Beyond science communication in English: What is #ScioLang?

Modified from: Wikimedia commons

ScioLang is an open conversation about how science is generated, shared, and communicated online, extending beyond English-speaking audiences. It is also a session of ScienceOnline Together, happening in Raleigh, North Carolina, on February 2014. The tittle of this facilitated discussion session is “Non-English science communication”.

The ScienceOnline organizers put me in charge of facilitating this discussion. My main function is to offer a safe and productive space for the exchange of ideas, and to keep the conversation going. Beyond the tittle there is no other description for this discussion, and that is done purposefully. The content of ScioLang is built by you.

You can take part in the conversation now by using the #ScioLang hashtag on Twitter. You may contact me now with your ideas and suggestions in both English (@gonzalezivanf) and Spanish (@SalsaDeCiencia). For ideas and suggestions in more languages I am recruiting the help of fellow attendees, Brian Glanz (@BrianGlanz) for German, Cristina Russo (@russo_cristina) for Portuguese, and Marianne Alleyne (@Cotesia1) for Dutch conversations. I hope the more we talk about #ScioLang the more languages we can bring into the discussion. Please check this link often for updates in more languages.

This post has been modified to add the final list of ScioLang Ambassadors:

Related articles:

Engaging the Invisible Americans: Science communication for Spanish-speaking audiences at #ScioSEA

Sarah Doty (Seamar), Ivan Orbegozo (LatinNexus), Adrianna Gutierrez (NCI) and Mónica Feliú-Mójer (CienciaPR)

They say you should know your audience…

But can you really know your online audience? Especially one that does not speak your own language? Writing content for an online audience requires some guesswork and a lot of hope; you guess what your audience may want to read, you write it for them, and you hope that what you wrote will engage them. The truth is that, apart from online comments and some statistics about clicks on your links, there is not a lot of feedback available about your online readers. When the audience you need to reach has a different culture or  language than your own, this guesswork may become a little too difficult to do from the chair in front of your computer.

Thankfully we don’t exist in a total vacuum, and we can build partnerships with trusted institutions and members of the audience that we want to reach. For Spanish-speaking audiences in the USA those partnerships are readily available: bilingual, trusted, sources at the federal, state, and local level are always hungry for more and better content for Hispanics.

Make no mistake, Spanish-speaking audiences need to be engaged in the discussions about science, medicine and technology in America. It is not only about inclusion and social justice, but about the massive force of demographics. Hispanic Americans are a fast growing community. They make up 17% of the population, and are projected to be 31% of the population by 2060. USA is the fifth largest Spanish-speaking country by population, and Spanish-dominant and bilingual Hispanics accounted for more than 54% of the 32 million Hispanics online in 2010. To leave behind the first-generation of Spanish speakers is not even an option; Americans raised fully bilingual require the constant partnership and support of their Spanish-speaking parents to succeed in STEM.

What we learned at the Science Online Seattle event

Last week at the University of Washington in Seattle we had the chance to ask questions about the Hispanic audiences and to hear four different experiences engaging the Hispanic population en español using the Internet; One global, one at Federal level, one at Washington State level, and one local. Those were our “conversation starters” that began the conversation at the event:

Enhancing science learning with concepts relevant to local context and to Hispanic culture:

Mónica Feliú-Mójer of Ciencia Puerto Rico (CienciaPR) told us about the non-profit grassroots organization composed by people with an interest in science and Puerto Rico. Their website is the headquarters for most initiatives, but CienciaPR is more than a website, it is a global community, and a big one: it connects 188 academic institutions, 6,500 members, and 100 scientific disciplines.

Feliú-Mójer reminded us that science learning is enhanced when concepts are made relevant to your context and to your culture. In many Spanish-speaking communities concepts are seldom illustrated in a culturally relevant fashion, and that sends the wrong message to the public and to students. It sends the message that science is not relevant for them or that they can’t become a scientist. Scientists and communicators can help changing this perception by communicating science to the public in a culturally relevant fashion. CienciaPR successfully enlisted scientists from their online community and communicators to create this kind of content (more than 384 articles so far). The effort became a book and now is used in Puerto Rican schools as a textbook, making an impact in K-12 science education.

