Categories
Reading List EN

RL #028: In Tech we trust, or not?

In our projects at Oikoplus, we communicate science and research. They often involve new technologies, and often the promise that their use will tackle major challenges of our time. Technology solves problems. After all, that’s what it’s developed for. But should we really rely on new tech?

In our projects at Oikoplus, we communicate science and research. They often involve new technologies, and often the promise that their use will tackle major challenges of our time. Technology solves problems. After all, that’s what it’s developed for. But should we really rely on new tech? Just yesterday, the new climate report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was released and once more it warns of drastic climate change consequences that are only getting worse. Can inventions really be the key in the fight against climate change? After all, greenhouse gas emissions are themselves a consequence of industrialized processes that were once considered technological innovations.

Perhaps the optimistic view of the technological future merely distracts us from the fact that the solution to the problem could have taken place long ago or in the present? And perhaps the real solution to the problem in many areas is less technology rather than more? Does techno-optimism often end up being greenwashing? The Financial Times Techtonic Podcast explores these questions in an episode from November 2022 that is well worth listening to.

This is what Midjourney AI “imagines” ,green tech helping to tackle climate crisis’ to look like.

Techno-optimism, over-optimism and powerful men

Also in November 2022, Elizabeth Zhu took on the topic of tech-optimism in an opinion piece on stanforddaily.com, a news portal run by students at Standord University. The university in Palo Alto, California, is considered the higher education campus of Silicon Valley. The region isn’t exactly known for being dismissive of future technology. Zhu notes that even in the wake of scandals such as data leaks or the spread of Russian disinformation, companies like Facebook parent Meta are perceived as attractive employers with a grand vision of human connectivity. According to Zhu, this optimistic view of technology leads to a specific problem: „When more people rely on the ‘all-in-one’ power of carbon sucking technologies or cloud-brightening initiatives, systemic causes of climate change such as fossil fuel mining and pollution are overlooked.”

Are technological solutions systematically used as a distraction from the causes of problems? A good introduction to this question is provided by the text “Over-Optimism in Technology and the Promotion of the Powerful Man” by Sofia Ribeiro and Viriato Soromenho-Marques, who conduct research at the University of Lisbon. They use the term technowashing in analogy to greenwashing. In this case, political actors deliberately direct all social hope in the direction of technology and the natural sciences in order to give the impression that solutions are already being worked on. It is precisely this technowashing that makes it possible to postpone the urgency of robust, integrated, ethical, equitable, and multidisciplinary measures and policies.

And this is another version of the same prompt using Midjourney AI.

Techno-solutionism vs. techno-criticism

Another neat term, techno-solutionism, is used by Harry Surden in a symposium article in the Yale Journal of Regulation. Surden notes that techno-soultionism tends to glorify technologies such as artificial intelligence and unrealistically portray them as simple solutions to the much more complex, systemic problems in society. At the same time, however, techno-criticism tends to overemphasize the negative aspects of technologies, either by focusing excessively on potential future problems that may-or may not-occur, or by disproportionately emphasizing the borderline cases where a technology is problematic while overlooking other areas where it may incrementally bring significant societal improvements.

At Oikoplus, in all our project communication we try not to pretend that the projects provide conclusive answers to pressing questions. After all, each of our projects is always just one of many contributions to the scientific treatment of major challenges. We are convinced that technology can always make a decisive contribution. But in the end, it is people who use technology. That’s why the big answers lie in human behavior, not in the technology itself. This is true not only in the future, but also in the present.

Categories
Reading List EN

RL #027: Creating Brochures and Flyers ‒ a Useful Addition to the Communication Toolkit?

Waaahh! Next week already we should be on the way. Toulouse is the destination. France. And we are in charge of the exhibition booth. Now, five minutes before departure, project brochures are to be printed. So in this Reading List, we’ll look into the question of whether and how it still makes sense to create flyers and brochures.

Please take with you: Flyers for eternity

The success of the Internet could be seen as having replaced a wide variety of print media over the past few decades. On social media, customers can be approached, informed, and acquired quite easily. At least that’s true for those hip industries that flood our social media feeds: Morning Routine, Home Improvement, Crypto, and Travel. Brochures and flyers that also have a higher environmental footprint ‒ do we still need that?

