Contentious approach or valid means of research? Will ‘crowd sourcing’ your research leave your projects wide open for criticism, invalidate research or create a richer set of data from a much broader audience?
Ms. Deborah Cleland -PhD Student at the Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University; Dr. Laurel Dyson – Senior Lecturer in Information Technology at the University of Technology Sydney; Dr. John La Salle – Director, Atlas of Living Australia; Ms. Kirsten Gottschalk – Human spokesperson for theSkyNet.
Dr John La Salle – it is a viable means of supporting research; he’d like to see more of a bi-directional role, and more about skilling up an interested group of people who could contribute at a higher level scientifically. Perhaps training materials, correct type of feedback, how to improve data, how decisions are made. Teams of volunteers involved with natural resource projects, etc. Over 400 different date providers, all characterised – can find where came from and what data there is. Citizen science can create a richer set of data than would otherwise be possible but risks studies being invalidated / criticised.
Kirsten Gottschalk – just needs people’s computers! Have met with resistance when first thought of it as a science communication idea, then after ten terabytes of data, minds have changed. Another example is Galaxy Zoo! Getting through a lot of stuff that you don’t have the time or resources to do.
Deborah Cleland – Do we have any capacity to do anything with 7000 islands if we don’t have citizens and communities involved, to get the data that’s required? Coral bleaching watch group, lots of Facebook groups and often spear-fishers will be the first to notice symptoms.
Dr Laurel Dyson – mobile technology is a huge opportunity - there’s a revolution in how it’s been reconfigured from the ‘information superhighway’ to the way it is now in the 21st century, where the most used websites are platform, user-generated content, made by mobile phones. Getting the word out to potential volunteers, such as baby-boomer generation. What reward volunteer groups can give – to show that what they’re doing is valued?
What do you want your listeners to know? What can you produce, in a feasible manner? What can podcasting do that other social media mediums (or other traditional forms of outreach) can’t provide?
The Token Skeptic podcast began in 2009 and primarily features interviews with scientists and pop-culture figures involved in science and philosophy; it also includes essays, travel journals and lectures. Average listening audience per episode over 11,000; one episode per fortnight (sometimes more depending on availability).
The creation of a podcast isn’t anything new – articles from way back in 2005 in the New York Times discussed the creation of amateur shows (e.g “The Podcast As New Podium“). The influence of mainstream media is questioned, as entertainment and as an information source, as demonstrated by the growth of online forums and outreach effort.
What has changed is the increasing commercial adoption (and even abandonment) of podcasts as a method of communication in general – so why do it for science?
Basics of podcasting:
- online audio (sometimes used to refer as video); episodic and downloadable
- program driven, mainly with a host and/or theme
- convenient, usually via an automated feed
- mp3 is usually the audio format
- upload via sites like Libsyn to iTunes/Zune; AudioBoo, Spreaker, Stitcher also used to host audio (free or small cost).
Evo Terra, co-author of Podcasting For Dummies and early adopter of the medium once described it as “two dorks and a microphone” – but is it more than that now?
The example of the Young Australian Skeptics podcast The Pseudo Scientists (average age 21/2) – example of using computer, microphones, team hosted:
Are podcasts good for communicating science? Good example of discussing science concepts via radio by David Kestenbaum, Science reporter for NPR on “Explaining the World in Four Minutes“, including audio of environmental reporter John Neilson talking to a zoologist about the fears about West Nile disease and zoos.
The importance of the question: “How do you know that?” – helping scientists talk the way they would usually talk to others, asking the kinds of questions students would ask about concepts raised in science class (about science used in movies, books and in pop culture).
When looking at the communication of science: thinking about the target audience; a few main messages; realising that one size/strategy/vector will not suit all and that learning from your experiences is ongoing. The Token Skeptic podcast is increasingly getting questions from listeners that prompt investigations and being asked to profile scientists to bring their achievements to a wider audience.
