Here we are at the end of the first day of the DPF 2011 conference. Sad to say, there was no fresh science news reported today, but everyone is clearly having a good time seeing old friends, and enjoying what appears to be the lovely city of Providence. (Their state capitol has nothing on Nebraska’s, though.) A few people are even tweeting, although not many. (I’ve been trying to tweet all day; it keeps me from making flippant comments to the person sitting next to me, but I’m not sure I’m adding any real value.)
Today I had the pleasure of moderating a lunchtime discussion panel on “Physics and Modern Media,” which I co-organized with Gordon Watts of the University of Washington. The goal of the conference organizers was to have a discussion of the impact of “new” media such as blogs (like this one!) and social media on how science and communication of science to the public works. We had a really great panel: Adrian Cho, a physics reporter for Science Magazine (who has a PhD in particle physics; we were graduate students together at Cornell); Lisa Van Pay, who works in public affairs at NSF with a lot of focus on social media (and has a PhD in toxicology); Chip Brock of Michigan State, the past chair of the DPF and (I discovered) a rather active user of social media; and Michael Schmitt of Northwestern, who started blogging independently and is now a fellow US LHC blogger for Quantum Diaries.
We came prepared to talk a lot about the changes in science journalism, where there have been some very interesting trends over the past few years. Many traditional media outlets are cutting back on their science reporting, and as a result organizations like NSF and universities (through their public information officers) are picking up the slack of disseminating science news to the general public. That really represents a huge shift in how science news gets to you, and who decides what the news is. Meanwhile, there is the advent of the Internet and blogs; it turns out that there are a lot of people who are willing to write about science without getting paid for it. There are also new routes for two-way interactions through comments posted on blogs, and through social media like Facebook and Twitter. These present potential opportunities for communication, and also challenges.
I was interested in digging into a lot of the journalism issues, but the physicists in the audience took us in a different direction, which was about how we can best make the case for particle physics to the public through the available tools. I’d have to say that there is both good and bad in this. It’s good that we are so enthusiastic about our work that we want to tell the world about it and try to bring them along with us, and that we want to come up with the most clever ways to do so. On the other hand, there is some element of what Adrian referred to as the “if only they knew” syndrome, that if we could just get people’s attention and tell them what it was we did, they would love us and shower us with funding forever. I doubt that the real world works that way, and perhaps it demonstrates too great an inward focus within our community.
Anyhow, everyone thought the forum was a success, if I may say so — the audience was very engaged, and the panelists enjoyed their discussion. My thanks to everyone who participated.