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Science bloggers – join the 2014 General Assembly blogroll!

5 Mar

Will you be blogging at the 2014 General Assembly? If so, sign up here and we’ll add you to our official blogroll. We will be compiling a list of blogs that feature posts about the EGU General Assembly and making it available on GeoLog, the official blog of the European Geosciences Union.

We’d ask you to write posts that relate directly to the Assembly during the conference in Vienna (27 April – 2 May). The content of each blog on this list is the responsibility of the authors and is not sanctioned by the EGU, but we will make details of all the blogs on the General Assembly blogroll available online.

If you would like your blog to feature on our list, please submit your blog details to us.

With free (and open!) wireless internet and plugin points available throughout the building and great science throughout the week; we’ve got everything you need to get blogging! International plug adapters can even be borrowed from the Austria Center Information Desk!

GeoLog will also be updated regularly during the General Assembly, featuring posts about scientific sessions, conference highlights and interviews with scientists at the meeting. If you would like to contribute to GeoLog, please pitch your idea to mynott@egu.eu. You may also use this address for any questions you might have about the blogroll.

Bridge the gap between geoscience and the general public. (Credit: Dario Zampieri, distributed by imaggeo.eu.eu)

Bridge the gap between geoscience and the general public. (Credit: Dario Zampieri, distributed by imaggeo.eu.eu)

Geotalk: Flo Bullough from Four Degrees

22 Nov

This week in Geotalk, we’re talking to Flo Bullough  Policy Assistant at the Geological Society who writes about both climate and policy at Four Degrees 

Hi Flo, why don’t you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into science communication? 

I would say that science communication is something I have always done in my academic studies without having labelled it as such. I deliberately chose research topics that had a wider impact than the core research alone and I was always interested in disseminating my work more widely than the department or my supervisor. My work has always involved environmental and development issues (in water contamination and geochemistry) because I found that having a human angle or a real world application was an interesting driver. Now, in addition to the blog, in my role as a Policy Assistant I get to write documents for parliamentarians and the wider public disseminating geological information in an accessible way. Effective communication of science is a really rewarding part of the job, and when you have the potential to impact on policy; it’s a great incentive to get it right.

You recently started a series called “what’s geology got to do with it?” to show geoscience is relevant even when you might not expect it to be. How is geology relevant to society? 

For me, I think the question is almost how is it not relevant? Geology and its many sub-disciplines influence either directly or indirectly almost everything we use in our daily lives or that we see in the environment around us. In a very basic sense, geology relates to fundamental natural resources such as rocks, metals, water and fossil fuels. These sit at the base of the manufacturing industry and are important in terms of utilities, public services and just about anything you can think of. Their use, scarcity and extraction is also linked to many social, cultural and political situations which have direct links with the social sciences. It’s no secret that resource scarcity and climate change are going to have a threat multiplier effect on many of the biggest political & cultural issues we face around the world. I’m an advocate for approaching things in an interdisciplinary way and the more we highlight the interdependence and connectedness of different issues, the more widely these links will be understood.

Meet Flo! (Credit: Flo Bullough)

Meet Flo! (Credit: Flo Bullough)

In addition to blogging, you work full time as a Policy Assistant at the Geological Society of London, how do you keep on top of the latest research and policy developments? 

In the age of social media and widespread information generation and distribution, ‘staying on top’ of research and policy in its entirety is virtually impossible. At the Society, we are fortunate to have numerous and willing fellows who have expertise in an enormous variety of areas and so their input on current issues and responses we make is invaluable. We also have our own publishing house and an extensive events schedule that helps me keep on top of new research. So between those, the science media and social media I try to keep abreast of as much as possible.

Position statements are incredibly useful references for policymakers and stakeholder organisations. What goes into writing one? 

Position statements are an important part of our work and our interaction with the wider community and so understandably a lot of work goes into them. Hefty documents like the Society’s Climate Change statement have an expert working group made up of specialists from the fellowship who survey the current research before meeting to write the statement itself. The Geological Society doesn’t take a position on issues but instead strives to provide the best possible scientific evidence from the geological record and geoscience community, in order to promote the understanding of relevant scientific evidence to a wide range of decision-makers and stakeholders. Whether written by a working group or by Society staff like me, the document goes through a series of edits with experts in the field before being finalised.