The example of Google Hangout – Dr Pamela Gay and Fraser Cain:
An interview with Drs Gay and Cain features on the Token Skeptic podcast - Episode One Hundred And Thirty – On Science Podcasting (In Space!) – Interview With Dr Pamela Gay and Fraser Cain:
Kylie Sturgess: Is it just a matter of sticking out with it, if you want to get into podcasting? You mentioned the 365 days of astronomy, which needs funding. Anyone can contribute. It is crowd sourced. If someone wants to start up their own podcast, perhaps being inspired by having a go at the 365 Days of Astronomy – why should they podcast and why should they reconsider it?
Pamela Gay: That is getting to be a harder and harder question, as more and more people join podcasting. If you are passionate about astronomy and you do want to get involved, I highly encourage you to get involved in the 365 Days of Astronomy podcast. We are someplace where, if you have every other week content, we have space for you. So we can help put you in that place, where you already can have an existing audience. Now, if you’re looking to do something truly original, there is still space for you. But, what we are finding is that it’s getting harder and harder to find new ideas. The one standout place for people, who are doing an old idea in a new way, is the people who are doing audio books. If you have a great story, this is a great way to share that great story.
Fraser Cain: OK. No, I think I totally disagree. I think that, if you want to do this, then just do it. There is always room. People are going to be pod-fading all the time. If you have something that you want to talk about and reach out to people, then just get started and do it. You will figure out really quickly whether you are the right person for the job or not the right person for the job and whether you are enjoying it or you’re not enjoying it. If you are enjoying it, then just keep doing more, even if you don’t necessarily have a lot of listeners. But with this new world of media, it’s really about reaching out on every distribution platform that you have available to you. It’s on YouTube. It’s on podcasting. It’s on writing articles. It’s about going to meetings and all these kinds of things to have this large, wide audience that you can communicate out to.
Podcasting is one of the most powerful ways to do it. I really think, if you’ve got something interesting to say, you should do it at all times.
Another podcast, The Pod Delusion (crowd-sourced show), has around the same traffic as the Wired Podcast – link to Wired article about starting in podcasting with more advice.
Mixture of shows in the top 100 of iTunes – while the commercially-produced shows have an edge, the independent podcasts still are building an audience and often very dedicated ones.
Research – Research into podcasting demonstrates that in terms of retaining information and learning, short-form and dedicated to one topic shows have more influence; yet most people appear to listen to shows while exercising, travelling. Whether the show is about outreach, entertainment or education, a variety and a mixture may be beneficial.
Research papers used in presentation:
- Listening to an Educational Podcast While Walking or Jogging: Can Students Really Multitask?
- What is the academic efficacy of podcasting?
- Tuning in and hanging out: A preliminary study of college students’ use of podcasts for information, entertainment, and socializing
- Messaging, music, and mailbags: How technical design and entertainment boost the performance of environmental organizations’ podcasts
- Using podcasts to replace lecture: Effects on student achievement
Benefits include – ease of use/relevance; focused topics for revision/education; share resources; popularity of shows
Issues include – time consuming; novelty effect/ duplication/ competition for topics; use of them and what resources help improve quality; cost.
- Directories / databases / reviews
- One stop sites (ScienceAlert has been doing this)
- Transcripts and activities
- Guided questions for shows
Overall advice for podcast beginners:
- Show your working – have show notes, links, details on the sources of information that is accessible.
- Make it easy for yourself – can you sustain same effort for a show weekly, fortnightly, monthly?
- Podcasting isn’t new, so don’t be discouraged if you’re not immediately popular!
- Research – not just the topics but how to format shows and what your audience is like and will want
- The question about quality audio vs regular episodes – while quality and improving your show is good, don’t let it hamstring you when trying to get episodes out.
Additional links to podcasting equipment advice:
- Podcasting Equipment Guide (2011)
- Starting A Podcast: The Best Recording Equipment & Platforms You Should Use (2012)
- Zoom products and iRiver – used by Token Skeptic
Has spent the last two years of his life making YouTube his fulltime activity. It’s opening doors and gaining popularity – here’s his most popular YouTube video:
Nine-hundred thousand hits!
The paper that is being demonstrated in this video has been inspired by the original YouTube video – he recommends the use of music and seeking copyright free sounds. He gets maybe 30, 40c per ad view.