Science communication is not only about language and what you say, but also about who says it. If you see somebody that speaks your language, shares your background, and looks like you, that communicates that science is relevant to you, and you can reach what that person is. For that reason another successful initiative of CienciaPR has been adding profiles of Hispanic scientists -and personal blogs- and organizing school visits to help change the perception of what a scientist should look or sound like.

If you are engaging the Hispanic community, make sure you include a way they can ask questions and get more information

Adrianna Gutierrez described the Cancer Information Service (CIS) as the link between the scientific health information of the  National Cancer Institute and the community. “We help them answer any questions they may have about cancer and make it in a way that is understandable for them”. She emphasizes that when you are bringing information to Spanish-speaking populations you should also give a way for the community to ask questions and get more information.

The CIS effort relies heavily on the Internet. Not only have one half of the people who contact them found about this service via Internet, but people are using the Internet to contact them with questions: roughly one third of contacts were through email (as many contacts as with their phone calls), and one fifth of contacts were through their Spanish-language Mobile app. They also have a Facebook pageYouTube videos, and a twitter account but not a lot of people use those to ask questions.

What are Hispanics asking about? CIS users are usually contacting them with general questions about symptoms and diagnosis, looking for doctors, and treatment. She also noticed the low percentage of Spanish-speaking requests for more information on cancer clinical trials (only 7.2% of conversations touch that subject). Latinos(*) are vastly underrepresented in cancer research and clinical trials and hopefully, by providing this information and engaging the community, the willingness and interest in participating on clinical trials will increase, providing drugs tested to work on groups that are representative of the general population.

Assess the community you are working with to provide multiple methods for accessing information

Sarah Doty, of Sea Mar, believes the health literacy level of Latinos is an important factor to consider when thinking about what information and resources to put out in the community: an estimated 66% of Latinos have basic or bellow-basic health literacy skills, compared with the overall national number of 36%. Latinos are a very diverse community, not one size-fits-all, not only in literacy levels but also culturally. Assuming Spanish-proficiency is also risky; some of them may have Spanish as a second language and indigenous languages as their native tongue. The level of interest is also highly variable, and you should ask yourself continuously how much information somebody wants.

Having multiple levels of interest and health literacy means that high literacy and high interest users get more in-depth information, low-interest users give less in-depth information and Spanish-as-a-second-language users receive media that provides more visual clues. Doty suggested people interested in bringing health or science stories to Latinos to provide both high-level information and formats accessible for public with low literacy levels (with clear visual information).

A a big number of Latino patients at Sea Mar have cell phones with Internet access but they may not have a computer at home. Doty is using digital storytelling and social media as tools to improve engagement and health literacy in the Latino population. A digital story is basically somebody’s personal story, an audio recording with added photos and some music, a tool to educate about health issues but also for personal empowerment. Sea Mar has a Facebook page and radio station. Radio is a great tool to reach Latino population and it is a community-trusted method to get information. In addition to those, Sea Mar refers web-savvy patients to educational videos on YouTube  to webMD, FamilyDoctor, Myplate (mi plato) and a smoke-cessation website from the Legacy foundation.

Leveraging mobile Internet to reach new immigrants

Ivan Orbegozo, of Latin Nexus Group, came to Seattle 13 years ago speaking almost no-English. Orbegozo talked during our event about his struggles as an Spanish-speaking newcomer, and how finding resources like the Seattle Public library allowed him to learn English and to find a job communicating technology in Spanish. Now he is building the service he dreamed of when he first came to the USA: a centralized list of local resources for Spanish-speaking people using mobile devices. The choice of platform has to do with cell phones helping to reduce the digital divide between Latinos and whites, and the service is implemented in HTML5 to avoid both Hispanic users reluctance to install applications and the segmentation inherent in selecting a specific phone platform for the application.