Flyer from car show on table
Photo by Ejov Igor: https://www.pexels.com/photo/a-autosalon-brochure-on-brown-surface-14425192/

Topics that are less lifestyle-oriented or that are sensitive in their content have a much more difficult time in affirmative social media environments dominated by visual content. An application to participate in cancer studies would be an example of this. Or projects that address energy poverty (e.g. EnergyMeasures). Highly specialized audiences also continue to be receptive to analog formats such as brochures and flyers. However, both types of print have real advantages. In this context, the print format of flyers and brochures has concrete advantages. In Forbes magazine in “Paper Beats Digital In Many Ways, According to Neuroscience,” Roger Dooley argues that print formats with little text increase brand recognition much more sustainably than digital counterparts.

As with any communication product, success with brochures and flyers depends on target-group-optimized content, format, and call to action. Special attention should be paid to interoperability. On her blog, author and writing coach Annika Lamer (in German only) elaborates that flyers and brochures act in tandem with websites: namely, in most cases, the interaction that follows the flyer takes place online. Flyers and brochures are a bridge to the website or, even better, a tailored offer on their website.

Giving structure to brochures: from handouts to folded flyers to squares

When developing the flyer, we do not classically start with the text. We start with the structure. Actually, we start with layout and structure, and text. All together. First, they determine the rough scope, then choose the format, and then design the text. Each page in the flyer gets a topic. Proposal for three folds with six pages: a title page, a contact page, three pages for three contents, and one page for extra content. No theme gets two pages. Consistency is key. The very descriptive graphic about this, given here, can be found in Annika Lamer’s blog post.

Brochure division according to Annika Lamer.
Annika Lamer, 2016. Url: https://www.annika-lamer.de/so-entwickeln-sie-einen-starken-flyer/lamer_flyer-aufteilung/

The texts themselves should be short. Short does not mean that everything should be shortened. It means that you limit yourself and present only the most popular or exceptional of their achievements and results. We have written about the importance of brevity in a previous post. You got 8 seconds only!

Things that must be included in the flyer? Logo, publisher (incl. web address), texts structured by crisp headlines and subheadings, images (and or infographics). If you have any, do not forget seals, sponsors, or references, e.g. of legal nature. We reached the design.

Brochure design: from content to images to infographics

Moving on from the target group to the general design. Many people skim-read and discard flyers or brochures in one motion. Flyers and brochures that work with loads of text and photographs disappear even faster in the trash can than brochures with schematic infographics. This is at least, what Terabe et al. argue for in “The Impact of Flyer with Infographics on Public Awareness and Interest to Transportation Project.” Picture Superiority has been around for a long time ‒ we could write about Infographics Superiority in the next Reading List. An exciting topic.

Different brochures on one table
Foto von RODNAE Productions: https://www.pexels.com/de-de/foto/information-daten-flyer-ein-haus-kaufen-8292889/

Good examples and hands-on instructions for creating your brochures and flyers, with and without infographics, abound. At OIKOPLUS, we like to get inspiration, especially when things need to be done quickly. For example, Canva or Envato. For projects and events in the field of art and culture, Visme offers great inspiration. That’s probably how we’ll do it for the next one of our brochures. Fortunately, a week is longer than 5 minutes.

Categories
Reading List EN

RL #026: Communicating Controversial Research

On difficult topics, moral questions, research ethics and conflicts of interest in science communication.

In science, there are subject areas that are teeming with communication pitfalls. Topics that are controversial in society, research that uses controversial methods and technologies with uncertain consequences. They require sensitivity and caution when it comes to communicating their results in an understandable and accessible way to a large and public audience. Ethical questions are often the subject of intense debate, because widespread social values and morals are challenged. Examples of such research topics are genetic engineering, animal experiments in the life sciences or aspects of gender studies in humanities.

Many scientists working in such fields know this. They communicate cautiously and do not seek the great publicity to present their work and have it discussed publicly. Because where there is public discussion, there is a threat not only of objective and professional criticism, but also of shitstorms. Researchers who encounter criticism from outside their professional bubble usually feel misunderstood. And they are often not so wrong. Current studies show: People who have strong opinions on controversial research topics often rate their knowledge of these topics higher than it actually is.

