These the words of Fernando Ferroni, president at the National Institute of Nuclear Physics (INFN) in Italy, on occasion of his talk at the 7th International School of Science Journalism in Erice this week. Together with other 40 fellows I had the great pleasure to attend this school around the theme “Fundamental Science: From cutting edge technologies to the heart of society”.
The school, organised by Science Writers in Italy, INFN Frascati, and Centro Fermi, brings together scientists and science communicators, with the latter ranging from staff at press offices and science centers to science journalists. The scientific talks this year had a stress on fundamental and applied particle physics and of course also gravitational waves were present. Amongst the speakers were Eugenio Coccia, Marco Durante, Alessandro Variola and, as already said, Fernando Ferroni.
The talks about communication covered practical subjects, like the very inspiring “Planning a reportage” by Jacopo Pasotti, the preparation and implementation of an exhibition about the life of Enrico Fermi (Rosario Nania), the experience of Anna Maria Zaccheddu who works in communications at Telethon, a biomedical charity, and the fascinating story about embargoes, leaks and international agreements between the first detection of gravitational waves in September 2015 until they were finally announced in February 2016, told by Eleonora Cossi.
Other lectures were meant to provide sparks for exchange and discussion, like Fred Balvert’s “Mind the gap in science communication” and Joost Van Kasteren’s “Science Policy”. Especially the latter provoked a very heated discussion between scientists and communicators that originated in the presentation of an article by John P.A. Ioannidis from 2005: “Why most published research findings are false”.
Also the interview with Fernando Ferroni by Claudia Di Giorgio lead to a fiery exchange and showed clearly that communication and understanding between scientists and communicators still has a long way ahead before we will all be on common grounds when it comes to engaging the public. Statements like “These things are impossible to communicate, they are too difficult” clearly show the need for exchange and collaboration!
Among my personal favourites were the interactive sessions, where all fellows were involved. In small groups we had to work on assignments, with time pressing and the need to be creative, thorough and collaborative with people you barely knew. In the first group session we were asked to prepare a press conference, activity for kids or presentation for stakeholders starting from a short article about some scientific results. The second one was even more challenging for me: prepare a pitch for an article for a science magazine on a subject touched during the school.
Another highlight was the talk by Mohammed Yahia “Covering science in the middle east”. It introduced me to a completely new world that I didn’t even know existed. Or did you know that Saudi Arabia’s science output is comparable to many western countries?
Also the session about science communication in different parts of the world was great. The organisers exploited that fact that we were 40 people from 20 different countries in the whole world and asked six of the fellows to present the way science is communicated in their country. It was very interesting to see the differences between Russia, Egypt, Rumania, Japan, Argentina and Israel. Each country has its own strategies, challenges and methods and we can only learn from each other!
But the very best thing was the possibility to meet other people that work in many different fields of science communication. We had ample time to exchange and discuss in the beautiful surroundings of the Erice summer and lots of new ideas and connections were born and will be intensified in the coming weeks and months.
You see, it was a very interesting and inspiring week and even though I am back home now, it will be work of the upcoming weeks to review the experience and to put into practice some of the new ideas.
I want to leave you with the picture of a slide by Mohammed Yahia which expresses both the spirit of the school and something that I am ever more convinced of: