Since I last wrote, I have been working hard behind the scenes on a number of projects and hope to have more updates soon. Some piece have come out including a rather fun video made with the amazing team at Huffington Post Canada.

We decided to look at staying safe in the washroom but wanted to make sure the tips were offered in a lighthearted way. The final result was released this week and you can find it here:

jason-washroom

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/jason-tetro/germs-bathroom_b_5607198.html 

For those wondering, the amazing actress in the video is HuffPost contributor and my editor, the amazing Devon Murphy.  She is just one of the incredible group of people working hard to keep you informed and at times, entertained.

The comedic “war zone” theme was in my opinion a great way to convey the message using sciPOP.  It had all the elements of education, enrichment, engagement and entertainment – although the WC Fields reference only seemed to jive with those over 40 years of age.  Still, I’m thankful for the opportunity and hope more will come.

The most important criterion is the use of positive images and words to ensure the message is delivered in a way that avoids controversy. When it comes to washroom safety, there’s really little up for debate.  But that isn’t always the case and in some realms, controversy is inevitable and may discourage the use of sciPOP.

Taking on tough subjects is an important part of communication; balance is very difficult to achieve. In the last few weeks alone, we have seen several controversial acts leaving many no other option but to take sides.  Although this may immediately bring up some of the conflicts being displayed in real time by news outlets worldwide, there are other debates happening in the scientific world.

You’ve probably heard about the mishaps reported by the CDC involving rather nasty pathogens including anthrax, H5N1 and smallpox.  In all three instances, the microbes had somehow been mishandled potentially leaving lab workers and according to some, the public, at risk of infection.  The topic was so serious the government even held a hearing on the issue.

The concern is valid and something needs to be done. Unfortunately, this has led to a significant conflict between sides.  Some look upon this as definitive proof a lab-based pandemic might occur and that all research in this area should be stopped.  Others suggest this is not really a significant issue and a change not in research directions but in the culture of the lab workers to pay more attention to the rules will keep everyone safe.

It’s not an easy choice to make and no one will be happy at the end.  From a sciPOP perspective, sticking to the evidence – for which there is little publicly available – and trying to find a balance showing the pros and cons of each argument is difficult.  If you happen to agree with one side more than another – which admittedly in this case I do – then it becomes even harder.

Then comes the use of the 4Es.  In this case, there is little to use from the incident.  It’s a polarizing subject and no amount of analogy will bring about change.  Worse, if you happen to make an attempt, there will be fire from one or even both sides.  Inasmuch as it is a truly newsworthy event, there is essentially no room for sciPOP.  Any attempt would only end up in failure.

This is of course just one example. Others have also come about and will continue to arise leaving parties working against one another.  Eventually, as history dictates, the arguments will grow more heated and reach the apex of ideology.  When that happens, there is little to do other than have both parties appear on a split screen and have it at each other.  It’s a standard in politics and in economics; science is no different.

When it comes to using sciPOP, there is no better strategy than to avoid controversial topics that have the potential to head towards ideology.  Instead, if you wish to tackle issues, is to find something to which the 4Es apply and provide that as context. That way you can add to the information and avoid the problems.

As an example, I’ll share my experience regarding a specific topic: climate change  We all know there is a significant debate and the two sides of the issue have become polarized such that the arguments are more heated than ever.  When I was asked to write about the subject, I wanted to take a sciPOP angle using a story pulled from the PubMed Headlines to impact people as well as add to the discussion.

The result was the The Huffington Post article, Can’t Swim at the Beach? Blame it on the Rain.  The piece focused on a study in Sweden investigating the shrinking number of swimming days at beaches.  The reason for the reduction was the rain.  There was more of it leading to increased levels of bacteria in the water and closed beaches.

Now, why is there more rain?  There is some form of change in the climactic conditions happening or, if you wish, climate change.  It cannot be denied as it is actually happening and it isn’t a ‘scientific fact’ based on calculated statistics.  It’s an actual problem seen by people and causing them to lose out on an important activity.

From a sciPOP perspective, the article:

  • Educates on what has happened: the increase in rain;
  • Enriches by showing the trend in climactic change is real and affecting their lives;
  • Engages by giving the chance to ask questions about why this is happening, how the changing climate may be involved, and whether this problem is man-made or natural;
  • Entertains because the analogy is based on a Milli Vanilli song, “Blame It On The Rain.”

The article was well received without a hint of controversy.  Instead, everyone recognized there was a problem and action should be taken to remedy the problem.  In the sciPOP context, that is all you can hope to achieve.  While this end may seem weak to some, the goal is not to change minds but to give information to help initiate change. After all, this is about sharing, not advocacy.

As a final note, do I avoid getting personally into hot topics? Not at all. But I know never to mix in sciPOP.  For those of you who have seen me get involved in such debates, you know, there’s no room for the 4Es.  But, professionally, my vocation is to spread the good (and germy) word and I will continue to do so. Although it may mean staying away from certain topics, I hope you will continue to support me even in such times of silence.

Would love to know your thoughts…

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