Photo by Zuzana Ruttkayova: https://www.pexels.com/photo/brown-wooden-beach-dock-under-cloudy-sky-7225642/

Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood

A researcher involved in one of the projects in which Oikoplus is a partner responsible for science communication and dissemination expressed this in an email just recently: „Our research requires that we are very careful with the information that is out there. I would like to avoid a situation of messaging getting misunderstood or misexplained. I could think of a gazillion ways this could go wrong in a spur of the moment.” Well – it’s hard to completely rule out the possibility of communication being misunderstood.

At the very least, however, there is a very simple rule that can be followed if, because of the sensitivity of a topic, you attach great importance to remaining factually correct and offering as little room for interpretation as possible: Avoid humour, especially in social media. Good humour is the most difficult discipline of entertainment, and most punchlines do not come without collateral damage, without people feeling hit and hurt. Therefore, science communication usually has to be serious, polite and correct. Or else, one deliberately chooses the humorous path, even if it may be risky. Kelleigh Greene has written about humour in science communication for the Scientia blog. She argues that humour and science communication indeed do go together.

No fear of the target audience

Caution is required when communicating sensitive issues. However, one should not completely subject one’s communication to caution and avoid discourse. Science can withstand criticism. However, this does not mean that each individual scientist must be able to withstand criticism. What we always tell our partners in science: Don’t panic! The loudest critics in the discourse are rarely representative of the public as a whole. And sometimes particularly loud criticism belies quiet agreement. Using the CRISPR/Cas9 technology as a case, communication researchers at the University of Twente in the Netherlands investigated the different perspectives within the Dutch public on this relatively new genetic engineering method. The communication researchers used the Q method, in which statements from study participants (here n=30) are ranked according to the degree of agreement. It turned out that the participants were generally open and optimistic about the CRISPR/Cas9 technology.

Photo by Edward Jenner: https://www.pexels.com/photo/photo-of-a-person-s-hands-holding-a-petri-dish-with-blue-liquid-4031369/

Becoming aware of one’s own role

This may make many scientists researching gene editing optimistic. In any case, it helps researchers to think about the target groups of their science communication. To do this, it’s a good idea to work together with communications experts. A study conducted by the Julius Kühn Institute in Quedlinburg, Germany, shows what such cooperation can look like. The geneticists researching there joined forces with communication scientists from Wageningen University in the Netherlands. The aim was to develop concrete recommendations for communication on the topic of genetic modification. Part of the result: Trust in science is high, and scientists are trusted to take safety, transparency and sustainability seriously. Therefore, scientists working on topics that are contentious should not hide. They are the ones who can contribute expertise. That’s what they are there for, you could say.

Does expertise automatically lead to a conflict of interest?

But not everyone sees it that way. In some debates, the expertise of researchers is interpreted as a conflict of interest: If, for example, female geneticists are in favour of relaxing the regulation of the use of genetic engineering, it is quickly said: how could female geneticists, of all people, be against this? An article by philosopher Alexander Christian in Frontiers deals with such possible conflicts of interest, using the CRISPR/Cas9 debate as an example.

Cutting through discursive pitfalls is not easy. Sometimes it is simply impossible. But transparency and openness, can hardly hurt to enable the broadest and most open discussion about research and its results. At Oikoplus, we support researchers in explaining their work and making it accessible. We always advise them not to hide in the process.

Categories
Reading List EN

RL #025: ,Letters Like Sand on the Sea’

Over the next two months, we are to write three communication strategies. Three potential wastelands of letters meant to form the backbone of the communication work. They are supposed to be shaped and aligned as castles on the sea. Castles of communication that take into account water and shells, for which we need elaborate equipment like shovels and buckets. Castles that may collapse over time and be rebuilt because Elon is crashing Twitter. In this Reading List, I write about the importance of a strong communication strategy in the context of knowledge projects.

Simple communication

Communication is not that complex. In principle – and most advisors agree on this – it is about conveying a message that is as consistent as possible to people who are affected in different ways. Communication should be uniform, coherent and free of contradictions. Most people – and this applies to science projects as much as to other contexts – do not need to know everything. They may not even want to know everything. Often they do not have the necessary resources. They are also interested in completely different topics. Maybe communication is not that simple after all. To achieve our goals, we need comprehensibility and brevity. We need to arouse curiosity and be prepared to leave our supposed comfort zone again and again. We have already written about all this. But so far without a strategy.

