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Today was day one of the Inspiring Australia Conference. An unfortunate technology problem left us with no wifi this morning, so twitter (#IAconf) was sadly silent. Not only did my dongle have no juice, but we were in a bit of a dead zone for phone reception. All was quiet on the eastern front.

Luckily I wrote the best of it down.

Jane Lomax Smith, government representative and director of RiAus, opened the conference breifly and succinctly. Today is not about listening, it’s about collaborating. Our goal is to workshop, create a plan, have a say.

Last year, about this time, in fact, the Australian Science Communicators had a conference in Canberra and presented Inspiring Australia, a report about the national priorities of science communication. You can download it here (pdf).

Graham Durant, director of Questacon, spoke next. He said Inspiring Australia was going to be actioned from July. “It’s a national strategy that has a couple of years to run and make a difference.” To prove we are a worthwhile industry, we need to work together.

Then followed a panel discussion. Here’s what the panelists said (paraphrased.)

Cathy Foley – Some people are afraid of science, and when you say you’re a physicist, they look for the closest escape. Though they are engaged with science, like technology and medicine, they might not understand it. It’s hard because there are so many many different bits of information out there. How do we know what to believe? As science communicators we need to co-ordinate our messages.

Tanya Monro – The perception that science is hard is one of our biggest obstacles. That obstacle is mostly artificial. The secret is sharing your joy and enthusiasm. There’s no kid that isn’t at heart a scientist, asking “but why? How?” We should take the chance to embrace social media to inform people about the process of science. We can give people tools so they can interpret media reports themselves.

Sue Stocklmayer
– Is interested in communication of science through art, theater and perhaps even music. With those medias, we can surprise and appeal to people. There’s a problem of definition when we say “are the public engaged?” We need to define what we mean, and be clear about what we want to achieve.

John Shine – Even with medical research, though there is interest, it has to be explained in ways people can understand. Analogies can help. And – best quote of the day – he talked about anti-GM propaganda that says “Don’t touch GM food it’s got DNA in it.” Love it.

Funding was brought up, in fact, it was a major focus. Should the government be allocating more funds, can we get other partners, where do we get money from? I thought that was a shame. I think we should figure out what works and just do THAT. If it’s the right thing to do, we’ll get funding from somewhere. Doing something for the sake of getting funding sounds counter productive. Our time would be better spent on clarifying the problem and finding solutions. Funding should be secondary.