Posted tagged ‘communication’

10minus9 interview: Hilary Sutcliffe (nano and me)

May 4, 2010


A few months ago I came across the nano and me website, designed to provide an impartial source of information for lay audiences on all things nano.

The site was set up as part of a pilot scheme, and with initial funding having run out it’s now under threat. I’ve been thinking for some time about why a well-designed site, both technically supported and praised by some genuine scientific heavyweights, should fail to attract the attention its quality deserves.

There was no coordinated publicity push on general news sites, largely due to the tight initial budget.  This needn’t be a killer, since the internet has it’s own way of doing things which allows a kind of self-perpetuating PR. The problem is that asking for people’s opinions isn’t usually the best way to get them. Neutrality is at the core of nano and me, a laudable principle, but unfortunately not one to inspire (or rather provoke) debate.

There is a need for something like nano and me out there, run by people who genuinely care about emerging technologies and their effects on society, as Hilary Sutcliffe clearly does. I would hope that nano and me gets a second chance, and the opportunity to produce new content that genuinely does get the public involved.

  • Can you describe nanotechnology in one sentence? (more…)

In Brian we trust

March 9, 2010

It’s totally depressing that so much mainstream science coverage at the moment is about this crisis of trust in science.

It’s  a positive feedback loop: reporting on lack of trust reinforces the original story. Reporting on public opinion is a nonsense that diverts attention from the actual issues. In the case of climate science, the real question- and let’s cut to the chase here- is whether or not we’re all fucked, and whether or not there’s anything we can do about it.

(more…)

Sixty(ish) Symbols

February 26, 2010


One of my great interests is the way language is used in science communication, how it can be used effectively, and what the barriers are to understanding. One of the largest obstacles is mathematics.

Maths is a way of formally and precisely describing the relationships between different aspects of nature, a bit like an architect’s blueprint. It’s also a kind of toolkit, used to predict the logical consequences of certain ideas.

For example, Einstein’s general relativity was a theory, expressed mathematically, which logically led to exact predictions about the outcomes of experiments yet to be conducted. The idea was that the path of a light beam would be bent by gravity. So if light passed close to a huge object like the Sun, its path would bend slightly. It’s not too hard to draw a picture of this and understand the idea, but the maths predicted the exact amount of bending. It was only measurable with the sun obscured by the moon during a solar eclipse. The test of the mathematical predictions was essential to the vindication of the theory. (more…)

Trust me, I’m a doctor (of philosophy)

February 19, 2010

2020Science this week posted a poll asking whether trust in science needs to be restored. It’s a bit of a simplistic question (as acknowledged by the author), you might get different answers by differentiating fields of science, but an interesting question nonetheless.

From my own experience, I’ve had mixed reactions when I’ve told people I work in nanoscience research. Last year for example I was told that nanotech was “a bit dodgy”. Why? Because the military are interested in it. Explaining that the military also used computers, moustache wax, rubber bands and boot polish, none of which are intrinsically dangerous, didn’t make much headway. At some point the seed had been planted that nano = evil. He just didn’t trust it, and no amount of eloquent, well-reasoned persuasion could shift his view. Maybe I’m just not a fun person to talk to at parties.

Ultimately, there’s no reason why some guy at a party should believe anything I have to say, because It’s not a case of trusting science, but listening to people you trust. (more…)


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