Can you guess who is NOT Hispanic from the picture? The guy with the red shirt is me. Born in Colombia, Hispanic and 100% Latino.
Can you guess who is NOT Hispanic from the picture? The guy with the red shirt is me. Born in Colombia, Hispanic and 100% Latino.

There is no such a thing as a monolithic audience

To provide context and culturally relevant concepts to Hispanics with roots in the Caribbean and to Hispanics in New Mexico may need sometimes a complete rewrite of your text. Hispanics are a group united by Spanish language and a common history, but not only the language and scientific literacy levels are variable across the community. The same language is not use it the same way in different cultures, and that reflects in the choice of words needed to convey your meaning. There is no easy out-of-the-box way to communicate with Spanish-speaking audiences, but a myriad of possible partnerships with trusted sources for the Hispanic community to create effective and delightful science communication content in Spanish.

What can you do to create content that engages Hispanic Americans?

Sarah Doty firmly believes that it is important for science communicators to grow with the rapidly growing Latino population in a way that involves the Latino community. I completely agree. Hispanics are not invisible, they are not hiding from you, but  they are under the radar for a lot of people in the science communication community. It takes a tuned ear and constant interest to hear the voices that learned first how to speak Spanish, and today are intermingled in our daily lives. Now that you may have caught a glimpse, what can you do to create content that engages Hispanic Americans?

Connect with people of the community, look for individuals that are already trusted by the community, and know what the community needs. User that connection as your platform.

  • You may contact the panelists (see form at the bottom) or contact me.
  • The CienciaPR database is a good point to start looking for partnerships, they have a great membership map with people all over the country. You don’t need to be born in Puerto Rico to be a member, you only need to have an interest in science and Puerto Rico.
  • You may also check an opt-in list of Spanish-speaking science communicators I am hosting called “Ciencia Para Todos” with about a dozen of communicators in USA, another dozen in Spain, and a dozen in Latin-America.
  • Check out this international Twitter list with over 150 Spanish-speaking science communicators.
  • At the federal level several institutions have an effort in Spanish, from NASA to EPA, check if some government organizations in your area of expertise may be interested in partnerships.
  • Some professional organizations have an Spanish effort like the American Chemistry Society or have a hub for minority scientists like the American Physical Society, check if your professional society has one.
  • Contact your local SACNAS or SHPE chapter.
  • Follow #sciolang and #comuniciencia hash-tags on Twitter
  • Google your city name and the word “ciencia” you may be surprised of what you find.
For the full conversation please watch the video (1 hour):


Watch live streaming video from scienceonline at



(*) Hispanic and Latino are used very often interchangeably, but I use Hispanic to convey a population with Spanish as main language and cultural tradition, while Latino means to me people with roots in Latin-America. Hispanic includes people born in Spain, but excludes Brazilians because they speak Portuguese, Latino excludes Spanish but includes Brazilians.

Related articles

Contact our panelists:

Special thanks to Jen Davison and Liz Neeley for their guidance and help putting the event together, to Sally James for her invaluable help searching for awesome panelists, to Brian Glanz for planting the idea of this event, to Jessica Rhode for filming it, and to Peter Wallis, Adam Kennedy, and Rachael Ludwick for their support.

La lengua franca de los científicos es el inglés, pero que pasará en el futuro?

This post is about a Research Trends study using Scopus data of 8 countries. The general trend is to  publish more science in English and less in the native language. It raises the question if scientists that don speak English will be marginalized from mainstream research, or if the investment in STEM from emergent market countries will bring a balance where national research and papers in native language would be worth translating to English or other languages after publication.

Empíricamente, el dominio del idioma Inglés en la ciencia es incuestionable. Del laboratorio al aula de clases, de la democracia a la autocracia, los investigadores pueden comunicarse,y se comunican bien, en un lenguaje aceptado como una clase de moneda universal. Sin embargo sería equivocado asumir que los científicos de todos los lugares poseen esta moneda o que la poseen en el mismo grado. En realidad no todos poseen esta moneda. Y como cualquier otra forma de capital, la posesión desigual es generalizada y significa desigualdad en la ciencia, con implicaciones de gran envergadura.”

