Heading to #scio14: a short to-do list.

by David Ng

Things have been pretty busy of late, but I’m looking forward to heading out to my third Science Online (or Science Online Together) conference.  Like last year, there are a few things on my “to do” list.

If you aren’t already aware, this conference represents one of the best places to network and mingle with like minded science communication, education folks – more so if you have a mind on exploring new projects and new collaborations.  As a personal example, my discussions with folks last year, led to a variety of new projects, most notably this one (on gaming) and this big one (on impressions around science and creativity).  Furthermore, it has led to a number of great new contacts, many of which I now consider colleagues and friends.

Anyway, without further ado.  Here’s my “to do” list below, and do say hello even if the below doesn’t strike your fancy.  I’m always game to geek it up!


 Most pressing of my duties is prepping for my “What is Science Literacy?” session.  This will be held on Thursday at 12pm in room 2B.  (sched link | forum link | #scioscilit).

In brief, the description reads:

This session aims to explore “scientific literacy,” and how this concept can inform science communication efforts. It atempts to address the challenges that come with a term that inherently sounds vague. Part of this is due to the concept itself being always in a state of relentless change – which has a lot to do with differing opinions from academics and on-the-ground experts; as well as the current information ecosystem, with its media challenges, a shifting science culture, and also (unfortunately) because of the subversive activities from the likes of L.P.W.L.T.B.L.’s (loud people who like to be loud), P.W.S.P.O.M.I.’s (people with strong political or monetary interests), and of course, the D.C.D.s (dangerously clueless douchebags). In all, I’m hoping the session will provide a guided outlet for folks to share their opinions and expertise on this topic, and whether such techniques are useful (or not) in a variety of settings (i.e. journalism, education, PR, advocacy, policy).

General plan goes as follows…

12:05 – 12:10 
Short introduction by way of Petcha Kutcha (Yes! this forces me to only spend about 6 minutes on the intro) format. This will essentially be a rapid fire overview of some of the most commonly discussed themes when considering what it means to be scientifically literate (with reference to the secret keyword: “unicorn”).

Note that generally speaking, this usually defers to three areas: (1) knowledge of the scientific process, (2) context driven knowledge of a subset of scientific/technical facts (see session 3D); and (3) appreciation of science culture and how it interacts with other cultural perspectives (see session 2D3A5D).

12:10 – 12:55
Which begs a number of interesting questions that hopefully the audience will engage in (I’ve also tried to link to other sessions that would broach similar themes):

1. As a science communicator, journalist, educator – do you see merit in framing your translation of a science story by way of “increasing scientific literacy?” (Yes – go to 2) (No – go to 3)

2. If you do see merit in this mode of thinking (and even practice it), is there a sweet spot of content delivery that you find works well? (see session 7D9F) In the same vein, what are the inherent challenges associated with finding or being able to deliver this sweet spot (see session 4D). For instance, as it pertains to general media constraints. (Go to 2A)

2A. Is there a particular area of scientific literacy that is missing in general science public discourse? Why is this? How problematic (from, say a civics point of view) is this? Is there a way to circumvent this? (see session 2A3G4G)

3. If you don’t communicate science with a strategic view to “increase scientific literacy”, why not? What might be the detrimental effects of overanalyzing this facet of science content delivery? When is it a useful framework, and when is it unnecessary?

4. How does the literature in PUS (public understanding of science – hands down worse acronym EVER by the way) help you become a better communicator? Or does it even (i.e. PUS* thinking shouldn’t always win)? How does it compare to other tactical devices (for instance psychology of motivation. See session 4E). Are there defined metrics (possibly adapted from PUS* work) that allow analysis of the utility in different scientific communication methods? (see sessions 6A7A)

5. At what point does considering scientific literacy become a stepping stone towards science advocacy? Is this a bad thing? Or, in other words, is it for everyone? Should it be for everyone?

12:55 – 1:00
Wrapping up…

(* told you it is the worst academic acronym ever).

I’ve also prepared a questionnaire form for folks to fill out (if they so desire).  This is to see if we can capture additional, and possibly more thought out responses to the questions brought up in the session.  As a bit of a bait, I’m offering some geeky science game cards as prizes for those who participate (and note, you can fill this out before, after, and even in lieu of attending the session).   Click here for more details and to go to the questionnaire!


 Have any of you heard of the AWESOME FOUNDATION?  This is essentially an ad hoc funding agency, that usually exists city by city.  The basic premise is to find 10 folks who can each contribute $1000 towards a central pot of funding.  This money (a total of $10000), in turn, is then used to provide small grants to fund small projects (where a project application generally needs $1000) – this, of course, is all deliberated by the 10 individuals involved.

I always thought it would be cool to set up a SCIENCE IS AWESOME FOUNDATION where we can do the same thing but with an emphasis on funding science outreach projects.  Anyway, my lab is game to be one of the 10 involved – I might see if there’s general interest in this fun idea within the larger #scio14 community.


  And last but not least… I’m always on the hunt for artistic types to get involved with the Phylo project, as well as natural history museums types that think their institution may want a go at a Phylo deck!  Give me a shout if you want to learn more. (see http://phylogame.org)