Defining Your Audience (Or How To Plan The Worst Birthday Ever)

Skeptical beardy stock-photo man at a lame party.

Credit: WAYHOME studio / Shutterstock

This is part of the new regular column on science communication. To suggest a topic, email [email protected] 

Imagine, for a moment, that you’re in middle school. The spring formal is approaching and if you don’t have a date, you will literally die ohmygod. Your goal is “find someone to go to the dance with me”. You can’t just walk into the cafeteria and scream “SOMEONE GO TO THE DANCE WITH ME”. (I mean, you can, but…) You need to be tactical. You need to have a specific audience in mind.

A poorly defined audience (or one that is overly broad) is the root cause of the vast majority of issues I run into when I’m working with someone on their science outreach. From “I don’t know where to start” to “I can’t get anyone to listen/subscribe/come to my talk/donate,” my first question is always going to be “who is your audience?”. My next question is going to be “okay, now can you narrow that down”?.

The temptation is always going to be to have the broadest audience possible. If you aren’t appealing to EVERYONE you might miss out on potential opportunities! You could turn away a potential audience! You could miss out on the chance to be the most beloved science communicator that ever communicated!

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How to spot a scam shark documentary producer

Many aspects of science-ing are not explicitly taught, and scientists become accustomed to mastering the deep end.  While this tactic can make you stronger, there are situations where the deep end is a vulnerable place where nasty critters are very happy to take advantage.

One such area?  How to handle being contacted by “producers.”  In my experience, for every 1 exceptional producer you speak with, you will be contacted by at least 4 scammers.  Scam producers will particularly target naïve early-career scientists, just like white sharks and seal pups.  In light of this week, I’ve put together a guide to aid YOY scientists rising in the ranks of popularity and make the deep end a little safer.  Here are 13 ways to spot scam shark documentary producers, with a few 🚩🚩:

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Ocean Outreach in an Evolving Online Ecosystem: Transforming the Narrative

This is the transcript of the keynote I delivered at the Fourth International Marine Conservation Congress in St. John’s, Newfoundland. It has been lightly modified for flow.

Read Act I: Science is Storytelling. 


In Act I I discussed the underlying structure that frames narrative storytelling, but now I want to talk about how we can use the tools available to us on the internet to transform that narrative into something even more potent.

But before we can do that I have to tilt at some windmills.


When we talk about good outreach, we often look to people like Neil deGrasse Tyson, like Bill Nye, like David Attenborough, and like Carl Sagan. These are the paragons of scientific outreach, the icons that we often hold up as examples for what constitutes good outreach. We talk about things like Cosmos, both Sagan’s and deGrasse Tyson’s, Bill Nye the Science Guy and his more recent work combating climate change, or David Attenborough and his astounding Nature Documentaries. Read More

Title is the new abstract

There are an increasing number of scientific articles being produced and posted at a frantic rate. How can you make your paper stand out and be memorable amongst this plethora of publications? Moreover, if your work is conservation-related, how do you ensure that the people who matter see and remember your work?

The one part of your paper all readers see and read is the title. From my own experience as an editor of scientific journals, as well as from the page-view statistics I have seen, the percentage of people that go on to read your abstract is less than a tenth of those that read the title. The percentage that read beyond the abstract to look at the whole article is a tenth of that again.

This why I have entitled this blog “Title is the new abstract“. You want to maximize the amount of information in the title of your paper.

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Singing Science: Weather vs. Climate with lyrics for teachers

The month of February 2016 just broke a global temperature recordpreviously held by… January…2016.

While the Trubama climate plans are being praised, the comments section of this Guardian article was still inundated with “Well, it’s cold where I am” posts.  Perhaps we need to create more awareness about the difference between weather and climate…

I know, I’m not supposed to talk about this, but I love to sing.  Every neighbor, flat mate, and unwilling car passenger knows this.  In fact, the only thing I love as much as singing is teaching science, but the metaphorical light bulb didn’t come on until I attended a SciComm workshop in Portugal.  Why not sing about science like many others?  Maybe even weather and climate??