Scott L. Montgomery – Does Science need a global language?

Un estudio reciente de Research Trends usando información de Scopus puso de manifiesto que el Inglés es cada vez más a menudo la lengua escogida para publicar literatura científica. El estudio comparó publicaciones de artículos en idioma inglés con artículos que sólo tenían un resumen en Inglés y el texto principal en el idioma del país de origen, entre los años 1996 – 2011. Este estudio está reseñado en Inglés en este enlace.

En los últimos cuatro años, la proporción de las publicaciones en idioma Inglés ha continuado creciendo fuertemente en Holanda, Italia y la Federación Rusa. Creció un poco en Alemania y se mantuvo más o menos estable en Francia, España y China. En Brasil, por el contrario la proporción de publicaciones en Inglés con respecto al Portugués ha ido decreciendo, aunque esto se puede deber a que Scopus está cubriendo más Revistas científicas brasileñas que antes. Sin embargo, la proporción de artículos en Inglés en general está creciendo a nivel global. Para más detalles por favor visite el enlace de Research Trends y vea el gráfico número uno.

Las ventajas de tener una lengua común en la ciencia son claras. La colaboración internacional se puede dar directamente entre investigadores de varias nacionalidades, que se comunican por correo electrónico y durante conferencias internacionales sin necesidad de traductores. Pero la desigualdad recalcada por Scott L. Montgomery en el citado párrafo de su libro es también muy peligrosa.

En mis trece años en los Estados Unidos mi Inglés ha mejorado bastante, pero el idioma es una barrera que se carga perpetuamente en el ambiente profesional, como cuando se pierden segundos valiosos en una presentación o conversación, tratando de buscar la palabra correcta en el idioma que aprendiste como adulto. Aún más, durante la revisión de un artículo para publicación que hice en el pasado para una revista científica, recuerdo que uno de los factores más frustrantes de la revisión fue el Inglés tan pobre de los autores, que hacía casi imposible evaluar la validez de la ciencia que trataban de explicar. No todos los científicos entonces tienen esta moneda universal del Inglés, y tal vez el dominio de esta lenguas en las publicaciones científicas está haciendo que mucho talento se quede relegado a las publicaciones, que por ser en otro idioma, se consideran de menor impacto.

En el futuro cercano el Inglés seguirá creciendo como la lengua franca de la ciencia, pero con los países de mercados emergentes invirtiendo en ciencia y la investigación cada vez más descentralizada, tal vez estos científicos que no nacieron hablando Inglés tengan la oportunidad de que se les publique en su idioma y que luego los que sólo hablan Inglés paguen un traductor para poder entender su ciencia.

El tema de las publicaciones y la comunicación científica en idiomas distintos al Inglés amerita la discusión seria de los científicos y comunicadores en general. Este 14 de Noviembre 2013 estoy organizando un evento público sobre la comunicación de la ciencia en español acá en Seattle que se podrá ver en vivo en Internet y el 27 de Febrero 2014 en Raleigh, NC, una sesión sobre comunicación de la ciencia en idiomas distintos al Inglés  Ambos eventos se realizarán en Inglés, y no se me escapa la ironía de ese hecho.

Please save the Jicamarca Radio Observatory

English: The Jicamarca Radio Observatory (JRO)...
The Jicamarca Radio Observatory (ROJ), near Lima , Peru, is the premier scientific facility in the world for studying the equatorial ionosphere. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Do you think the ionosphere is something we don’t need to care about? Think again. Television signals, military tactical communications, and GPS satellites require a good understanding of this area of our atmosphere to operate properly.

A key facility to study the ionosphere, the Jicamarca Radio Observatory (ROJ) is on risk of becoming unusable due to the private interest of a landfill owner. Please help us protect the observatory by signing this petition for the Peruvian congress (petition translated in this post).