Strategy; a term from warfare

Bild von Willi Heidelbach auf Pixabay

The concept of strategy is a military one. Strategies are well thought out and well planned. They have clear objectives and are based on experience and data. In a relevant blog post for the workflow organiser Asana, Sarah Laoyan refers to Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. The concept of strategy, according to Tzu, is opposed to that of tactics. It refers to individual measures that become necessary in order to achieve goals. Writing 12 SEO-optimised articles, generating 10 high-quality backlinks, and conducting a website audit to fix SEO errors. For Jesse Sumrak of Foundr, these are tactics, not strategies. For ethnographer and Marxist Michel de Certeau, strategies and tactics are linked to power, place and sovereignty. In The Practice of Everyday Life, de Certeau writes:

I call a strategy the calculation (or manipulation) of power
relationships that becomes possible as soon as a subject with will and power can be isolated. It postulates a place that can be delimited as its own and serve as the base from which relations with an exteriority composed of targets or threats can be managed.

[…]

By contrast with a strategy, a tactic is a calculated action determined by the absence of a proper locus. No delimitation of an exteriority, then, provides it with the condition necessary for autonomy. The space of a tactic is the space of the other. Thus it must play on and with a terrain imposed on it and organized by the law of a foreign power.

de Certeau, Michel. 2005. “The Practice of Everyday Life. ‘Making do’: uses and tactics.”, In: Spiegel, Gabrielle, M. “Practicing History. New Directions in Historical Writing and the Linguisitc Turn”, pp. 218-219.

Wenn wir de Certreau ernst nehmen, dann bedeutet das, sich der eigenen Mittel und Hoheit bewusst zu werden und zu sein.

Strategic communication

A comprehensive and good communication strategy embraces this. It knows the resources we have; it understands when the beach commissioner is coming with the excavator. It includes a message, target groups, channels, and methods for evaluating and gathering feedback. Because all intentions, as well as contingencies, come together in the communication strategy, and because decisions are made in a strategy at the very beginning of a project, Roger L. Martin in the Harvard Business Review refuses to write about an implementation decoupled from strategy. For him strategy is implementation. And implementation starts with enabling all those involved to participate in the communication. We are back to de Certeau. It is about hosting those places of communication over which we have and could have sovereignty. And it is about asking the dredging beach commissioner to reprieve our sandcastle.

Locating strategy

Image by Pexels from Pixabay 

Back to the letters and the sand by the sea. A communication strategy built too close to the water and too close to the entrances to the beach is likelier to collapse. It is a matter of finding or even creating a place that allows us to react even when the unexpected happens. It is about developing tactics we can use when the situation demands it. And it’s about giving communication a shared identity that stays with us for months and years. That is what a successful communication strategy does.

Categories
Reading List EN

RL #024: Hands-on: Gamification in Archeo-Tourism

This Oikoplus Reading List is not about a specific issue in the field of Science Communication and Research Dissemination, for once. This Oikoplus Reading List is about one of our own projects.

In the past two years we have learned a lot about archaeology through the participation of our association Sustainication e.V. (a quasi subsidary of Oikoplus) in the Interreg project ArcheoDanube. And about the exciting challenge of using archaeology to develop sustainable tourism concepts. 

After two and a half intensive project years, ArcheoDanube will come to an end in 2022. In mid-November, the Closing Conference took place in the Slovenian city of Ptuj. The different institutions involved in the project from 11 countries of the Danube Region presented the results of the project. These include not only Guidelines for Local Archeo Plans as a vehicle for sustainable archeotourism, but also concrete local pilot actions in which the concept of Archaeological Parks was and will be tested.

But what does ArcheoDanube have to do with science communication and Oikoplus? Well … plenty. Because embedding archaeology in tourism concepts requires the commmunication of research results – adapted to a specific place and specific target groups. The Sustainication/Oikoplus team was able to contribute to the project not only by writing an e-handbook on archaeological site management, but also by participating in three think tank workshops evaluating Local Action Plans in Szombathely (HU), Pilsen (CZ) and X (HR). 

Digital Tools for ArcheoTourism Gamification

And: We have developed a mobile app. The app ArcheoTales for Android and iOS, which was developed together with the Graz-based company Softwaregärtner, allows visitors to archaeological sites and museums to be sent on digital scavenger hunts. This allows cultural tourism providers and operators of heritage sites to offer didactically and playfully prepared content to different target groups. And visitors can experience the exhibition in the form of a puzzle game at their own, individual pace. Here, visitors communicate via mobile app with fictional characters in a mass-ger interface. 

