Sunday, January 26, 2014

Communicating science: TED talks

Is it even necessary to introduce TED talks?...  I guess everyone has seen at least one of these 18-minute-ish presentations on topics that deal with (broadly speaking) Technology, Entertainment or Design. These “ideas worth spreading” (as they are advertised), are presented during the TED Conference, an event occurring every year on the US West Coast since 1990. It is thanks to the development of the internet and video streaming, however, that TED talks have accessed global fame. The first talks were uploaded in 2006, and in 2012 the total views passed 1-billion! (According to, there are now more than 1,600 talks available!) With as famous speakers as Al Gore, Bill Gates or Bono, TED talks have become an unprecedented cultural phenomenon. 

Today TED conferences are organized not only in the US, but also in Canada, in South America, in Europe and in Asia. More than this, TED has become a label, since all over the world are organized so-called TEDx events, conferences that share the TED format but are organized by independent local committees. 

Given the format and the varied audience, TED talks are not meant to treat a topic exhaustively and should be accessible to the layman. This is not necessarily an easy job for scientists, still you can find almost four hundreds science talks on the TED website! It seems thus that science fares pretty well in the TED universe… 

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Communicating science in 2014: Public Outreach

October 2013 issue of Science magazine
A few months ago, the magazine Science published a special issue on ‘communication in science’. Indeed, the way scientists exchange information has evolved considerably in the past decade, thanks notably to the internet and the rise of the open access movement. Conversely, older means of communication still fare pretty well; despite predictions of extinction, IRL meetings are still flourishing, and so are printed books… This year, I want thus to orientate this blog a little more towards questions related to science communication (internal and external) and how scientists deal with it. So I plan to write several posts about the way scientists communicate between themselves and with society. Here I want to start with how scientists communicate to the general public.

Science for the masses

Scientists today are constantly reminded of their duty to communicate their research to the public, and are encouraged to do what is called science outreach. I believe this to be fundamentally a good and a fair thing, if only because the vast majority of science funding is provided by the public society via taxes. In addition, and in my view more importantly, every citizen (as well as society as a whole) gain at a better understanding of science, this for pragmatic, aesthetic and philosophical reasons.