Beyond Climate Change …
What’s The Next Significant Challenge for Australia?


What do you think the next major challenge for science communication in Australia is?

Climate Change is the classic example of an area where there has been major science communication challenges and significant science communication failures. It could be something that’s already heading for a spectacular failure if there is no intervention or an issue you can foresee having a significant impact on Australia if a strategy or approach doesn’t change.

We’d like to hear your views. What do you think could be the next major issue?

Your contribution to this discussion will be used as part of a Summit session on day 2 in the hypothetical panel. We’d like you to contribute your thoughts on what you feel will be the next big challenge and why.

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Bronwyn Terrill
Bronwyn Terrill 1 Like

This is another risk communication challenge: in this case the sharing and usage of genomic data for medical research -- where data is deidentified rather than anonymous. With the law and public engagement with genomics lagging behind the technology, I think this area could rise and bite our behinds.

crcCARE 2 Like

Contamination of the environment by the 80,000+ synthetic chemicals produced by humans - many of which are known to harm human and environmental health, and many of which quite possibly cause harm but we don't know yet - will be a huge communication challenge.* Much of this is (as with other examples such as vaccinations) centred around risk communication. People need to be informed but not scared, and people need to know what action to take - which includes informing others (other members of the public, relevant regulatory/health agencies etc). So it's very much two-way (or multi-way), with a lot of potential for miscommunication (e.g. the presence of a contaminant doesn't necessarily mean that people are at risk). 

* I acknowledge that I work for the Cooperative Research Centre for Contamination Assessment and Remediation of the Environment and as such may have an interest in promoting this issue - but it IS a big issue!

Kaitlyn T
Kaitlyn T 1 Like

I worry that the current doubt about vaccines will spread to other areas of meidcine - with the concern about antibiotic resistance I can already see potential for good medicine to be undermined by fear.

Craniophiles 2 Like

@Kaitlyn T I totally agree - how do we help parents make an informed unbiased decisions on how to best treat their children - be it regarding vaccination or any other childhood illness/disease.  Even as a scientist, when trudging through google it can be hard to distinguish the quality information from the quantity information.  Particularly in the case of anti-vaxers it often feels like although their voices may be less in number, they are spreading their message with voices that are much louder than the voice of science.

hannahkeage 2 Like

The understanding of (statistical) risk is a major science communication challenge - whether reeled to climate change, health or another field.  Dr Hannah Keage, UniSA.

TatiGuedes 1 Like

Lifecycle thinking! Whatever product or service we consume/use has impacts along its entire lifecycle - from resourcing to end of use (hopefully re-use?). The issue is complex - looking at where each resource comes from and how it's sourced, transported, powered etc and the different types of impacts it causes and how 'relevant' these are. The types of environmental (and social) impacts are many and can be categorised for instance as climate change, water depletion and air pollution to name a few. How to communicate and rate these impacts in a clear manner to consumers? Eco-labels should go beyond just "recycled", "fair trade" etc as these might not be the most relevant for that particular product or service.

jesseshore 1 Like

The post-mining boom boom:  How much does Australian innovation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics add to Australia's growth? Does the R&D area contribute more than government and industry invest in it? And if we don't know why aren't we talking about it? Is the next real economic growth spurt coming from what we innovate rather than what we dig up and send overseas? And how many people gain/lose employment from innovation?

wward 2 Like

Water. On the world's driest continent, it has to be. Also incredibly politically charged. All the ingredients for a good media stoush and lots of misinformation. Wars will be fought over it. Time to think about itacross Australia, not just in Murray Darling Basin.

Emma Donnelly
Emma Donnelly 2 Like

Our next big challenge in science communication - leadership. We need clear science communication leaders to take our profession to the next level. At the moment science communication is an add on to a program. It isn't often embedded.

If science communicators cannot unite, develop leaders, lobby, conduct and communicate best practice - how are we meant to deal with any of the scientific challenges we need to communicate?

Time to step up sci commers, no more ad hoc, dogs body roles  - we need to become a clear profession and be accepted as that amongst other professionals. Time to take it to the next level.

SarahTerkes 1 Like

I think unchecked climate change is going to create a domino effect of issues. Combining a lack of effective action with a finite amount of resources, and we will see food & water security becoming the next major global challenge, along with an increase in displacement (refugees and asylum seekers) and, I imagine, increasing civil unrest.....