Another digital tool developed in the ArcheoDanube project is Yesterday-Today-Tomorrow. It is specifically aimed at cities and municipalities that have cultural heritage and archaeological sites and are looking for assistance in creating a tourism concept in the form of an archeopark. 

In the ArcheoTales project, we have been able to learn an immense amount about archaeology and the cultural history of the Danube region, visit wonderful places with cultural tourism treasures, and meet fantastic colleagues from 11 countries. In the process, we made new friends and learned what good science communication can do in a field that was completely new to us – and how much fun it is to do it.

Categories
Reading List EN

RL #023: To the point: presenting scientific content

July and September are conference months in Europe. During the day, the sun is pleasantly high and outdoor and indoor areas can be used without much extra effort. The mood is good, almost exuberant. At most universities, teaching has either just ended or not yet begun. It is holiday time and depending on the place and interest, some add 2-3 days to the conference. There are others who come sooner. Besides the pleasant setting, however, conferences are also those moments in a scientific career when you need to generate attention for yourself and your scientific work. In a highly fluid context, you get to know your closest allies, your co-authors, and future superiors. In order to do this, however, you have to convince them with your ideas. And that means, above all, getting to the point. This is exactly what this reading list is about.

Photo by Mikael Kristenson on Unsplash

Getting to the point: English as a twofold barrier

To get to the point means first of all to leave out everything unnecessary. No details but only what is most important for your argument should be articulated. Synonyms are ‘to say something clearly’, ‘to be frank’, ‘not to hide something’, ‘to be clear’, and ‘to express yourself unambiguously’. Not that easy when much of the communication is in a foreign language. In Nature’s career column, Roey Elnathan 2021 (paywall) called for broad-based mentoring programs for aspiring and experienced scientists who publish in foreign languages. According to Elnathan’s, precision and accuracy cannot be achieved otherwise.

But English is only the current lingua franca of science. In the video podcast Languages in Science by MetodieStrategie, Timothy E.L Douglas explains that we have already experienced Latin, German, and French as scientific languages since the 17th century. He speaks for the European-Western and international science community. Most recently, Douglas says, science has become more linguistically diverse again.

Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash

Another important point Douglas makes in the podcast concerns the target audience. And here, it seems, native English speakers often find it most difficult to adapt their own language skills to the community. As with writing readable academic texts, knowing your listeners and readers is a prerequisite. They define the framework for the infamous point to which we should bring our argumentation. Complaining at a high level?

I am designing a presentation. So what should be brought to the point?

In short: everything! The introduction, your research question, and, if available, your hypotheses. The methodology. The visual material and your argumentation. No detail that is not needed, no subordinate clause too much. Short sentences delivered at speaking speed, not reading speed, with pauses for breath. Because many present their arguments in combination with text, images, and visualized data, here a reminder: get to the point!

First of all, it should be noted that diagrams, graphs, and also photographs are permissible for communicating knowledge and content within peer groups. At least, that is what Laura Perini argues in Visual Representations and Confirmation (paywall). The images and visual representations that Perini classifies as for the science community are thus unlike the images representing science that the Max Plank Society, for example, offers for sale. They have no point, but aesthetic value? Again, the question of the listeners applies. A picture to trace the history and context, a map to locate, and a graph to show statistical distributions. To keep the latter clear, here are a few meaningful visualizations and the University of York’s DIY Wiki.

Photo by David Pisnoy on Unsplash

Focus on your particular interest: Get feedback, collect ideas and suggestions, forge alliances

Last but not least a tip; a suggestion. After my own first experience on the conference floor, I quickly realized that I sometimes don’t get the kind of feedback I would need. But if your presentation was an argument to the point, then you can expect the same from your listeners. Give them a question to ask. Share what has been on your mind since your last learning and invite them to think along with you. Your own needs should be brought to the point as well. Because only when you return from your conferences with good discussions in your pockets will you find the motivation for preparing for the upcoming conference summer.

Categories
Reading List EN

RL #022: What you don’t know that you should know about energy sharing

With the current environmental and political climate, the media’s occupation with the topic of energy transition has become more prevalent than ever. Although many news outlets succeed in giving a well rounded and balanced debate on the role of governments, private companies and policies, still very little space is given to exercising the thought of citizen-led efforts for autonomous and local energy control. 