What is YouTube looking for? For regular subscribers and “channelfication” – after quality, not one-off hits. The building of a brand enables YouTube to sell the brand to advertisers and it makes it more valuable.
Some of the actions that YouTube is taking is investment – they cannot commission content, but they do have prizes, have contests and have kickbacks. They sent 40 YouTubers to London for the Olympics, and thus facilitated his ability to make content.
They are also taking part in algorithm revisions – viewing time and filtering. Try to optimise watch time and find out how many minutes someone watches on YouTube; for example, long content that is actually watched all the way through and change the rankings in terms of searches. They know to the second when people stop watching your videos. Each individual subscriber is looked at and they promote in subscription fees.
- Networks: Machimima, Maker, Revision3 (“we take your advert revenue, you make video, we pay you X and promote you across other channels and build viewership”). A living threshold would be around 2oo thousand subscribers, if they were fully engaged.
- Creator spaces in London, Tokyo, LA: (not “studios” but essentially what they are; editing booths, green screens, etc.). YouTube have paid for this space and they don’t want the creators to pay for it. Have to move people up the quality ladder, so they help people do this – have to be a partner and book in, however.
- Gold YouTube Pay Button: if you reach a million subscribers (about 105 of these), you get this – in a frame!
- Prizes – the next gurus, educational videos.
- $3.6 billion in 2012. It’s becoming a big business and they want to keep growing this.
Science on YouTube
- Vsauce – part of an organisation that was brought by Google
- Minutephysics – highly successful
- Smarter Every Day
- CGP Grey
- Sixty Symbols / Periodic – 4 or 5 times as much as when doing journalism but works very hard to get content out
- Scishow – funded by YouTube
- Crash Course
- Khan Academy
- Engineering Guy
- Universities – often not very big, perhaps an institutional mindset?
Some people find patrons; YouTube also suggests bids / proposals. People enjoy learning about science and make vids because they want to.
Vidstatsx – YouTube and who is rare – most people use this and it’s a statistics website that allows rankings of subscribers, views and channel views [he's passed Hillsong in terms of vidstatsx!]. Often it’s due to longevity; channels that have been around longer. Point made about convergence between TV and online content – how online content improves and TV content starting to mimic online content. Although “HowToBasic” is growing in popularity – a bit of a one-joke-wonder.
Partner Program – revenue sharing for non-partners is available; generate revenue from uploads by monetising videos; upload custom thumbnails, customised clickable channel backgrounds and link to other places. Applying to be a partner has become easier, it used to be harder / depended on people finding you. Currently there’s about a million partners globally and they’re trying to expand that.
Communicating science via online platforms comes with its own particular traps and pitfalls. So what should communicators be on the lookout for? How can we avoid the snares of misconceptions and misinformation?
Philip Roetman discusses the elements of research, education and engagement – keys to bilateral exchange of information: giving information to the community by showing how to get involved and getting them interested. “I’m a great believer in the power of the voice of the community” and the different groups, organisations and demographics – reaching vast areas over time, but still need the right platform for the right people. We still need a mix of traditional and the new.
Jacqui Hayes, as the Digital Editor of Cosmos Magazine, discusses the different audiences for the digital and magazine versions of the publication – they’ll be relaunching the website soon with entirely new content! There’s a lot a ways to look at a business plan with online communication being a big part of it, and it has the largest audience. What she does is try to build the online audience and get people involved (Facebook, Twitter, newsletter) – all for free and people get to know the brand and are funnelled up through the products due to getting to know and trusting the content and writers. “We’re going to try a bunch of things and see what works!”
Dr Paul Willis, Director of the Royal Institution of Australia, talks on the real world events and online events. “We always like to reach more people – what we’ve established so far is an effective mechanism for reaching internationally – last night’s Xenotransplantation event had the online audience exceed the live audience!” People follow from all over the world – US, UK. Their discussion from the Mawson Base in Antartica that they live-streamed were getting tweeted questions from around the world. It’s about getting people familiar with that format and so it becomes a valid form of entertainment, become participants – “it’s not science communication, not a one-way street – I want the ‘boffin’ answering questions, becoming more engaged and getting more information and seeing how science affects their lives”. He stresses the importance of improving productions, both video and sound – even in straight blogging, we expect good writers and an effort being put in to communicate well and clearly.
