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Scientists encouraged to better explain ideas to engage MPs

Australia’s Chief Scientist Ian Chubb delivers his speech at the National Press Club today. AAP

Scientists encouraged to better explain ideas to engage MPs

Often scientists spend most of their time concentrating on research, rather than getting out to promote it – but over the past two days, scientists have been meeting decision makers in Canberra at the 14th annual Science meets Parliament (SmP) event.

The event brings together some of Australia’s leading scientists and parliamentarians, helping to bridge the understanding between science and politics, public policy and the media.

Scientists learn how to engage politicians and get an idea of the governmental, political and media side of things – skills that will help them influence future change.

Rod Lamberts, from Australian National University, who presented at SmP yesterday, said the learning goes both ways: “It’s eye opening for scientists to hear from politicians and it’s good for MPs to learn about the scientists. Both find out the other is human.”

One of the program‘s focuses is to help communication between the groups. Topics include how to get science into the news, how to talk like a policy maker and how to tweet effectively.

Dr Lamberts and colleague Will Grant’s presentation encouraged quick, effective communication, getting scientists to practice telling their science stories to one another in 60 seconds or less.

“We do this competitively and the top three present to the whole audience, with the winner determined by applause. It’s our own version of peer review,” he said.

“Scientists are getting more comfortable with moving beyond the lab, and more motivated to speak in public.”

Dr Lamberts said it was important for scientists to talk about their science in plain language. SmP also aims to stimulate scientific discussion in Parliament.

“The politicians look like they’re enthused about it,” added Dr Lamberts.

Bridging the gap

Kate Hoy and Andreas Fouras, from Monash University, said the event was a good opportunity to learn and engage with politicians.

Associate Professor Fouras spoke to Minister for Industry Ian Macfarlane, and discussed the issues for researchers who are actively engaged in innovation.

“The minister was very supportive and expressed an interest in providing assistance,” he said.

He also spoke to Greens MP Adam Bandt, about the prospects for a long term strategic funding plan for Australian science.

“Adam was very knowledgeable on matters around science policy and was keen to hear more from researchers – especially those at earlier stages of their careers,” said Associate Professor Fouras.

Dr Hoy spoke to NSW Greens Senator Lee Rihannon about the challenges facing early to mid career researchers and gender equity issues.

“The senator requested more information on the work that the Australian Academy of Science early/mid career researchers forum has been doing around these issues,” Dr Hoy said.

Beyond the science

Dr Lamberts said the profile of the event is improving, with more people wanting to get involved each year.

This year’s SmP address to the National Press Club was delivered by Chief Scientist of Australia Professor Ian Chubb.

In his address he stressed the importance of curiosity, ideas, knowledge and the application of scientific principles and knowledge.

“If we are to survive and hand on a planet that is worth handing over to those who will follow, we will need science and we will need scientists,” he said.

Professor Chubb added that widespread understanding of the scientific process is important in a community.

“People often encounter claims that something is scientifically known; or these days, a denial of strong scientific evidence,” he said.

“If they understood how science generates and assesses evidence bearing on these claims, they can make a better informed decision when they are asked to make one.”

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