Hearing concepts such as sovereign, citizen-led or equal citizen participation within the complex world of energy production can often sound like empty or futuristic phrases, which have no ground in real life. That is understandable, considering the little media coverage citizen-led efforts get, however it is not true. This paper, by students from business management and environmental studies, shines a light on the concept of energy communities, which are based on a collaboration between citizens, governments and businesses for a clean energy transition. Even though these initiatives are not so popularized, they are, as pointed out by Sara Giovanni from Energy Cities a European learning community for future-proof cities, making a great contribution to fight climate change. It is therefore important that the communication and information flow outlets about these organisations are improved and this is what this reading list will be focusing on. 

Turning to the external

Some of the prominent issues within the process of promotion of energy communities is first of the lack of easy access to information, which means a need for an active search, which is difficult without having any prior knowledge. Another problem, as pointed out by Wahlund and Palm from Lund University, is the bias towards a decentralized energy model and an underrepresentation of energy communities (EC’s) within the mainstream media. What follows, as presented by the results of this study from two Universities in the Netherlands, is the lack of trust of the wider public towards EC’s and thus an indifference towards taking an active role in energy transition. 

On the brighter side, however, for those who already have the sprouts of interest towards EC’s there are various sources including this repository from European Federation for Agencies and Regions for Energy and Environment, which is aimed to give an insight into not only the examples but also various publications and updates related to Energy Communities. Another, a more general example of an informative database is the Projects for Public Spaces website, which brings together a wide array of community led projects from all over the world. 

Turning to the internal 

One of the benefits that internal communication within energy communities have is the already existing interest in active participation within energy transition, which acts as a drive to seek out and create new knowledge sharing opportunities. This has resulted, as presented by this research paper from the University of Bologna, in quite a large number of attempts being made in order to create EC’s and improve the communication between them. Many studies, like this one, have also been conducted in order to analyse new methods of knowledge sharing within the energy industry and changes, which can be made to adjust the sector to 21st century standards. 

According to John S. Edwards from Aston University in Birmingham, however, what renewable energy communities still lack is a good grasp on knowledge management and knowledge distribution, which is very well developed in the oil and gas sectors, causing green energy promotion and internal knowledge exchange to lag behind the fossil fuel industry. The acquisition, archiving and use of knowledge within energy communities is, as maintained by William King in his PhD research in Coventry University, much more understood in the commercial branches than within the EC’s, which are still early in their developmental stages. There is additionally, no theoretical framework that would act as a universal manual, which would specify effective knowledge management strategies (including even the language used, glossary of key terms and their applicability to various contexts). 

Energy transition is in many aspects still in its early stages, but through improvement of various elements including turning this niche market into a mainstream process through a more easily accessible media coverage can increase the speed with which current traditional and centralized energy systems are transformed into a community led, collaborative effort. 

Categories
Reading List EN

RL #021: Unblock your brain: AI-based Communication in Science

This Reading List is a little different. All text passages in italics were formulated by an AI named Neuroflash and later translated via Deepl.com. Reading tips and some personal thoughts of the curator appear in the last paragraph.

AI in Science Communication

Scientific articles are often dull and difficult to understand. But that doesn’t have to be the case! Thanks to new technologies, such as AI-based software, also scientists can write their articles in an interesting and easy-to-understand way.

In recent years, the role of AI in science has become increasingly clear. Its ability to analyze and process large amounts of data helps researchers understand and process complex topics. While AI is not yet perfect, it has the potential to make lasting improvements to science communication – especially in terms of efficiency and quality. Nevertheless, it is important to know the limits of the technology and not to trust it blindly. Only in this way can we ensure that AI actually supports us and does not replace us.

Photo by Joel Filipe on Unsplash

Examples of the Application of AI in Science Communication

In the communication of science, i.e. in the writing down of processes and results, AI already supports researchers in literature research or in the preparation of abstracts and summaries. AI can also help with the writing of scientific articles. However, it does not take over the complete work but supports the scientist in the research and the structure of the argument. It is important to keep control! The AI formulates self-criticism: for example, that it cannot convey emotions.

Bottom line: Free your Brain – with AI!

