Famelab and Science Communication


What is the purpose of Famelab? The idea behind it is Science communication. And what do we mean when we say science communication. We mean that we want the general public to be interested in science and a percentage of it to become scientists. We want to live in a society where people buy science magazines and books and more people are contributing to the scientific achievements since we all understand the importance of science for human progress. Science is not only creating new worlds but is also providing solutions to the problems of the present worlds. And since science is affecting each and everyone one of us on this planet is it only logical that we want everyone to have a saying and an interest in it.

If you had asked me a few years ago how would I go about communicating science I would have never come up with such a perfect idea as Famelab. The discovery through competition of the most charismatic scientists that can communicate ideas and developments in a wonderful language is just great. Even the process of discovering them is science communication by itself. For the first time scientists had the opportunity to get media coverage, talk to broad audiences and have so much fun doing so. Fame lab is definitely one of the most interesting things I have experienced and one of the greatest ideas ever. But how successful was / is it and where can it go from here? The competitions have been held for a number of years and in some cases the media paid a lot of attention while in other cases like Greece’s the media coverage was minimal.

I have been attending various science communication events for the past couple of years after Famelab became part of my life and the truth is that some thoughts have troubled me regarding the future of science communication.

The idea of holding debates on important matters or demonstrating exciting and interesting experiments is not something new and still that is all I see so far. Not only having scientists demonstrating science is not new but I can imagine at the time of Faraday and other great scientists of past centuries these talks and demonstrations were even more successful. So in my opinion we do not need repeating something with ambiguous success in order to communicate science. We need to adapt to our own times. We need to look carefully at what people at large want and pay attention to before we decide on a new strategy. Because it is people at large, the general public we target and not some elite as Faraday would.

It is time to face the uncomfortable reality that unlike us romantic scientists, the world needs more superficial things. In our times the goal of the average person is not to have a comfortable life but a good life. It is not to have a decent job (although the current situation in many countries shows exactly that) but a great job. People need to be inspired and we have to show them how inspirational the personalities of some scientists and the lives they lead can be.

A great science communicator told us recently of a scheme adopted in the UK. It’s called the neighborhood engineer. Retired engineers visit schools with the intention of attracting school children to follow the profession. It has been a total failure. Kids aspire to become the businessman down the road with his shiny new car and lifestyle that takes him all over the world and not some odd looking, strange talking old geezer.

No doubt the average person and average school kid has good reasons to believe that when it comes to scientists the stereotypes they hold are accurate. A great deal of them is indeed odd looking, socially challenged and just not cool. But is that all there is to scientists? Well I am one and I can confidently say that another great deal of them is great and charming people. People that have travelled the world (usually because of science), intelligent and with strong personalities that can shine in any environment. Both these categories exist and it is our job to promote the second.

Apart from that we need to provide all the tools necessary that will provide to younger target groups all they desire: Great jobs, great living, opportunities and recognition.

So if we want to attract people to science and convince more young people to become scientists we need networks of us that will provide information on how to achieve all that.

Here are some ideas of mine.

Let us make networks that will offer the support and information about funding. I gained enough experience as the national contact person for European funding to know that the money goes to few very experienced and established people in the field. Let us find ways to help people find out about funding possibilities and ways to get money for their work in science after they complete their studies.

Let us make networks that will access and pressure the media for more attention and coverage. People want to have their work and efforts recognized and the power of the image can help our efforts in science communication any way. Countries like Turkey where the Famelab competition was watched live by millions are examples that science related subjects can attract attention.

Introduce successful scientists and researcher to people. Scientists that gained wide recognition for their work and that have become household names. Let’s introduce scientists that have capitalized on their results and efforts and produced wealth and products that affect our everyday lives. Let these scientists share with the world the excitement of discovery and show that there can be no limits in the scientific endeavor in both materialistic and philosophical level.

Let us show the people that we are not a bunch of strange people locked up in underground labs but that we are a cosmopolitan bunch of people.

In Istanbul last weekend a fun but at the same time historic meeting took place. The first science communication network was set by the british councils of 10 different countries and the first in the world declaration on science communication was drafted.

I was excited to be part of it. And here is my appeal.

Let us not make this international group a closed one where scientists talk to scientists (where we preach to the choir) and we have fun with each other using props and colored vials.

Let us show that science is glamorous and scientists of great research work or of charismatic communication skills deserve the admiration and benefits found in so many other professions of equal or less value.

Only then people will show interest in the lives and works of scientists and a good percentage of them will long to become one.

All these sound too materialistic you might say and science is a sacred thing. I agree and let me tell you that I am as romantic about science as it gets. Numerous times I have rejected better paying jobs so that I don’t abandon science. But I am also trying to be a realist. And it is only if we employ the immense power of media coverage and professional success that we will lure people into our world and not by props and slides and internal meetings of experts.

You might not want science to be spoilt by all that but then science will remain forever elitist, stereotyped and ignored by most.

This meeting was to me more than just a great weekend and an opportunity to meet Famelabers from other countries which were initially the two main reasons I wanted to go. This was in a sense a historic meeting where hundreds of people from all over Europe can change the face of science. We can make science finally sexy and attractive.