Gazing up at the sky and learning about stars and the universe has always sparked the peoples interest and imagination. Fortunately therefore, astronomy is well placed to champion outreach efforts aimed at raising public awareness of science more generally, as well as engaging young people in considering a career in physics, maths, ICT or engineering more specifically.

While this opportunity is widely acknowledged, astronomy activities have traditionally focused on public lectures, school visits or observatory tours, thereby reaching out to relatively small audiences of interested people. To increase the return on these efforts, we look to communicate science both to more people and to people of a more diverse educational background. Hence, the discoverability and connectivity associated with Social Media appear as new powerful channels to exploit. Besides the challenge of maintaining an active and interactive Social Media presence, however, we are faced with trading off communicating our science in all quality, honesty and beauty on the one hand and responding to the volatile and sometimes muckraking nature of Social Media attention on the other.

We present here a case study of astronomical research published in Science that attracted a huge amount of media coverage with a discovery commonly dubbed “the Diamond Planet”. The journal’s high profile, multiple press releases by the 18 international authors affiliated institutes, and posting to Facebook and Twitter clearly contributed to the success in publicising the work by Bailes et al. In addition, we produced a short voiced-over animation movie that was viewed 140,000 times in the first 24 hours and has since generated hundreds of spin-off clips on YouTube. Pleased with this new dimension of exposure, we realised two important, interlinked issues though emerging from the use of Social Media for communicating our science. Firstly, our usual monitoring mechanisms proved not sufficient to track distribution of “the Diamond Planet” in the vast networks of private websites such that we had to supplement with special search engines. Secondly, the story was discussed by so many users of blogs and forums that the actual scientific message often ended up being twisted or dropped altogether.

Months after its publication, “the Diamond Planet” remains a common reference in the media, but few will associate it with the key result summarised by Professor Matthew Bailes: it “fills a gap in the binary pulsar family”.

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

The diamond planet
With great power comes great responsibility

Wiebke Ebeling   ARC Centre of Excellence for All-sky Astrophysics (CAASTRO), International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research, Curtin University

Matthew Bailes   ARC Centre of Excellence for All-sky Astrophysics (CAASTRO), Centre for Astrophysics & Supercomputing, Swinburne University of Technology

Steven Tingay   ARC Centre of Excellence for All-sky Astrophysics (CAASTRO), Centre for Astrophysics & Supercomputing, Swinburne University of Technology

Gazing up at the sky and learning about stars and the universe has always sparked the peoples interest and imagination. Fortunately therefore, astronomy is well placed to champion outreach efforts aimed at raising public awareness of science more generally, as well as engaging young people in considering a career in physics, maths, ICT or engineering more specifically.

While this opportunity is widely acknowledged, astronomy activities have traditionally focused on public lectures, school visits or observatory tours, thereby reaching out to relatively small audiences of interested people. To increase the return on these efforts, we look to communicate science both to more people and to people of a more diverse educational background. Hence, the discoverability and connectivity associated with Social Media appear as new powerful channels to exploit. Besides the challenge of maintaining an active and interactive Social Media presence, however, we are faced with trading off communicating our science in all quality, honesty and beauty on the one hand and responding to the volatile and sometimes muckraking nature of Social Media attention on the other.

We present here a case study of astronomical research published in Science that attracted a huge amount of media coverage with a discovery commonly dubbed “the Diamond Planet”. The journal’s high profile, multiple press releases by the 18 international authors affiliated institutes, and posting to Facebook and Twitter clearly contributed to the success in publicising the work by Bailes et al. In addition, we produced a short voiced-over animation movie that was viewed 140,000 times in the first 24 hours and has since generated hundreds of spin-off clips on YouTube. Pleased with this new dimension of exposure, we realised two important, interlinked issues though emerging from the use of Social Media for communicating our science. Firstly, our usual monitoring mechanisms proved not sufficient to track distribution of “the Diamond Planet” in the vast networks of private websites such that we had to supplement with special search engines. Secondly, the story was discussed by so many users of blogs and forums that the actual scientific message often ended up being twisted or dropped altogether.

Months after its publication, “the Diamond Planet” remains a common reference in the media, but few will associate it with the key result summarised by Professor Matthew Bailes: it “fills a gap in the binary pulsar family”.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.

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