With this contribution already, it is clear that AI will soon play an important role in science communication. By using AI-based systems, scientists can publish their research faster and more effectively. Most importantly, AI enables scientists as well as journalists to write interesting and easy-to-understand texts. If we are to believe AI’s self-assessment, it will soon make a significant contribution to ensuring that the science we produce is read and understood by as many people as possible.

Photo by Max Langelott on Unsplash

Reading Suggestions and Remarks from a Human Being

The AI appears self-confident. And it has every reason to be. In “Tortured Phrases,” Guillaume Cabanac et al. address the increase in AI-generated texts in science, questioning the integrity of the researchers. Less biased, Yolanda Gil asks in the article published in AI Magazine whether AI will soon be able to formulate scientific texts. Her answer: yes – and sooner rather than later. The resulting challenges and mandates for scientists themselves are detailed by Mico Tatalovic in his paper “AI writing bots are about to revolutionize science journalism” for the Journal for Science Communication.

How does it feel to have the Reading List written? It was important to me to intervene as little as possible in the text proposal. While this is less obvious in English, this can be seen in the gender-specific language of the German version. But also in the confidence that the AI brings to the table. How biased is an AI that writes about itself? A lot of it I wouldn’t phrase that way; I’d tone it down. Or be more specific. These are the formulations from which you can guess an AI. Not a flippant formulation, but not a very specific one either. Daring is the imperative, it seems. Don’t worry. In the future, we will write ourselves again.

Categories
Reading List EN

RL #020: Science Communication and Democracy

Always in a constant state of fluctuation, global democracy has recently seen a strong decline. According to a 2021 press release from Freedom House, various factors, one of which was the Covid-19 pandemic, have recently contributed to a retreat of the individual from the public space. Shielding oneself from un-understandable developments in not only world health, natural science, and economy, but also social relationships has turned out to damage the growth of freedom, inclusiveness, and consent, which are extremely important cornerstones of democracy. Science communication can clarify difficult-to-comprehend concepts. It can bridge the gap between ongoing research and the general public. It can ease the discomfort of contributing to the public space. Following our Reading List tackling the inclusivity of science communication, this time we share some good reads that point to the relationship between science communication and democracy.

Democracy and an Informed but Helpless Public

Democracy is a process that requires a continuously informed public. It is the only way to allow for an equal public discourse. But things appear to be much more complex. In „The Fall of the Public Man”, sociologist Richard Sennett points out that the omission to explain science to civil society (available for purchase here) leads to the disruption of democratic processes. Incomprehensible information increases the misunderstanding of ongoing developments. And it leads to a lack of interest in everything that goes on beyond the individual sphere.

Photo by Marc Kleen on Unsplash

Let’s pin it down to the urban scale. Highlighted in Peter Marcuse’s paper „From Critical Urban Theory to the Right to the City”, the globally felt dissatisfaction with current worldwide living conditions causes a lot of frustration. The frustration does mainly result from a lack of access to knowledge. It inhibits our understanding of our potential relevance and role in improving our communal situation thus making us feel helpless. The feeling of helplessness is then proliferated by the physical and intellectual expansion of private actors. We cannot judge their impact on our environment, economy, and society. As argued in the much-cited article „Whose City Is It? Globalization and the Formation of New Claims” by Saskia Sassen, it is those entities suppressing the individual from the public.

Science Communicators within Democratic Environments

The widely spread misconception supporting notions of helplessness, is that scientific and academic knowledge can be produced by trained specialists only. Sure, specialization gives more capability for the execution and judgment of research. Following the argumentation of Bruno Latour in his 1993 published book „We have never been modern” however, research depends on the co-production and co-creation of information. To his understanding, Social change happens on a healthy, genuine, and transparent plane. It is all about giving people the feeling of autonomy and the capacity to govern themselves.

Photo by Artem Maltsev on Unsplash

On a similar path to Latour, in „Expertise, Democracy and Science Communication”, Bruce V. Lewenstein argues, that the more civil society comprehends science, the more attentive and appreciative they are of it. In return, this increases public demand and therefore potential funding. At the same time, as pointed out by Bernard Schiele et al. in ‘Science Communication and Democracy’, the co-creation of information leads to a more heterogeneous society. A society that is able to make informed and thus more sophisticated decisions about the future of our planet.