Do you have any tips for scientists who what to bridge the gap between science and policy? 

I think science and policy is a fascinating subject but can be a difficult area of interest to access so I’ve collated a series of useful resources to feed even the most esoteric interest!

In political centres such as London there is a raft of evening talks and events that are often free – I would recommend attending! There is a Policy area on the Geological Society website which details all recent work we’ve been engaged in. As well as the Geological Society, the following institutes and departments are a good source of information and events:

There are also many publications and social media outlets which have a focus on science and policy, and the CaSE (Campaign for Science and Engineering) website is a great portal for news, events, blogs and jobs and details ways to get involved with science policy.

Flo’s recommended reading:

Feeling Inspired? Peruse Flo’s ponderings on climate and geoscience policy at: http://blogs.egu.eu/4degrees/.

Geotalk: Simon Redfern on science communication

6 Nov

This week in Geotalk, we’re talking to Simon Redfern, renowned scientist and science communicator and the man behind An Atom’s-Eye View of the Planet.

What made you first step into science communication?

That’s a difficult question for me to answer, since it is not a step that I have consciously recognised myself making. I suppose that I see science as having at least two sides. One is discovery… posing the correct questions, working out the methods to answer them, and (hopefully) reaching some sort of answer on the basis of your data. But the other side of science forms as big a part of the enterprise. Discovery is worthless without communication. So, as scientists, we labour over how to best present our results and conclusions, typically first through communicating to peers – talks and seminars at conferences, listening to colleagues’ feedback, and then by publishing papers, again with feedback and testing. For those of us working in universities, the next stage of communication is often through teaching, promulgating our science through lectures, review articles, textbooks or (increasingly) blogs. My efforts at more general communication grew out of this.

I help teach a first year undergraduate Earth sciences course, which assumes no prior knowledge. Part of our teaching programme uses small group tutorials, and last year I became aware that a lot of geo-news was going on, in the form of exciting new discoveries in the leading papers, or topics of societal concern, that fed directly into the more mainstream core material of the first year course. At the same time, I had started contributing occasional short pieces to a Facebook group called “The Earth Story” – a repository of geological tidbits with more than half a million followers. I started extending my Earth Story contributions into a blog, www.geopoem.com that helped illustrate some of the things that our first year undergraduates were covering, in an attempt to interest just the seven students in my tutorial groups. Others started reading them and seemed to be enjoying them. I was encouraged by the positive comments.

Meet Simon! (Credit: Simon Redfern)

Meet Simon! (Credit: Simon Redfern)

Things happened by chance, rather than design, as seems to be the pattern for most of my life! Two or three weeks in a row the Departmental Administrator sent out a general email pointing out the opportunities to take part in the British Science Association’s Media Fellowships. I assumed that, because the emails were going out and the closing date was approaching, they must be short of applicants (it turns out that this is far from the case!). I looked at who had been Media Fellows in the past and saw that some old codgers like me had done it, as well as the younger bloggers and aspiring science communicators who I had assumed would be most interested. In fact, the scheme exists to try and bring journalists and scientists together, by working side by side, to inform both science and the news media, rather than to act as a sort of internship programme. Anyway, at the very last moment I threw my hat into the ring and waited to see what fate would bring.

It turned out that I was offered the fellowship with BBC over the summer, which has been a fantastic experience.

You’re currently participating in the British Science Association’s Media Fellowship with the BBC, what’s been the biggest highlight?

Wow, another hard question. There have been so many. One of the most nerve wracking moments was in my very first week, when I was working with the BBC Science Radio folk on a couple of productions, one going out on the BBC World Service and one on UK domestic BBC Radio 4. The latter was a show called “Material World”, and I was involved in the very last edition of it. It went out live each Thursday at 16:30, and being involved in live radio, even as a minor researcher for only part of the programme was fascinating. The topic of “my” bit of the show was communicating scientific uncertainty and my contribution amounted to telephoning potential guest interviewees and getting them to agree to sitting in front of a microphone. When faced with attempting to write a script for how I believed the discussion would proceed, I had to rely on the answers that they had given during my phone conversations with them earlier in the week. Needless to say, I hadn’t been paying such careful attention at that point, because I hadn’t realised the importance of the phone calls. I waited on tenterhooks during their part of the programme, terrified that the interviewees would go wildly off message and sink the whole discussion. But they were closer to the topic than me, and did an excellent job of discussing a difficult concept. The presenter, Gareth Mitchell, was fantastic, and it was a highlight watching him guide the show so professionally and calmly, winding it up at 16:59:59.7 in perfect style.

