Hard News by Russell Brown


Science: it's complicated

It's hardly new that for science to play its part in public life, complex and difficult ideas must be communicated to the public. The works of Einstein and Bohr, for example, embodied the strangest news about the universe. And yet, those strange ideas were greeted with enthusiasm.

They seemed to mark progress; to expand our very existence. To some extent, that's still the case: Brian Cox rhapsodising about the cosmos is popular television; there are relatively few complaints about the vast cost of the Large Hadron Collider. We're okay with the spooky stuff.

Where it seems to get tricky is with the bad news. The weight of expert opinion is overwhelmingly on one side of the "debate" about anthropogenic climate change -- and yet that side seems dangerously adrift in the war of words in the media. Closer to home, it appears that no amount of environmental science can make the state of our waterways the headline it deserves to be. And any sense of potential good news about GMOs seems quite lost.

It's against this backdrop that I'll be exploring the theme of "communicating complex ideas" in a joint feature interview with Lord Robert Winston and the Prime Minister's Chief Science Advisor, Sir Peter Gluckman. We will doubtless analyse the words that feature on the home page of Professor Winston's website:

Scientists must listen to public fears and respond to the concerns of ordinary people. We must behave responsibly, ensuring our work has the highest ethical standards.

We'll move on from there to a discussion with Dr Mike Joy -- the environmental scientist whose work was dismissed this year by the Prime Minister -- and journalist and blogger Claire Browning, who has distinguished herself by writing accurately and consistently about sustainability. She has even reported the good news down on the farm.

We'll conclude by discussing the role of matauranga Maori in science and this year's Berl Report Maori Economy, Science and Innovation – potential opportunity and value with Victoria University astrophysicist Dr Pauline Harris, Dr Dan Hikuroa of the Institute of Earth Science Engineering at Auckland University, and Manuka Henare, the Associate Dean of Maori & Pacific Development and Director of the Mira Szászy Research Centre at Auckland University, and creator of the Koru of Maori Ethics framework.

In addition, there'll be video tracks through the show. Jose Barbosa will look at the rise of the science communicator and interview veteran science journalist Bob Brockie, and Sam Mulgrew's The Sauce is full of unnerving numbers about ecosystems.

And finally: with the help of the Science Media Centre and Sciblogs readers, we've compiled a list of the five best and worst-reported science stories of the year in New Zealand. It names names.

The recording is on Sunday afternoon At the Owen G. Glenn Building at the University of Auckland. If you'd like to join us, we'll need you there by 2.15pm -- and I'll need you to click the little envelope icon below and email me to say you're coming.

I'm also interested in your thoughts about the topics we're covering and the way science fares generally in the media. If you want a happy thought about that, read the work of Young New Zealander of the Year -- and budding science journalist -- Jamie Fenton.

PS: If you're in Wellington, don't forget you can go and see Professor Winston speak on:

Bad Ideas: Will our best technology finish us off?

The Opera House, Manners Street, Wellington
Tuesday, August 2
Arrive by 5.15pm for 5.30pm start. No booking, and it's free!

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