear waste disposal as an example for ouboic engagement to improve transparancy, understand the problem and why it matters, to support public understanding…
So Leeds university created this tool where you can enter your own criteria, weight them, and explore areas of the UK. Now this map doesn’t allow zooming in to high scale. Not very user friendly or useful to end user. So I’m the prototype that I build I focused on the content, and on the visualisation. I uses a risk communication and mental models, and HCI Testing. Eye tracking was part of this testing. And these helped us to ensure users found the right information as quickly as possible. You only have about 10 seconds to capture your audiences attention so this matter.
In terms of trust design there are various trustee attributes. So I looked at what I could use to create rust in GIS context. I created trust guidelines – 5 design dimensions. These are guidelines for graphic, for structure, colours etc. and for user interaction and GIS function. We ran about 200 user experiments…. The most trusted map was red, blue and green colour combination… But least liked! The most trusted legend was broken into menus, very clear, not most liked.
Map size – 400x600px is trusted. Full screen best for seeing maps though. Also compared different structures…
In my post doc I looked at testing and extending the guidelines on other contexts… Things like crime…. There has also been work on aesthetics in map design and perceive understanding and perceived usefulness.
Q: three great presentations. I was really struck by that visualisations of papers in physics. Clearly useful for researchers. But what routes are there for that representation to be available to researchers in other fields.
A: we have had lots of questions form others.s the problem is open access to the data. The arXiv is great in that it’s free to upload, to download, to access. So that graph automatically updates. But only possible with that source of data. There are sources like pubmed which has freely accessible subsets of data… But… And then harmonising data from lots of places makes that harder. But there is an open access revolution taking place… And that will make this possible. There is a real model there with ArXiv… All public and shared before journals. So important for theoretical physics. Other fields should follow suit. Maths you can do on fopp.
Q: one of the central tenants of open access is that data should be machine readable not just open access. Seems to have been lost. Moving towards people readable rather than machine readable… Do we need to kick up a fuss about machine readable data?
A: first and most important thing is that data should be human readable, but then machine readable matters. Although pay computer scientists, they can parse data… But secondary goal.
Chair: maybe a need to open already open access publications to a wider audience? Taking complex information and making the map more accessible…
A: well my aim wasn’t to gloss over any details. Didn’t want to hide detail… Useful to have raw data there, let it speak for itself. May require more effort, but that’s a learning process.
Andrew: government trying to do this too… But it’s not accessible data on spending. Layer system so that simpler stuff for members of the public would be great.
Q: on the Scienceogram: wanted to know how long that takes you. I worked in a communications department of a council but it took absolutely ages, it was great, got picked up by private eye… But there was a desire not to spend that time on creating the visualisations and that costing moe y when people don’t like paying for council tax.
A: given that I did that in my free time it suggests that a part time staff member would do it. Illustrations done in dad in illustrator and PowerPoint. But had to aggregate and find some of that data myself.
A: for paperscape a year of two PhDs working part time. But user aspects takes a long time, testing, retesting…
A: map work, most of time working with users on what they really want… Like two weeks to build.
A (andrew): but this is easier than it looks, that’s the theme…
Q: when you presented ArXiv visualisations I said “unfortunately cannot be reflected in other fields, especially in science communication”, it’s a real open science issue – data and access. But your question about the different layers… Raises an issue that has not been addressed yet… What about the risks and responsibilities involved? Are those in science? Those in communication? So crime maps for instance… Are these total numbers, percentage per person, what kind of crimes, what is leeway for interpretation… How risky is it to do that rather than producing raw data.
A: for crime maps: using street network to represent crime… It’s exploratory. You as a user wanting to examine crime in your area would a map be better or statistics list.
Q: is the user the right person to decide something like that?
A: the government is required to provide that data, the user is responsible for the most useful way to use this data. Otherwise no one will see. If you design for the public you need to attempt to engage the ouboic in what will be most useful.
A: trade off here between what is useful and engaging, and what is accurate. Whatever you do is open to interpretation. Can’t escape that by hiding detail…
Q: wanted to comment on open science bit… Interpretation and not hiding details. Some journals require raw data to be available open access. PLoS one just started to implement data accessibility requirement. Data doesn’t speak for itself, readers can access and analyse data themselves. This will likely proliferate. Some funding agencies also require this now, just as they drive open access uptake ten years ago.
A: arXiv does let you upload data with paper. But hard to know what to include.
Q: data vis dangers (my q)
A: comment that all maps lie important. If we understand that we are fine.
A: not only information in visualisation, but how you communicate it.
A: I share all my sources. But yes, people see a graphic on twitter and just trust it, and that’s a big responsibility. The reason for cancer particularly is that UK is world research leader in charity. Funded health research so that data would warp the figures. And doesn’t address bigger issue of scale.
Plenary: key priorities for 2014-2015 – Imran Khan (BSA), Lisa Jamieson (Wellcome Trust), Joanne Hodges (BIS), Linda Conlon (Centre for Life), John Womersley (STFC). Chair: Timandra Harkness
Lisa Jamieson – Wellcome Trust
We have been funding science communication and public engagement for the last twenty years. A few new things you’ll want to hear about: The provision for public engagement – ring fenced funding for engagement, alongside and parallel with research programme. All wellcome funded researchers. And also our informal learning science funding programme. W are ingested in brilliant ideas, to enable people to enjoy, to understand and to question science.
