460 attendees represented 30 different countries during the virtual forum. But, these impressive numbers alone do not tell the full story. The palpable enthusiasm for exchanging know-how was what made AFSMC’22 a milestone for SciComm in the region.
It did not matter if you were a speaker or an attendee; a scientist or a journalist. Everyone added to the conversations and learned from them as well. It certainly helped that the AFSMC team crafted a well-rounded agenda and a forum experience that allowed utmost engagement.
As proud partners of the forum, we at SASTA found it to be an unmissable opportunity for SciComm newcomers. So now, we would like to pay it all forward through our AFSMC’22 Reflections.
Our new series of articles will cover highlights from the forum which we believe you would benefit from if you could not attend. Today, our article will focus on 5 take-home messages from the forum for Arab SciComm beginners. Here we go:
1- ‘Man Bites Dog’ & Science Communication Don’t Mix
“When a dog bites a man that is not news, but when a man bites a dog that is news.” If you work as a journalist, you might be familiar with that saying which hammers on our instincts as humans to pay attention to the unusual. That explains why some journalists tend to bend truths, especially in headlines; to generate enticing unusualness and higher reach.
However, according to expert science communicator,Mohamed Elsonbaty, this virality-oriented approach is hazardous in SciComm. It can precipitate misinformation and panic which is the opposite of what a science communicator should do. Hence, scientific accuracy always takes priority. Use techniques such as storytelling to make your message more attractive without compromising accuracy.
2- Writing for Everybody Resonates with Nobody
As we just covered, reach is not the ultimate goal for your SciComm content; engagement is. And, you would risk all of it by writing for an undefined, all-inclusive audience.
That is why every SciComm piece should have a target audience, asAhmad Gamal Saad-Eddin, Editor at Nature and Fact Checker for the hit “Da7ee7” show, emphasized during his workshop about the skills of writing scientific scripts.
Saad-Eddin advised to factor in your audience’s demographics, goals, and lifestyles. Depending on your resources, you can acquire this data through chatting with real-life prospects or even through thoughtful imagination. In doing so, you will locate entrances that relate your content to your audience’s lives. That specific relatability will be your key to the engagement you seek.
As Saad-Eddin put it, knowing how to make the same message resonate with different audiences is a measure of a science communicator’s skill. He shared an inspiring example of that skill in action; a Wired video in which a neuroscientist explains memory as a concept to 5 different people: a child, a teen, a college student, a grad student, and a field expert.
3- Content Is King…So Just Start Your Podcast!
So far, we have discussed the importance of composing a scientifically accurate message and defining your audience to make sure your message resonates. Some find the next step of the SciComm cycle to be the most deterring: production.
Not every science communicator has the resources to produce TEDEd-grade videos or NPR-grade podcasts. But, that is perfectly fine, asAli AlBahrani asserted during a panel for SciComm podcasters. The creator of the “Eureka” show and podcast echoed a quote from Bill Gates: “content is king”.
So, as long as you invest time and effort in your content, it will find its own followers that value and look forward to it, regardless of production quality. If you do choose to launch a podcast, all panelists agreed on Omny Studio as the go-to podcast maker for beginners.
4- Need Inspiration? Look for the Stars
SciComm is a craft. Like every craft, it requires continuous practice. That is, you have to constantly search the intricate world of science for fresh ideas that you could interest the public in. If you find that task challenging, thenProf. Nidhal Guessoum has some inspiration for you.
The Physics professor and creator of the “Taa’mal Maa’i” YouTube channel pointed to Astronomy as a fountain of ideas for SciComm content that the public would easily gravitate to. From discoveries of new moons to telescope launches, Prof. Guessoum highlighted that almost every week an exciting feat emerges in Astronomy.
During the same panel,Mr. Marwan Shwaiki time traveled with us to tell us about the “Heroes of Celestial Drama”. That was the moniker Mr. Shwaiki gave to stars, planets, and other members of the solar system, as they were the only sources of entertainment for early mankind. It must be why Astronomy fascinates us to this day. You should definitely use that to your advantage as a science communicator.
5- Training Opportunities Are on the Rise
Speaking of practice, what better way to do so than through official training programs? During AFSMC’22, there was a full session showcasing the different training and development opportunities for Arab science communicators.
If you prefer the flexibility of Massive Open Online Courses, then, check out the various courses and guides presented bySciDev.Net. Or, you could also sign up forthe DW’s Basics of Health Journalism which has the added benefit of being fully in Arabic.
For live training programs, stay tuned for offerings byGoethe Institute and theBritish Council. The Goethe Institute’s upcoming training will start this month in Egypt with participants from other Arab countries as well. Plus, more programs are currently in the works.
The British Council’s upcoming Science Journalism program will launch later this year. It will focus on climate change to equip science communicators with the skills to cover COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh this year and COP28 in UAE next year, as the British Council in Egypt’s Head of Science,Shaimaa El Banna, revealed.
Last but not least, SciComm X, the company that brought us AFSMC’22 promised to provide training opportunities soon as well.
That is a wrap on our first edition of AFSMC’22 reflections! Make sure to join us again next week for more insights from the remarkable forum.