Science communication, and communication more generally, suffers from a negativity problem. Humans are naturally loss-averse, and a story describing a new problem or potential threat is more likely to draw attention than a positive story. This problem is especially evident in science, where dangers like ozone depletion and food shortages are easy to understand but the solutions are often highly technical, can take multiple teams of scientists many years to implement, and may not see results for even longer.
Today, the ozone hole is on track to be fully closed thirty years ahead of schedule, and the billions of deaths from starvation predicted following the post-war population boom were avoided by the Green Revolution. While some figures like groundbreaking agronomist Norman Borlaug have achieved a level of recognition among the wider public, the breakthroughs like non-CFC refrigerants and crop hybridization that made these stunning successes possible are not as well known. One aspect of Hello SciCom’s mission is to change this, by helping scientists and innovators tell their stories in an engaging way.
Part of what attracted me to Hello SciCom is my personal history with science communication and social media. Back in high school, I began experimenting with a concept called the “Gold Star of Excellence”. Every day, I searched the news and awarded a person, institution, or other entity for something positive I thought they brought to the world. With so much negativity already circulating around the internet, I wanted to inject something positive and interesting into my social media circle. After a trial run on Facebook, I initiated the Gold Star in its current form on Twitter in August 2009 and I have continued the project without major interruption ever since.
Looking back, some of my early Stars were overly political and some I cringe at in retrospect. Still, from the beginning there was already a focus on science. Awardees from the first two months included Norman Borlaug upon his death, the authors of a series of major papers on the possible human ancestor Ardipithecus, and the scientists at Berkeley who confirmed the existence of the element now known as Flerovium (an element which itself earned a Gold Star in 2011 when it was named). Since then, I’ve awarded hundreds of Stars related to science topics, many of which are among my most viewed and most liked.
These posts have allowed me to share exciting developments with social media communities that might never have seen them otherwise. Whether personal friends on Facebook or relative strangers on Twitter, these posts have also created opportunities for deeper conversations about science topics where everyone involved walks away having learned something.
Some of my favorite science-related Gold Stars have been those that have led me to engage with the people involved with the work. Several space-related Gold Stars have put me in touch directly with astronomers, engineers, and space mission leaders who I’ve continued to communicate with over the years.
While none of my Gold Stars have gone truly viral, their spread and engagement has still impressed me and given me reason to keep the project going. It has also taught me that anyone can be a science communicator, even on a small scale. It is a role I have enjoyed and learned to take seriously over the years, and I believe anyone with an interest in science would benefit from participating in science communication in their own way as well. Perhaps by doing this, we can all contribute to healing the negativity found in science discourse on the internet and elsewhere. For every problem, there are teams of scientists, engineers, and other innovators working to find solutions. We would all do well to remember that.
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