Special thanks to Leigh Dayton for answering 5 questions about the recently featured book, which she edited – The Curious Country. From February 2-5 2014, the conference of the Australian Science Communicators was held in Brisbane, Australia. Sarah Keenihan ran five questions past Leigh just prior to her participation in the panel discussion What is science journalism?
Leigh Dayton is an award-winning writer and broadcaster, specialising in the impact of science, technology, environment and medicine on news and current events. For nearly 20 years, Dayton has worked as a newspaper and magazine reporter and columnist, as well as a radio and television producer and presenter. – From The Australian
Leigh’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/leighDayton
#1 – Tell us about this new book you edited, The Curious Country
I think this book is a fabulous idea. Here we are at the conference of the Australian Science Communicators, and we’re talking about how we’re going to get the science message out to the general public, and that people don’t necessarily know where to plug in to get their information. We are a curious country, full of curious people – not just scientists, but the general public as well. This is what polls show over and over, that these fields are priorities in people’s interests – health, environment and science. This book is targeting that need.
At the outset, and to guide the direction of the book, the Office of the Chief Scientist did a survey to find out what people of all walks of life were interested in. The survey results have been addressed chapter by chapter in The Curious Country. The content is aimed at a general audience, and each author addresses his or her topic beautifully and in a unique style. The book is online; you can download it for nothing! Fittingly, it’s the kind of document that can be easily updated; as issues arise, new chapters can go in.
I really applaud The Chief Scientist’s decision, and his office’s ability to get The Curious Country going.
#2 – How did your involvement in the book come about?
The Chief Scientist, Professor Chubb and I first talked back in January of 2012. He explained the concept, and asked me if I’d be interested in being involved. I said ‘Yes’! He and his office went away and did some footwork, and then my real hands-on involvement came closer to the writing and editing stage of things.
#3 – A very diverse group of the writers contributed to the book. It was notable to me that the contributors were scientists, journalists and writers. Really, it shows that many different types of professionals can be involved in the science communication process. Was this deliberate?
Yes, that’s right. For instance, who would have thought that Dr Brendan Nelson would be a contributor to a book like this? But of course it was an important role that he fulfilled at that time, and that’s fantastic (Dr Nelson’s essay Science Diplomacy describes how science and research collaborations formed a basis for Australia forging international ties with the European Union from 2010).
For the scientists contributing, each chapter is presented from the point of view of the person writing, with each author giving his or her own perspective. Even in the more theoretical areas like astrophysics or cosmology, the essays feature people talking about their passions and what they find interesting, the latest issues, common problems in their area and what the future will hold.
I enjoyed meeting every single on of the authors. Every bit is readable; I genuinely don’t think there is a single dud in there! I don’t think anybody would be disappointed if they picked up this book.
#4 – Regarding your involvement as editor, how did it work? It’s clear you encouraged each author to maintain his or her own style, but what sort of guidance did you provide in addition to that?
Well, I talked to each of them at the outset about what they were going to do. How they were going to present their material, what were the issues they wanted to raise. It was important to talk to each author up front so they knew exactly what was wanted of them, how to think about their approach. I really encouraged them to tell their story, to present their own point of view and to be sure to include examples. All the little things you learn from journalism, really.
#5 – So now that it’s published, how can we get people to read books like this?
That’s the issue. This is where it’s the job of communicators. People working at The Office of the Chief Scientist are extremely capable, and are making contacts and expanding the network. Because the resource is accessible intellectually and financially, there is a good chance that it will get picked up and used. I think it would be fantastic if this gets picked up in schools, read by high school kids (the book has recently been released as an e-resource to 8000 Australian Schools).
Most people don’t care about experiments. But they are interested in the implications of science, what it means for them and society. Unless science is incorporated and interpreted as relevant, it’s just a series of facts. I mean, I don’t understand the science, and I’ve been reporting on it for over 20 years. How can any one person know everything? All you need to access science is basic knowledge which will allow you to ask the key questions, and that’s what I think this book can do.
Sarah is a freelance science writer based in Adelaide, South Australia. She established her writing business in early 2012 after 15 years working in immunology research and science communication in Australia and Indonesia. She currently works with a range of clients in science, medicine, research, education, outreach and communications. She has a Bachelor of Medical Science with honours, a PhD and a Graduate Diploma in Sciences Communication. When not reading and writing, Sarah indulges in cooking, eating and exercise.
[Image Credit: http://www.aapnewswire.com.au/Content/images/journalists/Leigh-Dayton-178×140.jpg ]