What Science Communication Can Do

Science communication alone will not solve the issue of a declining global democracy. It does, however, play a role in taking researched data from the hands of the selected few and spreading it into the possession of the multitudes. This decentralization of knowledge is an important factor of egalitarianism, but also in the creation of a well-informed voter. It improves the quality of decision-making in a democratic state. In „Scientific Citizenship in a Democratic Society”, Vilhjálmur Árnason from the University of Iceland argues that science communication and more explicitly scientific literacy drives public policy making. He claims that the creation of forums for reciprocal teaching is key for battling ignorance and shaping sustainable societal change. For interested readers, Daniel Williams from The Hasting Center further investigates the concept of ‘motivated ignorance’.

Photo by Danny Lines on Unsplash

Finally, this is where science communication can have a deeper impact. Knowledge democracy, as Alice Lemkes names the challenge of science communication in her white paper for Lankelly Chase, is the only way to counteract the inflexible system of hierarchical and undemocratic knowledge production.

This Reading List was written by Zuzanna Zajac.

Categories
Reading List EN

RL #019: Why Communication is a Crucial Part of any Science Endeavour

At Oikoplus we offer science communication. But why actually? What was the purpose of communicating research results to a broad audience again? Isn’t there a specialised audience for research? Isn’t it enough for those who know about it to read and talk about research? Well. There are valid reasons for a broad approach to scientific outreach. In this Reading List, you will find some of them.

In German, there is the expression “coming down to earth”. The metaphor is used to call for a discussion to be calibrated back to the shared factual basis when it has gotten out of hand and untruths or lies have crept in. Knowledge of facts and facts are the result of research and science. So it is precisely the ground from the metaphor that is at stake. And it is not only experts who walk on this ground, but all of us – even if we all leave it occasionally. Some more rarely, some more often, whether consciously or unconsciously.

For a more inclusive science

In 2015, Mónica Feliú-Mójer summarised for Scientific American’s blog why effective communication makes for better science. When scientists are able to communicate effectively beyond their peers to a broader, non-scientific audience, it strengthens support for science, promotes understanding of its broader importance to society, and encourages more informed decision-making. Communication can also make science accessible to audiences traditionally excluded from the scientific process. It can help science become more diverse and inclusive.

Science for the common good

In texts on science communication, one reads time and again that researchers should not lose contact with society. Of course not. Why should research stand outside society? Ideally, research should serve society. However, this relationship between science and civil society is by no means self-evident. In an article for The conversation, Toss Gascoigne and Joan Leach, both professors at the Centre for the Public Awareness of Science at the Australian National University, argue that the 20th century can be read as a long plea for sience communication in the interest of the common good.

Not even researchers read research papers only

Dmitry Dorofeev takes a short excursion into the history of science communication. In an article on the importance of science communication in layman’s terms, he starts from the 19th century. According to Dorofeev, in 1895 an editor of the Viennese daily newspaper Neue Freie Presse learned by chance about the discovery of X-rays by Wilhelm Röntgen, but recognised the significance and placed an article on the front page of his newspaper. The London Chronicle, the New York Sun, and by the New York Times did later pick up this article. The rapid dissemination of this imaging method in mass media, certainly contributed to the fact that X-ray technology was mentioned in 1000+ scientific articles the following year, says Dorofeev. After all – and this is still true today – researchers do not only inform themselves in specialised publications.

Promotion or PR?

Communicating research and science in a way that as many people as possible can participate is a noble reason. It allows society to benefit and researchers to inform themselves about the work of their colleagues. In addition, science communication increasingly serves as advertising and PR for individual research institutions and science locations. Empirically, Peter Weingart and Marina Joubert at Stellenbosch University in South Africa looked at the motivations to engage in science communication. Based on their findings on the ever-increasing actively pursued science communication, the authors conclude that a distinction between educational and promotional forms of science communication maintains the credibility of science.

There are a number of good reasons for communicating science and the results of research in a way they are understandable and interesting. The most important of all reasons remains that the ground of facts cited at the beginning must be ordered. Because curiosity, knowledge and innovation grow on it. 
 
 In our ArcheoDanube project, we are therefore trying to make archaeology accessible to tourists in a sustainable way and to make the results of research on the history of the Danube region accessible to as many people as possible. Indeed, the coordinators just published the fourth newsletter of the Interreg project.