Science blogging and science policy

I’m super-excited to be part of a panel later this week*, on science blogging and science policy in Canada. It’s part of the Canadian Science Policy conference happening in Ottawa, and this particular panel is hosted by Science Borealis. This session has broader goals of understanding and strengthening the links between science communication and science policy, and also promises to be interactive and provide perspectives from panelists on effective blogs, and blog writing. It’s also exciting that a blog post will result from this workshop, so the audience can see a product resulting from attending the session (there will also be a Tweet-up in Ottawa on Thursday evening – FUN!)

But wait… Imposter syndrome approaching! Although I blog frequently, what do I know about science policy or about how my blogging activities link to science policy?

Ok, let’s start with science policy, defined by Wikipedia as

Science policy is an area of public policy which is concerned with the policies that affect the conduct of the science and research enterprise, including the funding of science, often in pursuance of other national policy goals such as technological innovation to promote commercial product development, weapons development, health care and environmental monitoring. Science policy also refers to the act of applying scientific knowledge and consensus to the development of public policies.

That helps. Sort of. I should say, the part about applying scientific knowledge to consensus and development of public policies helps, and I think this is where blogging has a big role to play. To me, blogging is a lot about dissemination of research (as a scientist in Canada) or about sharing ideas around science or higher education in Canada. For example, blogging a be writing about a recent paper, or thinking about ways to communicate science at an academic conference.

Blogging can really be an effective way to share stories about science, and when they hit the more main-stream media, this can be one small step towards linking science to policy. As an example, after blogging about our research paper on northern beetles, and in combination with a press release from my University, I believe we were able to effectively share our work with a broad audience. Since this work related directly to ecological monitoring and biodiversity conservation in the Arctic, it can perhaps more easily get into the hands of policy makers when we think about northern development in Canada, especially in the context of climate change.

Blogs can also connect to people st a more emotional level: a blog and tweet about a paper on pseudoscorpions, for example, led to a CBC story about curiosity and passion in science. We need curiously and passion for science. We need kids, school-teachers, naturalists, and retired people to have an interest in science, and enthusiasm for science. If people don’t know about what we do as scientists, how will this be fostered? And, of course, we want voters in Canada to know about our science. Votes lead to exciting shifts in the landscape of science in Canada. Blogging can help!

Finally, it’s important to be reminded that the bulk of my research funding comes from Canadians**, and as such, it is my responsibility to let people know how I spend their money! This information is so valuable and plays into politics and policy development in important ways. I want people to be aware of the wonderful science we are doing in Canada whether it is about a diabetes breakthrough or discovering and describing new species of flies.

I’ll finish with a question: what do YOU think about science blogging and science policy? I value your comments, and will bring them to the session one Friday: please share your ideas and opinions.


*the session will be at 13:30, Friday 27 Nov.

**the bulk of my research funding comes from NSERC, paid for by taxpayers of Canada.


5 thoughts on “Science blogging and science policy

  1. I like the “emotional level” point. I’d sub-point with “humanizes science”. And I think that it can accomplish that in two ways. It can bring scientific thought to the larger public in ways that can be understood (ideally). But it also forces the scientist/writer to think about what is driving them. I.e., the process of bringing something of the scientific process or institutional issues or whatever-the-topic to a larger public forces deeper thinking upon the writer that influences their later thinking and interactions on the subject.

    Writing is a great tool that way and, done well, can influence both the reader and the writer.

    • Thanks for the comment! I totally agree – humanizing science and the process of science is so very important. Thinking about motivation is something we don’t do enough, and writing blogs does allow for more of this. It’s important!

  2. I feed myself from all the science articles and communications that I can find. It helps making sense of all the world that surround us. Any science TV program like Nova, archaeology, medical, history are in my favorites. It drives my family nuts, but I just like to know more and more about what’s around and inside of us. I understood that like it or not, a majority of people just does not give a dime about it and prefers to know and gossip with others about he last episode of their favorite TV show.
    I am glad to see that there are still science studies around the world that truly seem to be oriented towards making a better future for all of us, as opposed to sponsored applied research made in a very specific goal. With all the global mergers it may become more difficult to stay independent.

  3. Hi Chris, I think a lot of people who didn’t study science after grade 10 or 11 think of science as something scientists do that’s maybe probably true, but who don’t think of themselves as capable of or even interested in thinking much about scientific research. Because so much scientific work is discussed remotely from the general public, or is filtered through journalists, many people don’t really know how to engage with the scientific world or how to think critically about scientific information. Blogging by actual scientists who are passionate about their work and can explain the significance (or insignificance) of it can expose so many people to the world of scientific thought and improve the science education of the general public who are woefully lacking it. And an educated public affects policy. With luck, it will demand better and broader science education in elementary and high schools.

    • Thanks Becca! What an insightful and important comment. I totally agree, and that message needs to be spread among scientists. Blogging isn’t for everyone, and I respect that not all scientists will (or should) blog, but all scientists should engage with the broader public much, much more. This could be via regular columns in a local paper, to general public talks at a local community centre, or via outreach at schools. Thanks again for the comment! (I will spread this message at the policy conference on Friday)

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