Think Science Now and Biotech's Communication Challenge
Matthew C. Nisbet, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Communication Studies, Public Policy, and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University. Nisbet studies the role of communication and advocacy in policymaking and public affairs, focusing on debates over over climate change, energy, and sustainability. Among awards and recognition, Nisbet has been a Visiting Shorenstein Fellow on Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, a Health Policy Investigator at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and a Google Science Communication Fellow. In 2011, the editors at the journal Nature recommended Nisbet's research as “essential reading for anyone with a passing interest in the climate change debate,” and the New Republic highlighted his work as a “fascinating dissection of the shortcomings of climate activism."
On TV, Neil deGrasse Tyson uses narrative to dramatize the importance of basic research.
Last week in San Diego, I participated on a panel at the BIO 2008 meetings that focused on the communication challenges facing the biotech industry. Organized by Richard Gallagher, editor of The Scientist magazine, a major topic of discussion were the challenges that industry faces in communicating the value of basic research. In fact, this was also a major topic at the Cal Tech seminar that I ran on Tuesday.
When the public thinks about "science," they generally think in terms of either medical advances or technology. They don't think immediately about basic research as the foundation for these achievements.
So if the public always has cures or wondrous new inventions at the top of mind, how do you communicate to them during tight budgetary battles the importance of maintaining and boosting funding for basic research?
As I suggested at the BIO panel and as I have recommended in conversations with various people from industry, one strategy for dramatizing the importance of basic research is to tell the stories of individual scientists in exciting and new ways, reaching publics across media platforms, specifically television and the Web.
A leading example of putting this strategy into action is Pfizer's recent launch of Think Science NOW. Here's how Pfizer summarizes the initiative in their press release:
Underscoring its commitment to scientific advancement, Pfizer Inc will launch Think Science Now, a science awareness program to promote exceptional researchers who have devoted their lives to unraveling the mysteries of biology, chemistry and human disease. A major part of the program will include profiles of outstanding scientists on Big Think, an interactive social networking site that provides information and discussions on politics, law, business and science as a means to support greater public dialogue on thought-provoking issues of national importance. Think Science Now (http://www.pfizer.com/thinksciencenow) seeks to help the public understand science by hearing directly from scientists who share their common values.
The program complements Pfizer's sponsorship of NOVA scienceNOW, a weekly television news magazine from the producers of NOVA that airs on PBS stations across the country beginning June 25, 2008 and includes a scientist profile in each episode.
"NOVA scienceNOW is devoted to the public understanding of scientific research. By profiling scientists on the show, viewers get a look into the personal and professional lives of scientists behind the cutting-edge research, and we hope they come away inspired by their stories," says Paula Apsell, senior executive producer of NOVA and NOVA scienceNOW. "We are thankful to Pfizer for their support of this summer's season and applaud their efforts to create online content that will further recognize scientists worldwide."
Think Science Now on Big Think will feature weekly profiles of exceptional scientists who will discuss their motivation to become scientists, share perspectives about their work, and make their advanced research uncomplicated and easy to understand. Pfizer will work with Big Think to identify company scientists and those from other research organizations who will be highlighted for the program. Think Science Now will feature one scientist for each of the weeks that NOVA scienceNOW airs on PBS this summer, including two of the scientists profiled on the show this season.
The ability to speak clearly, succinctly, and powerfully is easier than you think
The ability to communicate effectively can make or break a person's assessment of your intelligence, competence, and authenticity.
Antimicrobial resistance is growing worldwide, rendering many "work horse" medicines ineffective. Without intervention, drug-resistant pathogens could lead to millions of deaths by 2050. Thankfully, companies like Pfizer are taking action.
- Antimicrobial-resistant pathogens are one of the largest threats to global health today.
- As we get older, our immune systems age, increasing our risk of life threatening infections. Without reliable antibiotics, life expectancy could decline for the first time in modern history.
- If antibiotics become ineffective, common infections could result in hospitalization or even death. Life-saving interventions like cancer treatments and organ transplantation would become more difficult, more often resulting in death. Routine procedures would become hard to perform.
- Without intervention, resistant pathogens could result in 10 million annual deaths by 2050.
- By taking a multi-faceted approach—inclusive of adherence to good stewardship, surveillance and responsible manufacturing practices, as well as an emphasis on prevention and treatment—companies like Pfizer are fighting to help curb the spread.
Progressive America would be half as big, but twice as populated as its conservative twin
- America's two political tribes have consolidated into 'red' and 'blue' nations, with seemingly irreconcilable differences
- Perhaps the best way to stop the infighting is to go for a divorce – and give the two nations a country each
- Based on the UN's partition plan for Israel/Palestine, this proposal provides territorial contiguity and sea access to both 'red' and 'blue' America
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