This is part of a series of reviews of the sessions held by the Science Communication Group on 13th September, in celebration of 21 years of the Science Communication MSc at Imperial College. We will be putting up reviews of each session over the next couple of weeks. If you went to the celebrations and would like to have your say, please get in touch: @I_science_mag, or via the contacts page.
Science on demand: what the web did to science communication.. And where next?
Chair: Gareth Mitchell (Lecturer in science communication, Imperial College)
Panel: Jonathan Fildes (Editor, BBC Future), Martha Henderson (Multimedia Producer, Wellcome Collection), Kate Kahl (Social Media Manager, CERN), Helen Morant (Editor Online Learning, BMJ Learning).
Gareth Mitchell, chair for this lecture, made the point that if this talk were held at the very start of the Science Communication course 21 years ago, the World Wide Web would have been in its infancy, and we might have had a very different concept of “social media”. And so this talk quickly took the form of a celebration of the fantastic opportunities the web has afforded science communication and its potential future directions.
To begin, the editor of BBC Future, Jonathan Fildes, reminisced on the early, difficult days of live-streaming radio broadcasts. After which, Martha Henderson demonstrated the Wellcome Trust’s latest attempt to educate the public in the ways of neuroscience via the online game, Axon.
Kate Kahle, social media manager at CERN, then threw everything into perspective with her description of that fateful day on 4th July 2012, revealing that the discovery of the “God particle” actually managed to reach news desks via social media before even the press releases. However, in addition to being far-reaching the web has also allowed for further specialisation, as pointed out by Helen Morant, noting that BMJ Learning is primarily aimed at further educating doctors.
The web has lowered barriers, enabling more people than ever before to share information and their opinions. Although this has obvious benefits, everyone on the panel acknowledged its darker side. The potential for an echo chamber effect – the ability of many voices to reinforce a view – to spread negativity or misinformation is one of the disadvantages.
Would the hypothetical panellists of the same talk 21 years ago have predicted the emergence of Facebook, online gaming and Twitter? In finishing, their contemporaries attempted their own futurist impersonations; citing a rise in data, increased accessibility and augmented reality as potential hot topics for the next two decades.