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A Cultural Shift

At the University of Birmingham in the UK, Alice Roberts has been appointed the role of professor of public engagement in science. In a new video at The Guardian, Roberts discusses the importance of communicating science to the public effectively. A lot of science is published in journals that are not openly accessible to the public, that "means that people will only find out about that science and be able to contribute to it if they find some kind of conduit through which they can access it," Roberts says. Sometimes that's through the press, and sometimes that's through scientists themselves, but, she asks, "wouldn't it be better if all of that information was out there and easily accessible?"

When communicating with the public, researchers have to be careful about how they describe their work, but they shouldn't dumb it down, Roberts says. Instead, they should learn to simplify it, the same way they do for themselves when they're sorting through hypotheses and data or the way they do for undergrads. But there also needs to be a deep culture change within universities "which is about making sure that public engagement is something all academics are supported to do," Roberts adds. "We need to make sure that public engagement is part of academic life, just as teaching is, just as research is."

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