Published: 29 April 2014

BSA conference puts social media in the spotlight

Social media is one of the hot topics being discussed at the British Science Association (BSA)’s Science Communication Conference – taking place at the University from 1 to 2 May.

Social media has changed the way we communicate, but is it helping or hindering us when it comes to science communications?

On the second day of the BSA’s Science Communications Conference, which will bring together 400 scientists and experts from across the science communications field, Professor Paddy Regan will join a panel on ‘Discussing contentious issues on social media’. The session will explore what we should do when negative messages begin to spread, how we can prevent this from happening, and whether social media offers the opportunity for better science communications.

The panel discussion, which is organised jointly by Understanding Animal Research and Sense About Science, will draw on examples from controversial areas of science and the fiery debates they generate. Professor Regan, NPL-Surrey Chair of Radionuclide Metrology, will highlight the way nuclear and radioactivity stories are reported in the press. As an expert in this area, Professor Regan has been called upon as a ‘studio expert’ on a number of front page stories including the polonium-210 poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006 and the Fukushima disaster in 2011.

“Reporting of disasters such as Fukushima can shape people’s views to related issues, such as the development of nuclear power and medical treatments using radioactive sources,” explains Professor Regan. “Our knowledge of the detrimental health effects of exposure to ionizing radiation has brought about a general perception that is not always accurate.”

“In order to balance negative coverage – which can quickly spiral exponentially through social media – it’s important that we get some positive stories about fundamental nuclear science research into the wider press. Social media such as twitter and facebook can undoubtedly help us achieve this, along with University press offices (such as ours at Surrey) and organisations such as the Science Media Centre.”

‘Discussing contentious issues on social media’ is one of a range of inspiring plenary sessions, panel discussions and practical activities scheduled throughout the two-day Science Communication Conference. Organised by the BSA in partnership with the Wellcome Trust, the Conference takes place on the University of Surrey campus – marking the first time it has been staged outside London and the first time at a university. The full conference programme is available to download on the BSA’s website, along with details of how to buy tickets for the conference.

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