BMS Reports: rbb StudioCampus


"There is an odd exception, like Albert Einstein, but as a breed, scientists tend not to be very good at presenting themselves"

Bill Bryson, the author of A Short History of Nearly EverythingNuria Cerdá-Esteban, science slam

Nuria Cerdá-Esteban: Looking between Zebrafish´s legs. Science Spots (short lectures on science in Berlin-Brandenburg) during the first rbb StudioCampus, on February 18, 2014.

Berlin-Brandenburg is focused on its development as the Health Capital region and its biggest radio and television broadcaster, Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg (rbb), is following along. Under the supervision of the existing format rbbSCIENCE SCANNER, a new platform for communicating science in Berlin Brandenburg, rbb StudioCampus, is arising. On February 18, 2014, a premium roster of real-life academics, researchers and science communicators, headed by Prof. Dr. Sabine Kunst, Minister of Science, Research and Culture of Brandenburg, brought closer their research to the rbb audience. Nuria Cerdá-Esteban, a runner-up of the Science Slam 2013 Championship in Germany and the only representative of the Millennial Generation was the broadcasting highlight. In the presentation of her previous study about sex development of the zebrafish, one of the funniest model organisms there is (after C.elegans!), she involved the famous "007", David Hasselhof and intersexuality, showing yet again that today´s scientist needs to be less of a "lab mouse" and more of a pop culture personality. ...

peter seeberger, rbb studio campusProf. Peter Seeberger talking to journalists during the Science Talks - a sort of "speed-dating" for scientists and journalists organized during the first rbb StudioCampus, on February 18, 2014.

"My good friend is a plasma physicist" says Christoph Singelnstein,  editor-in-chief of the rbb, "but, how should I explain people what plasma is?!?". His sigh points to a huge problem of the modern, science-driven society: how to communicate science to general audience? How to explain to a non-specialist your refined, long years acquired knowledge? As a scientist, you have the obligation to inform others what you do, why you do it and how it affects them: their quality of life, their cure from disease, their basic needs, their human rights. But, how to do that?

The first prerequisite to communicating science is: people need to let themselves being told about science. When I was a young, handsome, twenty-something researcher, people use to approach me at parties en masse (unfortunately, mostly for being young and handsome). After exposing myself of being a biomedical researcher, they were quickly excusing themselves for getting a drink. Never ever were they even thinking of coming back! If unlucky enough to meet my eyes across the room, they would smile at me sympathetically, almost spelling: "selbst Schuld" - an ironic remark simultaneously depicting harshness of the German humor and braveness of my choice to do a science degree in Germany. In any other country, being a scientist would cause respect and admiration. In Germany, it causes awe. For many, the reasons lie in a short, tricky segment of its past. Today, however, the way Germany treats its modern science and its scientists, might influence its future. "I turn the focus on the scientists" answers Seeberger. "I tell stories about Israeli and Palestinians working next to each other in Germany, reconciling all political differences. Or, about an Indian who cannot say a word of German, but is currently running a promising spin-off company of our Department. I believe this is appealing to the non-scientists". Indeed, it is. The idea of creating a supra-national State of Science where everyone speaks scienceperanto is as appealing as Plato´s Cave. Still, real scientists are focused on the objects of their research and these are very real natural phenomena needing to be explained in plain English.

This brings us to the second prerequisite to communicating science: the scientist must be able to explain his research focus in a way that even my soon five-year-old daughter could understand it. I used to be one of those easily excited students, who would jump up after a lecture and shout out something like: "Could you please redefine that, so that a five-year-old kid can understand it?". Afterwards, I was regularly approached by some of my colleagues : "You really have a five-year-old kid?". Of course I hadn´t. "It was all just rhetoric, you silly" I would say. But, today, I do have kids. That is why it is even more important for me to emphasize: science and communication stand in a reciprocal relation. The more you communicate it, the more you will like it, the more you will do it, the more you will appreciate it and, as I strongly believe that enthusiasm is an infectious disease: the more you spread it, the more it will affect others. Let me put this more simple for those "five-year-old" amongst you: science and communication are walking hand in hand, like an old couple who used to be in love (classical antiquity), then fought a lot (division of natural and social sciences) only to understand that they cannot live without each other (modern science , science and media relationship).

At the end, let me treat you with a list of my top science communicators, who ignited my love of science at the first place, spiced up with some BMS´ suggestions that gave me an insight into the world of communicating chemistry:

1. Richard Feynman (No one will ever beat his down-to-Earth charm and clear-sighted, creative, scientific brilliance)

2. Neil deGrasse Tyson (For your inner "hipster")

3. Carl Sagan (For your inner "preppy")

4. Richard Dawkins (Yes, he is self-inflated and no, I do not agree with everything he says, but he is a damn good communicator of science and I seriously respect that)

5. Bill Bryson (His popular science writing is more about people doing science then science itself but, his sense of humor and his humility work on his behalf).

6. Russ Hodge (Most probably you have never ever heard of this guy. For a long time, I even thought of him as "her", wrongly believing it was Ruth Hodge. But Hodge, as in Russ Hodge, is an amazing publicist of an amazing place that is a strong material evidence that creatio ex nihilo does exist - MDC, Berlin, Buch)

7. Ada Yonath

8. Harry Kroto

9. Virginia Hughes

10. Ben Goldacre

I was sorry I could not think of any German science writer. Anyone?