Adele songs were the obvious choice, both for singability and availability of karaoke versions on YouTube, so I began my research.  I asked facebook if this would be a valuable addition to the internets, or best not to talk about it ever again, and the response was significantly positive.  Thus, #SingingScience was born and with it a commitment to do more of these when I have free time.

Enjoy, Weather vs. Climate set to Adele’s “Hello”

**Note (because evidently it’s not obvious):  This is not real meteorological data.

Here are the lyrics for any science teachers who would like them: Read More

How to NOT get ahead in advertising – what many conservation NGOs are doing wrong

This year’s International Congress for Conservation Biology had a special double symposium on conservation marketing. What is conservation marketing I hear you ask? Well it’s using the tried and tested techniques from the advertising field, behind which there is a significant amount of research, to increase public awareness and especially change public behavior to aid conservation. Conservation marketing is already being used by several NGOs and initiatives – RARE for example. The Society for Conservation Biology has recently set up a working group for Conservation Marketing and Engagement* as it’s believed that this technique could help highlight many endangered species and highlight important conservation issues.

In this symposium myself and several colleagues had a presentation on why the advertising campaigns of conservation NGOs are doing things wrong – specifically these campaigns are often geared towards fundraising, telling members and especially donors what a great job they’re doing, launching surveys or petitions that do little to help conservation, oh and more fund- raising. The general public has a dire understanding of the need for biodiversity conservation or endangered species, and instead of increasing awareness and getting the public to change their behavior to act in a more pro-conservation manner, NGOs are instead concentrating on …hey did I mention fund-raising?!

As the result of many requests for copies of the presentation slides, I’ve decided to make them available for Southern Fried Science. Most of the slides are self explanatory. Feel free to copy and steal memes you like and count up the number of geeky references ….

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In an Adventure …. with Scientists ! (…or why does America hate science so much?)

In the UK “The pirates ! In an adventure with scientists” an animated movie by Aardman Animations (the studio behind Wallace & Gromit) saw some success at the movie box office. The film was based by on the popular book by the same name by Gideon Defoe, which features, as the name suggests, pirates, Charles Darwin and scientists of the Royal Society. When the movie was screened in the US however, the title was changed to “The Pirates! Band of Misfits” because it was thought that American children would avoid a movie with scientists in. All reference to Darwin, who was one of the main characters, was also removed from US trailers, presumably because evolution is viewed as ‘controversial’ in the US.

Why is it science is such seen this way in the US?

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A poster to remember

Today I was at an undergraduate research event with our best and brightest presenting their research via posters – great science, but often dreadful posters.

Posters can be a great medium for getting your science over to an audience. They have the benefit that if you can draw people into your poster you can have a lot more intimate face to face discussion with your peers. But first you have to draw them in…

Increasingly poster sessions in conference are becoming large sprawling events, and your poster is going to have to compete for attention with hundreds if not thousands of other posters, with your audience having little time to browse, they may be distracted by friends and colleagues, they may be tired as poster sessions are often at the end of a long day of presentations, and possibly (probably) slightly to moderately drunk. Here are some simple tips for making a good poster that has impact.

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This is the worst academic presentation in the world … tribute

Conference season is fast approaching, and around the hallowed halls of academia frantic graduate students are rushing around trying to cat herd committee members for thesis drafts and preparing the capstone to all of their recent study and research: the thesis defense. For the past two weeks my life has largely been back to back student presentations, and on the whole they were excellent. a couple of moments when nerves got the better of presenters, but generally high quality.

Then I went to an academic meeting, and I was reminded again why we are struggling to communicate environmental issues to the general public. I had forgotten quite how excruciatingly dull and painfully constructed academic presentations can be.

The presenters were completely unaware of the effect of their talks on the audience, who were checking email, napping and in one case just staring blankly at a wall, which was obviously more entertaining than the presentation at hand.

It really was a master class in how to ensure that your presentation was as dull, dense, and obtuse as possible. So for the benefit of those who what to ensure that they can give the most perfectly dull academic presentation, here are some tips:

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