During the early days of space exploration the US National Bureau of standards required a facility to explore the ionosphere from the earth’s surface. They needed a unique extended flat location near the magnetic equator, with moderate weather year-long, isolated from lateral radiation, and close enough to a mayor city to get the material and human resources needed for its construction and maintenance. They found the ideal place in the coastal mountains of the Peruvian desert. The Jicamarca valley is a short drive away from the city of Lima, it is ideally surrounded by mountains, and it is just kilometers from the magnetic equator. This great observatory is the biggest of its kind worldwide and it has provided about 90% of what it is known from the equatorial ionosphere. For fifty years it has been a beacon for scientific progress in Peru and the launching pad for science projects in the region, like the MeriHill Optical observatory. The research at ROJ produced over 700 published papers and 54 international PhD dissertations.

Unfortunately, its location near Lima is getting to be a problem. Urban sprawl became a clear menace to the proper functioning of the observatory and in the year 2002 the Peruvian congress approved a law to protect the area surrounding the observatory.  A private company that has the monopoly of trash management in Lima has fought the execution of the law for over nine years in the tribunals, to keep their landfill expansion inside the protected area. Last May the Jicamarca observatory was inexplicable removed from a list of investment projects with national priority that would have allowed the nation to expropriate the land in dispute, and now is on risk of losing the legal battle with the trash mogul. We need your help to tell the Peruvian congress that this observatory is an invaluable scientific resource that needs to be protected. Please sign the petition at the end of this post!

The main facility at Jicamarca Observatory: The 49.9MHz incoherent scatter radar.

The truly unique facility build in Jicamarca sends a high-power radio-wave pulse perpendicular to the magnetic field of the earth, and uses an extended antenna array of 64 separate modules of 12 X 12 crossed half-wave dipoles to measure the incoherent scatter coming from the ionosphere (300m x 300m area, see photo above for scale). I added a very dated video to give you an idea of the setup for the observatory, the facility is mostly the same except for  the modern acquisition systems and the new 1.5 MW transmitters that replace the old set of four described on the video.Start on minute 1:

If you want to help, please visit the link to the petition: Save the Jicamarca Science Observatory (in Spanish, see translation bellow)

Petition for the Congress of Peru

Let’s save the ROJ (Radio Observatory Jicamarca). Please execute approved law #27816.

Created by Ernesto Cabral, Lima, Peru. Translated by Ivan Gonzalez, Seattle, WA, USA.

The Jicamarca Radio Observatory is one of the biggest radar arrays in the world devoted to scientific research; the world’s pioneer facility for ionosphere studies.

The ROJ measured the moon’s surface in preparation to the Apollo XI landing, but its contributions continue today. More than fifty doctoral dissertations, 14 of them from Peruvian scientist, come from the discoveries made at ROJ. This facility is managed by the Peruvian Geophysical Institute (IGP), in collaboration with Cornell University and the NSF (USA).

Nevertheless, this Peruvian scientific asset is on risk of stopping operations due to the interference of a private landfill owner. He has delayed the execution of a law protecting the area near ROJ for over nine years (law number 27816, approved in 2002). The law protects and area of 1,900 Hectares (~1/5 of Manhattan area) surrounding the observatory in the district of Lurigancho, Chosica. This development-free area is necessary to avoid electromagnetic interference on the radiotelescope measurements, originally in the middle of the desert for that reason.

The landfill owner is using judiciary tricks to delay the process and making unfunded accusations against the director of the IGP to try to stop the execution of the law, putting on risk the more of 30 million dollars invested in this truly unique scientific facility. It is time to execute the law #27816.

Signed by several members of the Peruvian National Academy of Sciences and faculty from prestigious Universities and institutes.

Please join us and sign this petition to protect the Radio Observatory of Jicamarca. The little science made in Peru due to lack of economic resources depends on this facility to keep growing. Click here: Save the Jicamarca Science Observatory.