We have a brilliant portfolio of over 700 science communication and public engagement projects. We see increasingly good and diverse groups applying for that funding. Real diversity. We only fund between 15-22% of proposals. But we do focus particularly in reaching under served audiences. Also geographically patchy, want to increase activity in some areas. Also interested in how we sustain activity over time.
And we have recently run public attitude research. Generally well perceived. From you as a particular group we heard about lots of face to face engagements, and lots of openness to collaboration.
We have been restructuring our communicating science department a bit. We do fund projects but we also provide networks and opportunities to work together. Some of you who have known us a long time may find you have new contacts, hopefully that will help us work better together.
And finally we have a major new funding programme on food and drink, and that’s across the board – not farm to fork but farm to flush! A four year programme that we need your help and ideas for! Email us: Food@wellcome.ac.uk.
Joanne hodges, BIS
Joanne is head of science and society at BIS. Our team do my range IMF things all aimed at trying to ensure that all of Ukku society benefits from science and research, we lead that portfolio and fund a range of activities including work with BSA, Wise, public attitudes to science survey. We have also been reviewing our activities, and that gave us key messages to take forward from here on in. One was about streamlining landscape for children and young people. One is about targeting our audience, a theme here. People already interested… But we have to work much harder to reach those who don’t think science is for them. And it’s about going to them, not expecting them to come to us. And we need to make good use of a crisis. The media much prefer science when in the news – so timely and important for scientists to step up and ensure the weirder messages don’t develop.
We have also developed a charter about how we want to engage as a community, engaging the ouboic on science… How we implement things… Our code of practice. So going forward BIS will not only have a good evaluation but also show that they have learned from previous evaluations, and that those are shared. We want more case studies, do share with us and we will share that on.
We are also sating a new grant scheme, a community grant schemes. About reaching new audiences in innovative ways. Closing date is 16th may.
Finally bit if a plug for public attitude to science survey… Biggest survey of what the British public really thinks. Actually they are largely supportive. 70% think scientists should listen to what ordinary people think. And over 75% want government and policy makers to listen to science and engineering research. But many don’t want to take part in policy making processes so a challenge there, especially to communicating that that is taking place.
Linda Conlon, Centre for Life
The centre for life is a multidisciplinary science centre combining science centre, NHS research units… And a nightclub!
I am here representing the science centres community. Across the uk we reach about 20 million people per year. We reckon most of the uk is within 1 hours drive of a science centre. Our challenges aren’t that different to others. Fundraising really matters… Good to hear that the government considering funding capital maintenance and investment for science centres. Key term is considering.
Like many here we want to reach as wide an audience as possible. Most science centres appeared around the millennium and we have a loyal following but it’s easy to preach to the converted. Many of those who are keen are families but many people don’t see us as relevant to their own or families lives. Formal learning is great but learning that we do in our lifetime is accumulated experiences and that is far beyond formal learning spaces.
Right now science communication includes lots of overlap, some collaboration but far more need to be strategic. So what do science centres offer? Well a buzzy colourful place to learn about science. We offer aspiration all role models – loads of girls for instance, communicating and explaining. We are a neutral organisation and skilled facilitators. We have a university connection in our centre. ? Says that “science not talked about, is science not done”.
So great stuff takes place… But a real need to join up, to work more strategically in the field.
John Womersley, STFC
As a research council, one of seven supporting scientific research, one of my primary concerns is “can I adequately support science”. Now since 2007 there has been a lot of rhetoric of austerity and cuts in spending. We have found ourselves with flat cash…. In a way this was good but this is, after four or five years, eroding our ability to support science. If that continues we would be in serious trouble and impacting on competitiveness of resewrch nationally. One challenge that we and other research councils therefore need to do is develop narratives of why science is crucial to economic development. Most of us can do that, can talk about growth, productivity, international investment, getting young people into STEM as a priority. So far doing surprisingly well at getting George Osborne and David Willets to support science. But an election is coming… Potentially new menaces, new financial scrutiny… So how do end get message out to all policy makers but also media, to public, to industry. And science communication is central to telling that story but it is also part of the story itself…. So when we report on impact stories, on how we spent your money in the last year we report on public engagement. That is not niche work… That hits newspaper readers, TV viewers… These are key activities… Not just because we like, enjoy and appreciate science communication, but because it really matters to the future of funding of science in this country…
Imran Khan, British science association
This is a crowded space, so do we need BSA? And what should we do? Well I think we should… But if you were in the last session you will have seen the tiny size of science spending in relation to the economy at large. Even last month we had the select committee criticising the media for giving false balance in climate change science reporting. One argument is that those are all symptoms of my deeper problem…
Our culture does not value science. Politics, sports, arts and music are valued, a hard core of interested people who live and breath those interests. We call citizen science should concern us… We don’t talk about citizen arts… It implies professional science dominates and sits as others. I would like to see many more people engaging in debate, and not feeling they need to be experts, or to require to have profile and professional platform to debate science. There are spaces like museum lates, like bright club, Buzzfeed and now science feed, bio hacking… But people treat that as novel… How do they then move to being part of a science festival, to engaging in discussion… So… What does that change mean for BSA…
We have run press awards for those who are experts reaching out… Can we get non experts communicating… Can we look at citizen science and taking it further, like UCLs extreme science… Can media fellows go to Marie claire and top gear as well as mainstream press. In we take science out of it’s slightly odd cultural ghetto, and get it out into the mainstream! So that’s the big idea! Tell us what you think!