Science should not be special

Kristin: As I stated in the social media workshop at the Inspiring Australia conference, science might not equate to interesting and it’s not necessarily inspiring as of itself. But it is when it’s put into the context of how we live, and it is when the complexity of the knowledge is not dumbed down.

Tuesday’s morning’s panel at the Inspiring Australia Conference featured Prof Iain McCalman, Dr Paul Willis and Dr Tony Peacock talking about things that are inspiring in Australian science. Prof McCalman told the story about Big History, describing how this approach helps to tie in all the fragments of knowledge to give us a map of those connections. It’s been developed into a wonderful resource which Prof David Christian from Macquarie University presented at this year’s TED. I don’t think David’s talk is up on the website yet, but it’s well worth seeking out and I’ll post it as soon as it’s available.

Updated 11 April: David Christan’s talk is now available  and here:

Big History was just one of a series of talks and initiatives related to science and education unveiled at TED2011. And of course TED is renowned for exploring science within many of its session themes and speakers. But science not treated as an isolated discipline within that program.

Science needs to step up. I’ve had a day reflecting on why science out of the context of regulatory, strategic, market, investment and global competitiveness issues means that research remains in the lab and uptake is disappointing. And when science marks itself as special, and somehow beyond the role of of those policy issues or as a exclusive school subject, we fail to service the needs of the community. See Lambert & Grant in The Conversation if you need to understand how dire the situation is.

The last word on why thinking about science in the broader context is important, particularly for education, and why Inspiring Australia needs to think bigger, should go to she who is Year 2:

Don’t stick science in a ghetto. Make it part of life.


  1. “Make it part of life.” 100% agreed.

    I’ve been thinking that we should abandon the word science – it is too imprecise and carries far too much baggage, particularly in science communication.

    In fact, I’d like to see ‘science communication’ turned completely on its head, and replaced with ‘deep context elaboration’.

    Or something similar but more catchy.

  2. Agreed. Janine Young (@jmyonline) calls it “complexity communication”. I’m happy to change my description of Bridge8 from a “foresight and science communications consultancy” to a “foresight and complexity communications consultancy”.

    In fact, consider it done:

  3. What I am beginning to have a problem with is the “If you do a science degree, it doesn’t mean that you end up in a lab coat.” message. It’s implying that there is something wrong with doing scientific activities. There’s nothing wrong with it.

  4. sarahkeenihan says:

    Last week I asked my daughter aged 6 ‘what do scientists do?’.

    She answered: ‘they mix things together, make potions and stuff, and try not to blow up everything’.

    is scientists wear white lab coats and use bunsen burners.

    Still the stereotype that even science communicators perpetuate.

    eg at #IAconf: disparaging comments about scientists who would actually *gasp* dare to wear a tie!

  5. David Lovell says:

    “Science (from the Latin scientia, meaning “knowledge”) is an enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the world” (Ah, Wikipedia!)

    No white coats in that definition. No boffins. No compulsory complexity. No exclusive club.

    (…Unfortunately, a bit challenging to apply to situations where there’s randomness and uncertainty, but still, a useful definition I think)


  1. […] That science is not that interesting by itself. […]

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