Looking forward to Istanbul, April 2016: A message from the president of the PCST Network, Brian Trench

Looking forward to Istanbul, April 2016: A message from the president of the PCST Network, Brian Trench

Brian_TrenchProposal submission for the PCST 2016 conference is now open. We welcome proposals for research papers, panel discussions and posters on any aspect of science communication but, in particular, we are seeking contributions that relate to the main theme of the conference, Science Communication in a Digital Age.

The choice of this theme reflects, in part, the ambitions of the host country, Turkey, to develop rapidly its capacity in information and communication technologies. But it also reflects a keen awareness in the science communication communities that the many uses of digital media technologies are greatly affecting the methods, the participants and the scope of science communication.

We could have an interesting discussion on whether it can be said to be in a “digital age” any more than we were previously in an analogue age. But the shorthand phrase is well-known and its intention is well-recognised: it implies that the proliferation of digital media and their pervasive use – not just in the rich world – have significantly affected our communication environment and are continuously changing it.

Even with nearly eight months to go to the final deadline for proposals to the Istanbul conference, it is not too early to be thinking about papers or panels on the issues that these changes raise for science communication.

We have had contributions to our recent conferences on various uses of the web in reporting, promoting and consuming scientific information. But for the 2016 conference we want to give concentrated attention to the ways in which digital processing of scientific information, including the sharing of science news around the globe in milliseconds, are reshaping the roles of science communicators, the experiences of audiences and the relations between scientists, communicators and audiences.

In the hope of encouraging deeper and wider exploration of the conference’s lead theme, I present some issues and questions that might be relevant:

  • It has been suggested that online publishing of scientific research and communication of science news on interactive platforms are facilitating wide public participation in, and democratisation, of science. What evidence can we produce to show that this democratisation is happening?
  • Wide public participation in science is made easier though digital technologies. But what encourages or discourages specific publics to join discussions about the meaning of new discoveries or the direction of scientific research?
  • Many social networks in science have thousands or tens of thousands of friends or followers. What do their online conversations tell us about public attitudes to science that is different from, or similar to, what we learn through surveys?
  • Research institutes, university, journals and professional societies are all experimenting with social media as part of their communication strategies. To what extent and to what purpose do scientific institutions use the interactive, many-to-many features of these communication platforms?
  • Open access publishing and open science are among the indications of what is sometimes called ‘Science 2.0’. Are the changes in the way science is communicated changing fundamentally how science is done, as ‘Science 2.0’ suggests? How different is this from what was earlier called post-academic science or Mode-2 science?

There are many more such issues and questions we could or should be considering. After nearly two decades of the web, and a decade of ‘social media’, perhaps we can aspire to make a general assessment of their impacts on science communication, or at least to say what we do know with reasonable certainty and what we are still trying to find out.
So, get talking and thinking about these things, and let us have your proposals for papers on surveys or case studies, panel discussions of difficult issues, evaluations of good practice, posters on ongoing research, and much, much more.

Brian Trench, January 2015