Communicators network for climate change

The international conference PCST-10, arranged principally by the Swedish Research Council, attracted visitors from over 40 countries. 550 participants met up in the Öresund Region on 25 — 27 June to discuss communication concerning science and technology.

The conference is held in different countries every other year. Sweden was the host country for PCST 2008 (Public Communication of Science and Technology), the tenth in succession, where the Research Council has been the principal organiser.

The venue for the three-day conference was Malmö University, and the sun shone over the nearby Öresund bridge – an elegant setting for the conference theme of “Bridges to the future”.

One of the main speakers was the Harvard physicist Lene Vestergaard Hau who talked about her research — how it is possible to brake the speed of light to zero by sending a laser beam into an ice-cold atom cloud a so-called Bose-Einstein-condensation. Her research group has even succeeded in storing light in the condensation, so that it is possible to cork the bottle, send it somewhere else, and then release the light again…

Another main speaker was the American Larry Sanger, the founder of Wikipedia, where everyone can contribute knowledge at their own initiative and anonymously.
In order to transfer the Wikipedia model to the world of research, which requires a more restrictive version so as to collect experience within its area, he has now created Citizendium. This is a Wikipedia variant where each author writes under his own name, a “citizen´s compendium for everything”.
“It´s difficult to get researchers to write if their names are not mentioned, since their success depends on their renown — in addition to the enquiry component, of course (ha-ha!)
This type of “radical collaboration” will lead to better quality in collective knowledge in the long term, he feels.

Climate change, science theatre and the significance of research blogs

The Norwegian-American physicist and millionaire Fred Kavli was also at the PCST conference in Malmö and presented his newly founded Kavli Prize within the three categories of astrophysics, neuroscience and nanotechnology.
“These are the most important research areas right now,” he said, and he told the audience present of his boyhood dream to understand the innermost secrets of the universe when he looked up at the night sky in the little Norwegian town of Eresfjord.

The Danish physicist Anja Andersson, who does research into space dust, was another of the main speakers, as was the Argentinian Diego Golombek who was awarded the odd Ig Nobel Prize last year for his discovery that Viagra has a positive effect on jetlag.

Parallel seminars were held between the main speakers on four sub-themes: Emerging Issues in Science and Society, Engaging and Empowering Scientists and the Public, Assessing Impact and Outcomes, and Developing Media, Methods and Meeting-Places. Here the participants could choose between such varied subjects for communication as climate change, science theatre and the significance of research blogs.


The Copenhagen Challenge

One of the perhaps most appreciated components was the visit to Copenhagen and the workshop, “the Copenhagen Challenge”, at the Copenhagen Business School. After an introductory speech by the Danish climate and energy minister, Connie Hedegaard, the opportunity was taken to exploit the fact that at least 500 experienced science communicators from all over the world were gathered together in one place. During one afternoon the communicators were able to work in small groups and come up with suggestions for how the UN should communicate the issue of climate change. A unique occasion to do networking and to accomplish something for the UN climate conference in Copenhagen next year.

Climate change is a highly topical subject and to support a sustainable development, the whole PCST conference was arranged with especially the environment in mind, including e.g. the choice of materials and food.

Text: Eva Barkeman