Watch this video from the MeriHill Optical Observatory that shows the mountains of Jicamarca in need of protection and the city of Lima getting closer to the facility.

The Seattle Science Festival is here!

Inspired by one image on the video introduction for the Seattle Science Festival

On Thursday night I bailed out from a picnic and concert with  friends, but they are ok with it because they know I couldn’t help it. The Seattle Science Festival is happening this week and Thursday was the opening night. How could I not be at the Paramount theater for the event?

The main feature was the west coast premiere of  Icarus at the Edge of Time, “a stunning multimedia performance about a boy who challenges the formidable power of a black hole”. Music by Philip Glass performed live by the Garfield Orchestra under the direction of Marcus Tsutakawa. Live narration by Kal Penn. The speakers for the evening got me first excited about going to the theater, and the trailer of Icarus intrigued me, as I seldom see this kind of multimedia performances in Seattle:

The evening started with Jennifer Ouellette, from Cocktail Party Physics blog, introducing her husband Sean Carroll (From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time). He talked about the arrow of time, and how physicists understand entropy as the reason for time moving in one direction. He did a great job telling  it for a general audience, Next was Adam Frank  (About Time: Cosmology and Culture at the Twilight of the Big Bang) talking about how cosmology and our idea of time are always following each other. Brian Greene (The Elegant Universe,  Icarus at the Edge of Time) came last to introduce Icarus at the Edge of Time. He set the stage by telling us about black holes, and then he let the visuals and music tell the story. I watched the performance invoking my 11-year-old self and I loved it, completely identified with Icarus. I also watched it invoking my slightly jaded adult self and I felt deeply moved by the music and visuals, identifying more with his father now.

After the performance I went home happy and looking forward to experience the rest of this Seattle Science Festival. I recomend you to check the excelent science options for all ages offered during the next week. For more information about the festival go to their webpage: do not miss the big Expo Day on Saturday 8th.

Keep your eyes open, because you never know what you can learn from other attendants

Alan Boyle and Michael Venables at the opening night for the Seattle Science Festival

I arrived early to the Paramount theater to get my ticket before they sold out. What a fun thing to wait for the doors to open in company of people excited about science and very knowledgeable!

Here is a picture of some folks I met at the Paramount’s corner, do you recognize them? Hint: one is NBC News Digital’s science editor  the other is a science contributor to Forbes magazine.  That is the magic of the science festivals, that you can learn a lot in the presentations, but also that you can learn even more from people you may find on the streets.

Want scientists that know how to tell their stuff in public? Vote Engage now!


A group of graduate students at university of Washington wanted to tell great science stories, and bring them to the public venues of Seattle. They built a student seminar called Engage Science that teaches storytelling and presentation techniques to a diverse group of graduate students. Those students give a public presentation on a theater or another public venue.  For three years Seattle’s public has benefited by an engaging window to the science done at University of Washington. The students benefit too by acquiring invaluable communication skills useful inside and outside the “Ivory Tower”. Now Engage Science is asking NSF to help other graduate students do the same all over the country. For that we ask you to please vote for Engage here.

Why are science stories important for you?

A good story can keep you glued to the chair, it makes you travel places with your imagination, and sometimes tells you something about you that you didn’t know before. A good science history can do that and more; it also gives you the facts that are currently know about of world. Well-crafted science stories bring entertainment, inspiration, and knowledge. The kind of knowledge necessary to take informed decisions about our future.

So, why not giving me just the scientific facts?

We are humans, and often we need a reason to really listen to other person, specially if they come with a lot of information about something we think we know enough or are not interested to hear. The story is a form of communication that brings together storyteller and listener, and opens the door for a real dialog. There is a personal connection needed for real knowledge contagion.

Scientists are smart, can they figure out how to tell a story themselves?