Inside the BBC –  a hive of activity!

Inside the BBC – a hive of activity!

I spent three weeks working with Science Radio and three weeks working with the Science and Environment page of BBC News Online. Seeing your words transformed from hastily scribbled reports of the latest research papers, into slick pieces on the BBC News Site was great fun every time. I ended up covering topics as diverse as dark matter, neutron stars, 4 billion year old resurrected proteins, bears in Yellowstone and new remedies to fight MRSA or anthrax. Sometimes I had the luxury of writing about something I actually knew a little bit about, which included a fun story about how sand dunes were engulfing the star wars set in Tunisia. Seeing my story on Dune vs. Star Wars hit the most read item of the science pages for four days in a row was only surpassed by seeing it appear as the most read article across the whole BBC news site overall, beating a story about Jay-Z changing his name into second place!

Have you had to deal with any sticky situations on the job – if so, how did you keep your cool?

The only sticky situations I had to deal with were of my own making. We shall ignore the instance of me spilling a cup of coffee down my front as I made my way to my very first day in the office (what is it that they say about first appearances?). My temporary colleagues at the BBC were so professional and expert in all that they did, it was a pleasure to spend time with them, and I really enjoyed every moment I spent at New Broadcasting House. But my worst moment was when I went off to the Royal Society Summer Exhibition, a festival of science held at the Royal Society’s splendid accommodation in the centre of London. The summer exhibition is a chance for a few selected research projects to showcase their science to the general public. I took a BBC Marantz sound recorder, microphone and headset and conducted some interviews for potential use on the radio in the coming week. Only when I returned to the office did I discover that the flashing red light on the Marantz means that it is on “standby”, not “record”, and all my fantastically crafted questions and the even more splendid responses had failed to make it to memory. Bother. But, they say that we learn by making mistakes. I certainly know how a Marantz works now.

Simon interviewing Dr Julia Percival about a project to knit perovskite. Find out more about the “Perovskite Project” on An Atom's-Eye View of the Planet.

Simon interviewing Dr Julia Percival about a project to knit perovskite. Find out more about the Perovskite Project on An Atom’s-Eye View of the Planet.

How do you balance science writing with a hectic academic schedule?

Well, so much of what we do is via the internet these days, during my media fellowship I was able to keep most of my research work ticking over while doing a daily commute to London. Actually, I found some advantage in working in the centre of London, arranging a few lunch meetings with London-based colleagues and ex-students to catch up on their work and make contact again. My research students in Cambridge certainly saw less of me than is probably ideal, but I did pop into the Department in the evening on my way home from the train station a few times during the BBC placement, just to keep that going. And I took a week off at the middle of the BBC stint to go and do some experiments at the BESSY-II synchrotron in Berlin, where I was working on some X-ray microscopy of carbonate shells using a spectroscopic method called PEEM. So, I had a sort of academic sabbatical from my journalistic work, with one week of science amid my six weeks of media fellowship. Actually, it was great to be working at the synchrotron for a week, and to remind myself of the fun of seeing data accumulate in an exciting experiment.

The rest of the time, the science writing clearly comes lower down the list than my other priorities – research and teaching are my main responsibilities, alongside a little bit of science management, which is difficult to escape from. But I try and combine the science writing when I can, so my Earth Story stories still help me think about how to liven up my tutorials and teaching for my first year students, and writing blog posts remains a fun hobby that helps me keep abreast of what’s going on in terms of current events and ideas in the bits of science I enjoy most. I recommend it!

Sometimes it is possible to combine the writing and academic schedule in other ways. I had a go at blogging, and reporting for the BBC, at the Goldschmidt meeting this summer. It turned out to be much more difficult than I had suspected it would be. Keeping on top of making use of the meeting for my own scientific interests, and reporting on it for the general audience was a tall order. Both activities can consume all of your time, and keeping a balance is a priority.

