Prime Minister's Science Communication Prize 2016 - Rebecca Priestley

From Our Changing World, 9:05 pm on 23 March 2017

Science communication is important for enabling democracy, says the winner of the 2016 Prime Minister’s Science Media Communication Prize.

Rebecca Priestley

Rebecca Priestley, winner of the 2016 Prime Minister's Science Communication Prize. Photo: Supplied

Rebecca Priestley is a science historian and writer, who lectures in Science in Society at Victoria University of Wellington.

Priestley says she often writes about the everyday things that we use and consume. “I’m really driven by things I want to know more about.”

But while she is motivated to know more about science, and the research behind things, she says that science communicators are increasingly realising that this doesn’t hold true for everyone.

“Some people are going to want facts, they’re going to want to dig a bit deeper,” she says. “But other people – not so much. There is a lot of evidence that giving people more facts isn’t going to change their mind on an entrenched position.”

Confirmation basis, says Priestley – the idea that people accept information that supports their beliefs, and reject information that doesn’t – is part of the reason for this. She recognises that it is a big problem, but says that despite this it is important to keep trying to inform people.

“Despite the scientific evidence for the many environmental problems facing the world, a lot of people aren’t engaging with these issues or realising how important they are. It’s really important that we get good coverage of these issues in the media. But even that might not make a difference.

“If we can do more to get critical scholars, outstanding scientist communicators and talented science communication practitioners together we might find ways to engage audiences more effectively.”

Bringing Antarctica to the world

To help democratise science, Priestley and her Victoria University colleagues have been developing a MOOC, a massive open online course, on Antarctica. The idea is that the course is freely available to anyone, anywhere in the world, who has an internet connection. The MOOC will be launched in April.

She receives $100,000 in prize money, and will be using her award to create some freely available online resources about science communication.

2016 Prime Minister’s Science Prizes – the winners

The Prime Minister’s 2016 Science Prize has been awarded to a team of University of Otago researchers, led by Professor Richie Poulton, which is behind the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study, credited with providing the most detailed data on human development ever amassed.

The Prime Minister’s 2016 MacDiarmid Emerging Scientist Prize goes to Professor Brendon Bradley from the University of Canterbury, who is leading worldwide research into the effects of ground shaking caused by earthquakes

The Prime Minister’s 2016 Science Teacher Prize has, for the first time, been won by a primary school teacher—Dianne Christenson, who is the curriculum leader for science at Koraunui School in Stokes Valley, in the Hutt Valley. Under Dianne’s leadership, students at Koraunui School work in the garden, the river, the ocean and the kitchen, getting the opportunity to explore, take risks, get used to failure and have fun while they’re doing it.

The Prime Minister’s 2016 Science Media Communication Prize has been presented to Dr Rebecca Priestley who is committed to communicating science in a way that helps people make informed decisions about important issues facing society.

The Prime Minister’s 2016 Future Scientist Prize has been won by former Onslow College student Catherine Pot who tackled a problem that no other New Zealand student competing in the 2016 International Young Physicists’ Tournament wanted to take on. Catherine investigated the van der Pauw method, which is used in experimental semiconductor physics in many university labs, and came up with an experimentally-verified way of improving the technique so it can be more widely applied.