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Science communication needs an ethics code

Thursday 28, Jun 2018

Science communication needed to develop a code of ethics to guide its practitioners, Professor Joan Leach told a recent PRIA (ACT) breakfast function in Canberra.

Professor Leach, Director of the Centre for the Public Awareness of Science (CPAS) at The Australian National University, was speaking on the topic, “How good is science communication?”

Joan Leach and ACT Vice President Frank Exon

Professor Leach told a group of 25 Members and non-members that the absence of a code of ethics for science communicators was one of the things the discipline had not done well.

Science communication should adopt an approach to ethics similar to that of the PRIA.

Professor Leach said Australia “gave science communication to the world” decades ago after the CSIRO designated its public relations staff as “science communicators.”

Today it was a multi-disciplinary field. All staff at CPAS had a science background in science as well as experience in at least one other discipline, such as public relations.

“Australians say they want more access to scientists,” Professor Leach said.

“And they would like more science in their media.

“Science already does pretty well when people select topics from their news feeds.”

Professor Leach has a new research project that is examining how BuzzFeed can be used to meet audience needs for more information about science.

Professor Leach used the debates about vaccination and climate change as examples of how science communicators worked. In a Western Australian project, science communicators had been successful in convincing sceptics of the benefits vaccination who feared it led to autism to change their views. However, science communication had not done so well in climate change debates.

Professor Leach said that most Australian scientific discipline academies now recognised the need for a communication plan.

Written by Dr James Mahoney LFPRIA