Professor Barry Brook, says when he first started blogging on climate change, he was often asked to do traditional means of communication like radio and found the blog a way of aggregating the content he was producing. He could provide links and more details on papers, things that were difficult to get across otherwise. Also a good way of soliciting information from a wide audience, part of an ongoing, pertinent dialogue. Using Twitter and a blog, he finds the blog is limited as it’s towards particular posts, whereas the “microblogging” element of Twitter is broader – diversifying is not a problem and a part of getting the message out as many ways they can!
SocMed ‘burnout’ is a furphy. Filtering and selective attention is not that difficult; spammers are easy enough to block if they’re interfering with information streams. It’s the subjects that engage people – being a good writer, a good presenter contributes to building an audience that then tunes into and is receptive to your content. It still has to be good content and engaging… no matter what platform you’re on.
You do have to be realistic, realise that a certain audience is going to identify with your content and that’s who’ll you’ll reach. N.B - curate any live-streams of Tweets if they go live on a wall at an event! Helps focus the event and avoids spam / abuse of Tweetwalls. Paul extolls on the wonder of being able to go online late at night /early in the morning and follow a conference via Twitter on the other side of the world! A great shout-out to Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks; Jacqui talks about the process of getting content out and the interesting process that takes place that can be a part of writing.
We open ScienceRewired with insights from one of the leading figures in the online science blogging community, Bora Zivkovic, Blog Editor at Scientific American.
He started blogging when first starting research, a “blogger in the wild” and now blogging at Scientific American, an institution around 167 years old. It’s a traditional media organisation, but very cutting edge and a modern science communication outlet.
He came from science and blogging into the media – observing, watching and studying for quite some time, not just because of the influence it has had on him but as a general observer. The 20th century has been an anomaly – a deviation from how people have communicated for over a millennium We are changing and in many ways changing back to our roots – once the methods of communicating used to be expensive and limited (printing presses, companies) and we used to see this media environment as being held by gatekeepers with information going in one direction only.
In the past, the audience didn’t have a means to talk back and often were not talking to each other. Thanks to the web, now the means of production are in the hands of everybody; cheap, easy and fast for most people in the developed world and even catching up with mobile tech in the developing world.
When the means of production changed hands, the revolution could be seen in not only spread of information but though questions about trusting sources. Now it’s about trusting individuals, and selecting which brands and authors and disseminators you’re going to trust. “You have to get to know the individuals”.
Different styles of writing also occur due to the different modes – fact-checking may differ, personality of writers and how a blog-article may be part of a stream or chain on a topic. He sees science bloggers as tightly-knit; many have degrees, are experts in the topics they write about due to academic background or experience. They police borders when it comes to pseudoscience; they are careful and watchful, connecting to each other. Even science media outlets don’t often think of each others as competitors, instead more like collaborators – a common goal to promote science and spread science and fact. They see pop culture as more of a competitor when it comes to the time and attention of potential audiences.
He talks of Robert Krulwich’s talk on “friends in low places” – of networking and transforming organisations and building new ones. Trying something new instead of seeing each others for competitors, pushing each other to do better and experimenting with new forms – building a new ecosystem that will be more fit for the 21st century where web is the primary means of communicating. A lot of talking back and talking horizontally, to each other and bringing in the news, discussing papers, debunking pseudoscience – and the big brands are not as necessary as they used to be. Rethinking the role of gatekeepers and becoming curators and facilitators – it’s the way forward!
People signing in bright and early at ScienceRewired this morning, ready to go!
Here’s Ben McKenzie about to start for the morning – actor, scientician, comedian and ScienceRewired host!
We’ll be listening to the Welcome to Country and Introductions by Aunty Josie Agius, Community Networker and Elder, and introductions by Andrew Gregson and Kendall Benton (Co-Founders of ScienceRewired).