Sure, some scientists are extremely good storytellers, but they are a minority in an environment were the listeners are experts of your own field. Scientists in sub-disciplines benefit from a common language and shared previous knowledge, but that made their stories too obscure and uninteresting for non-scientist. This Engage proposal that you will support with your vote wants to help those scientists that want to tell their stories to a broader audience. It will provide seed money to establish a seminar like Engage Science in other schools, using the free Engage blueprint if desired. For more details and to read the proposal please visit this page:

Please vote for Engage Science! Last day to vote is May 29th.

Thank you

Los festivales de ciencia en números: Nuevos públicos y más niños.

Summary: The Science Festivals Alliance (SFA) asked an independent firm to evaluate the outcome of four science festivals over three years. The abridged results are available now and show positive results in the engagement of the general public and making inroads with minorities and families. 

Los festivales de ciencia envuelven muchos recursos de entidades públicas y privadas, y el trabajo de cientos de personas pagadas y voluntarios en las ciudades en que se realizan. Cuál es el resultado de todo éste esfuerzo? Un estudio reciente mide el impacto de estos festivales en cuatro ciudades de Norteamérica, durante los años 2010 al 2012. Aquí discuto parte de sus interesantes resultados y cómo benefician especialmente a las comunidades que normalmente no tienen acceso a la ciencia.


Durante un festival de ciencia los resultados se ven en las caras de los niños y los no tan niños que interactúan con los científicos de una manera novedosa y divertida. La imaginación encendida que se aprecia en sus miradas y sus exclamaciones de entusiasmo al entender algo nuevo son invaluables. Pero en un mundo de limitados recursos hay que preguntarse si las ferias científicas son la mejor inversión para promover la educación científica en nuestras ciudades.

La alianza de festivales de ciencia (SFA por sus siglas en inglés) comisionó un estudio independiente para evaluar el impacto de los festivales de ciencia que ocurren anualmente en Cambridge, San Diego, Filadelfia y la Bahía de San Francisco. Cada uno de estos festivales de ciencia atrae entre 50,000 y 100,000 espectadores en un período de aproximadamente una semana. El estudio se basa en encuestas a espectadores en los diversos eventos durante los tres años y tiene resultados realmente alentadores: Las ferias de ciencia tienen excelentes resultados atrayendo a públicos que normalmente no tienen acceso a otros sitios de enseñanza informal de la ciencia, como los museos.

Una inmensa mayoría de encuestados manifestó que se divirtieron muchísimo aprendiendo ciencia durante la feria, además nueve de cada diez personas logró interactuar con un científico, técnico, ingeniero o matemático (profesional STEM por sus siglas en inglés). Los que lograron interactuar con un profesional STEM tuvieron una experiencia más positiva que los que no lo hicieron, resaltando la importancia de la participación de estos profesionales en las ferias. El dato que es aún más interesante es que uno de cada cinco encuestados manifestaba que era la primera vez en sus vidas que interactuaban con alguien en esas profesiones.

Aunque la mayoría de personas que contestó la encuesta eran de raza blanca, el número de personas de razas minoritarias que respondieron las encuestas en las ferias de ciencia subió año tras año, sugiriendo un incremento en interés y número de participantes de grupos sociales normalmente marginados en actividades de educación informal de la ciencia en EEUU. Esto es importante debido que personas de las minoría raciales reportaron que interactuaban con un profesional STEM por primera vez en su vida durante la feria dos veces más a menudo que los participantes de raza blanca. En general, no solamente se encontró este efecto de acercamiento de las minorías a practicantes de la ciencia, tecnología, ingeniería y matemática, sino que una proporción mayor de familias participaron en los carnavales o exhibiciones de las ferias (78%) comparados con la proporción normal de un museo como el Smithsonian (43%). En resumen: más gente teniendo su primer contacto con un profesional STEM y más familias con niños asistiendo a las ferias de ciencia. Eso es en pocos números lo que yo llamo una victoria en la educación informal de ciencia.

Lecturas adicionales (en inglés)

Three Years of Evaluation in Twelve Pages– Ben Wiehe

The role of science festivals– John Durant

Good News: Science Festivals are an Effective Outreach Tool– Matt Shipman

Science communication training: raising the bar inside and outside academia

The scientist that forgot how to tell a story.
The scientist that forgot how to tell a story.