One indication of the difficulties is probably my delay in getting around to answering these questions. It is now over a month since I was asked to respond! Simply a reflection of the difficulties in making time for everything.

Do you have any tips for budding science writers? 

Just write. The more you write, the easier it becomes. Maybe start a blog on something that you really care about. But I have found it also useful to have a purpose. For me this was, initially, the teaching, then more general self-interested “learning” aspects, and also the “publicising” side of getting my own research interests in front of a wider general audience. A lot of people love reading about science. Science news gets good responses in many outlets. But it is helpful to know your audience. And here’s a practical tip – if you use Microsoft Word there is a little-known tool that analyses your prose and works out what reading age it corresponds to. Most news media aim for output at around reading age 12, I reckon. That will, in any case, give you an idea of how to simplify your language; if you feel you need to.

If you want stuff published, then pitch it as an idea (an abstract of what you are aiming to cover/say) in a brief email – most journalists do not have time to read long messages! I would suggest that if you want to give science writing for a general audience a go you find your local news site/community radio station/research news bulletin and try and get them to bite. And if an opportunity like the British Science Association Media Fellowships comes up in front of you… go for it!

Feeling inspired? Have a read: http://blogs.egu.eu/atomsi/

Geotalk: Will Morgan on podcasts and polluting the internet

23 Oct

This week in Geotalk, we’re talking to Will Morgan, atmospheric scientist, podcaster and the blogger behind Polluting the Internet

You recently joined the EGU blog network, but you’ve been writing for a while now. What got you blogging?

I guess the ultimate reason is that I enjoy talking about science! I’ve been involved with a number of science communication activities for a few years and blogging is a very popular medium that I wanted to try out. I’ve read scientific blogs since my undergraduate days but the number and range of sites has exploded in recent years. I felt that I would be able to contribute to this and cover aspects that don’t always get as much attention. Aerosol particles might be tiny but they can have big impacts and we have a lot to learn about how they affect our climate and our health.

Will Morgan

Will Morgan. (Credit: Will Morgan)

There’s a wealth of great research out there, how do you choose what to write about?

Mainly through a combination of Twitter, RSS feeds for journals in my field and whatever I happen to be doing that week. Twitter is great for getting ideas, whether that is a new study that has been getting attention in the media or just some spectacular satellite images that routinely appear in your timeline. Scientific conferences are also really helpful for getting ideas as you can cover something “new” that emerges while you are there.

In addition to your science blogging activities, you also run a podcast, together with a host of atmospheric scientists. How did you get started?

As with many ideas in science, the podcast started out with a discussion in a pub. A couple of friends in the atmospheric science group at Manchester thought “wouldn’t it be fun to do an atmospheric science podcast”. They talked to a few of us in the research group and we started getting together to record some episodes and it has continued from there.

You do a lot of podcasting and blogging at conferences and other scientific events, what would you say are the biggest benefits to the public or wider scientific community?

I think it helps to give people an idea of how the process of science actually works – most of the time people see scientists as a talking head on the TV or a few quotes in an article. I’ve found covering conferences a lot of fun as they are often very vibrant affairs with lots of ideas whirling around between groups of passionate people, which maybe isn’t the picture that is usually painted of scientists! I/we have also covered how we go about making measurements in the field, which communicates the challenges of actually doing science and the dedication that is required to do things well. People seem to enjoy listening or reading to these things also, so catering to that audience is really important.

Do you have any tips for people pondering podcasting?

The main tip is to just get on with it and not worry if it doesn’t sound perfect. Most modern mobile phones have the capability to record audio so you can give it a try and put it online (there several free services, such as Podbean for podcasting online). It isn’t going to have the audio quality of a BBC Radio 4 broadcast but that is secondary to the actual content. From there you can develop where you want to go with the podcast and if funds and/or facilities allow, you can get access to better recording equipment or even a studio. Also, the more you do it, the better you get. My only other tip is to not spend too long listening to recordings of your own voice when editing (ideally edit content that you weren’t involved with) as you’ll quickly develop a complex – it was a bit of a shock when I realised that the booming Brian Blessed-esque voice was my own!

Want to know more about what Will’s been up to? Have a read: http://blogs.egu.eu/hazeblog/

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