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Communicating Science across a changing landscape

Caroline - science communicator speaking at PEL

6 December 2019

Scientific achievements and developments aren’t always presented properly across the broader media. During SCI’s latest Public Evening Lecture, Caroline van den Brul MBE, shared her experiences of communicating scientific ideas and the impact that new media is having.

Muriel Cozier

The struggle to make science a mainstream talking point, without detracting from the essence of the work and importantly making sure that representation is fair and balanced, i9s real. Caroline van den Brul shared her experiences in producing factual science programmes for television. Much of her early work for the BBC was produced against the backdrop of tensions between the perception of science programming, which had good viewing figurers, and the demand for arts programming.

Working on programmes that covered science in its broadest sense, Caroline has been involved in a range of projects from the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures through to the television series What the Tudors did for Us. ‘Science is about a process. Science programming should provide well told stories, communicating to opinion formers and wider society,’ she said.

Commenting on the wider media, Caroline explained that the process of deciding which science-based story should be leading a news outlet’s agenda, and understanding the topics involved, can lead to an unintended firestorm. Issues such as vaccinations for infants, for example, have led to press coverage which left many people confused. Helping editors and journalists understand the nuances around early research and discussion, as opposed to those comments being used as ‘news’, is one of the areas Caroline believes still needs to be developed.

With that in mind, Caroline pointed out that scientists have a responsibility to share their work in a way that is both responsible and accessible to a wider, interested audience. ‘There is no doubt that a lot of science communication is littered with jargon, which undoubtedly confuses many people.’ She commented on the role of the Committee on the Public Understanding of Science (COPUS) which was established to take scientific information and make it more accessible to non-scientists.

The way in which information is exchanged has altered dramatically in recent years. Caroline believes that scientists must now be very aware of how their work might be shared and understand impact of social media and the algorithms that govern these outlets. ‘Social media means that the scientific community’s ability to challenge false narratives and communicate its work is becoming even more essential,’ Caroline concluded.  

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