Royal College of Science Union

Why science communication?

With science, we have made incredible advancements: in medicine with vaccines and antibiotics, in agriculture with the engineering of pest-resistant and more nutritious crops, and in travel with electric cars and high-speed rails. The world we live in is becoming increasingly embedded in science and technology.

Yet, there are a growing number of people who don't believe in vaccines, peddlers of genetically modified food untruths, and a whole global energy sector that still has not yet transitioned to renewables. Public understanding of sciencefo is hugely inconsistent to what the scientific community agrees is consensus.

This disconnect matters. Public discourse shapes the policies adopted by governments, it influences ethical thinking, and it guides the direction of future research by generating support and necessary funding. For this reason, scientific discussion shouldn't be limited only to those with science backgrounds. In order for governments, businesses, and other institutions to make well-informed decisions, for the public to be properly informed on the issues that impact our increasingly scientific world, engaging the public with science is essential.

How can we communicate science effectively? There is a balance that needs to be struck between conveying the nuances of scientific thinking and being engaging to non-scientific audiences. The purpose of science communication isn't merely to educate and combat the spread of misinformation, but it is also to share wonderment, to inspire new directions of research. Figures like Neil Degrasse Tyson and David Attenborough come to mind as figureheads who exemplify approachable, informative engagement of the public.

However, in academic communities, public engagement isn't as prized as it should be. The currency of this community is the number of papers published or the amount of grants received. This promotes a quantity over quality mentality, and perhaps stifles fresh thinking in favor of target performance indicators. In hopes of shedding more light on the merits for science communication, the Science Challenge aims to make it clear that effective communication isn't as difficult as it seems.

The Science Challenge is the annual science communication contest hosted by the RCSU. Each year, four questions that will challenge students to convey science in an effective and engaging manner are released in December. Students have until February to submit either a 1200-word essay or a 4-minute audiovisual entry. All Imperial students, and high school students in Y10-Y13 are eligible to enter. For each question, one Imperial winner and one school winner is chosen. Shortlisted candidates are invited to an awards ceremony, held at a grand London venue; past venues have included the House of Lords, the Royal Institution, and the Science Museum.

For 2020, the overall Imperial winner will win £1000 cash, and for each individual question, the winning Imperial entrant wins £250. The RCSU sometimes also rewards winners with exciting non-cash prizes on top of this. This has been an all-expenses-paid tour of CERN in one year, and publication of the essay in Daily Telegraph in another.

If you take part in the Science Challenge, you'll have the chance to think about science in a wider societal context, you'll be encouraged consider the stakeholders of science, and perhaps most appealingly – you'll gain communication skills that are beneficial to you no matter what industry you end up in, science or otherwise.