This week two newspapers featured school seminars that help graduate students communicate their science to general audiences. The Seattle Times featured Engage Science from University of Washington and the Long Island Newsday featured the Center for Communicating Science of Stony Brook University*. Those programs recognize a need for “communication literacy” on scientific education and represent an awesome professional (and personal) development tool for the students that take the seminars. I firmly believe scientists that like to talk about their research should be able to find a similar seminar or class elsewhere. There is a need for it, and there is a growing group of students acquiring communication training to pursue “non-traditional” science careers (now the majority of job opportunities) where the ability to communicate concisely and in plain English is very valuable.

“The goal of the [Engage Science] course, founded by graduate students, is to teach young scientists how to share their passions for cosmology, chemistry or evolutionary biology without putting people to sleep. The program is one of several springing up across the country, fueled by a new generation of researchers who see public outreach as integral to their jobs.” — Seattle Times

Those scientists will fulfill a key role by showing a more human scientist to the public, somebody non-scientist can understand and relate to. The need is there for those scientists who can communicate science effectively; experts need to bring the scientific consensus in Global Warming to a broader audience and they need to expose the hidden dangers of widespread use of antibiotics. Scientific literacy is not a luxury when those subjects can have such a big impact on people’s lives.

The other role for this bunch of scientists trained on presentation design, jargon removal and storytelling will be inside their research institutions. They will raise the bar for scientific presentations for scientific audiences.

“Though we typically perceive scientists in white lab coats conducting experiments, a critical part of their work involves giving lectures and making presentations.” Long Island Newsday

I spent so many years attending boring scientific  talks that I forgot how to tell a story, and I forgot that the presentation is a lot more than the graphs or the slides. We need scientists trained in communication inside and outside academia. Luckily I got help from Engage Science at UW, and I think I am starting to get better at telling stories. I hope you agree. You can read my take on the lessons learned during the Engage seminar at “Bringing science back, one story at a time” and  the invited post “Scientists are human too”

(*) The article is behind a pay-wall but excerpts of the text are available at the Center for Communicating Science Facebook page.

Related post:

Engage Science Students Blog Post:

On the need of opportunities and rewards for science communication

The soap opera model of science communication, scientists as real people:

The revenge of the corals: a Tsunami story this Monday at Town Hall Seattle

English: Pago Pago, AS, October 1, 2009 -- Pag...
English: Pago Pago, AS, October 1, 2009 — Pago Pago, American Samoa, October 1, 2009 – A boat sits on its side as it was moved during the tsunami that hit American Samoa. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Imagine a fishermen in Tutuila island, American Samoa. An earthquake a few hundred kilometers away triggers a tsunami alert while he is  listening to the boat’s radio near harbor. His options are clear: either to take his fishing boat to deeper waters and save his means of subsistence, or to abandon boat and go home to make sure his family makes it to the hills. He has twenty minutes to decide, and the difference between his family being safe or in danger is how far inland the Tsunami will go. Can scientist help him decide what to do?

Derya Itir Dilmen is a PhD student at the University of Washington and part of this year’s Engage Science class. She studies computer tools to forecast tsunamis after earthquakes and to create tsunami hazard maps. Derya’s computer work on gigantic waves is surprisingly affected by including a microscopic very small organism –Coral. Coral reefs are destroyed by a passing tsunami but the giant wave does not leave unscratched, and that may be the difference between having a safe family inland or not. She studies coral tsunami destruction in Tutuila and estimates the strength of the tsunami in different areas, and she have some cool stories to tell you about her work.

Please come on Monday evening to Town Hall Seattle for a jargon-free talk by Derya. She will tell you how studying the coral-tsunami interaction may help scientist make more accurate tsunami predictions, providing the kind of timely information that saves lives.

“Revenge of the corals” UW Science Now. Monday, March 11, 2013, 9:00 – 9:30pm. Downstairs at Town Hall.