Monday, 6 June 2011

Writing about Science

I’ve always been drawn to writing about science. Linda says that writing fiction is both creative and cathartic. Writing about science is both creative and cathartic too. It is an opportunity to digest all the information that you have gathered about your chosen topic, discussed with your peers, argued about over coffee, allowed to drift across the back of your mind, and are finally ready to try and explain to the outside world. It is very satisfying to feel that you have a strong enough grasp of a subject that you are able to sit down and explain it to someone else. It is exhilarating when this leads to more and more questions, new ideas to pursue, and new arguments to be developed.

Is there really a divide between scientists and storytellers? Linda suggests that the job of the scientific writer is to transmit knowledge, whereas the job of the storyteller is to transmit feeling. I would argue that the job of scientific writers is to share knowledge, rather than transmit it, and that they will not be very successful at this job unless they are able to develop some level of empathy with their audience.

I was recently involved in a training session focusing on creative approaches to science communication, including workshops on science and drama (including Science Panto!) lead by Claire Willis from the Science Learning Centre North East, and on science and poetry lead by Stevie Ronnie from Newcastle University. I came away from the day refreshed, full of ideas and with a cracking quote from Stevie:

“Art and Science are the same thing: trying to understand the world around us and what it is to be human”.

From left to right: Dr. Lorraine Coghill, Linda Campbell and Dr. Paula Martin (Durham University), Stevie Ronnie (Newcastle University) and Claire Willis (Science Learning Centre North East). Image by Gavin Duthie, courtesy of Beacon NE, a Beacon for Public Engagement.

Image taken during Creative Science Communication Training, 21st March 2011, at the Science Learning Centre North East, lead by Claire Willis (Science Learning Centre North East) and Stevie Ronnie (Newcastle University). This training is part of the Embedding the Benefits of Innovation in Disadvantaged Communities project, which is a joint initiative between Durham University and the County Durham Development Company. It is part financed by the European Union's ERDF Competitiveness programme 2007-13, securing £0.49m of ERDF investment through the Regional Development Agency One NorthEast. The ERDF programme is bringing over £250m into the North East to support innovation, enterprise and business support across the region.