Another beautiful morning! It’s about 25 degrees at night, sticky and sweet smelling and then almost 30 degrees by breakfast. I’m in fruit heaven with fresh Papaya juice and melons galore. Still, I’m missing good coffee – fresh espresso is a rarity and for this coffee snob it’s all a bit of a shock.
Wearing the outfit I would’ve worn for my presentation I sashayed up to the conference to hear a seriously impressive panel discuss the use of social media in science communication. Naturally, the twitter feed was plentiful and you can find the thread on #pcst2014.
Dominique Brossard summed up in her first slide, stating categorically that social media definitely impacts public understanding of science. The trouble is that this assertion is based almost entirely on anecdotal evidence.
However, a later session with Eric Jensen from Warwick University showed that when science communicators are evaluating the benefits/impacts of science communication we’re kind of messing it up. His scathing assessment of top university’s inability to create un-biased evaluation methods was powerful and to the point. He said one of the most common, and confounding mistake was having no negative option. Assuming an experience was either “life changing” or “average” will give you completely rubbish data and biased results. Similarly, asking the opinion of teachers on their students engagement is another sure way to get nonsense.
On the subject of results, when searching Google for information you’re likely not to get what you search for, but rather what Google’s algorithms show as the most popular hits around that subject area. This is a bit of a problem, and I hate thinking I’m being kept in a positive confirmation bubble by an algorithm. I’d rather an Internet that shows me things I’ve never seen and challenge my point of view.
I was looking forward to hearing from a Nigerian academic who was using mobile technology to educate isolated communities on sexual health. Sadly, he wasn’t there and later when I was talking to one of the conference organizers she told me the reason. Even with all the official documentation and a letter of invitation to the conference it is extremely difficult to get a visa into Brazil from Nigeria. The organizer shared her own stories about the assumptions by custom officials in the West about the occupation of young, single, Brazilian women when they're traveling abroad. Hearing these stories I felt extremely ignorant and naive and also hugely grateful to come from New Zealand who has good international relationships with most other countries.
Being a socially inclined creature, the highlight of the day was a rowdy dinner with a crowd of my fellow PCST goers. We went to a local restaurant where a new friend shared a delicious vegetable stew with me. Several hours and bottles of wine later we all trooped back to the hotel for a nightcap only to find the bar closed. Luckily a member of our party volunteered his apartment and we ordered room service and talked till 4am, at which point I decided we should all go swimming in the infinity pool.
Looking out over the sea from way up high, giddy on great conversation I took a moment to appreciate how lucky I was to be here.