December 31, 2012, by Brigitte Nerlich

Making thoughts public: One year on

This is the end of the year and a time for reflection. I have now been blogging for just under a year and, looking back, this has been quite a learning curve, about blogging, myself, and the various topics I have blogged about.  At first I had been rather reluctant to take up blogging and also rather sceptical about its benefits. Fortunately, lovely people like Adrian Mateo persuaded me that I should try. Little did I know that I would come to find blogging quite enjoyable. I now blog because it provides me with a thinking space between academic life and domestic life. It is a bit like gardening, but using words instead of flowers (and it involves a lot of pruning!). It is also a bit like knitting, or, as I tell people: it’s knitting with hyperlinks. So what have I been knitting this year?

Initially my blog posts were tied to what I was thinking about within two projects related to climate change; so I blogged about the weather and climate, scepticism, uncertainty and so on. Then, in May this year, our Making Science Public project started in earnest and I began to focus more on making the science public project public. The ‘Making science public’  project covers, very broadly, three broad issues: politics, public and participation, so the posts reflect these topics to some extent, with some of my co-bloggers, Alex Smith, Warren Pearce, Adam Spencer.  Beverley Gibbs, and Sujatha Raman, covering more politics than I normally do.

The phrase ‘Making science public’ can have many interpretations, but has perhaps three main ones: science communication in a wide sense; science as public property (with issues of ownership and so on), and science as a public or visible enterprise (with associated issues of openness and so on). There are certainly more interpretations and I would love to hear from readers about them. The Making Science Public blog posts try cover all sorts of issues around these topics, with my own ones falling possibly more within the first interpretation. So what did I do over the year? I covered events, issues and controversies, and what one may call miscellaneous topics that just took my fancy. I also focused on various language issues, as language and metaphor are still my core intellectual interest.


This year provided a reach seam of events that could be covered by blog posts relating to ‘making science public’ in a broad sense, such as the announcement of the Higgs Boson, the rover Curiosity landing on Mars (which also introduced me to the ‘Sarcastic Rover’, whom I follow on twitter and who always cheers me up when I feel down in the dumps; on Curiosity and astrobiology see Adam Smith here), the earthquake in Italy and the questions it posed about scientific advice, the Rio plus 20 summit, the Olympics and so on.


Longstanding issues of climate change, climategate and public reactions to this issues continued to intrigue me and my colleagues (Warren covered climate change issues here, including Hurricane Sandy). By the end of the year Rusi Jaspal wrote a guest blog about fracking, a topic that will surely remain with us throughout 2013, especially once the movie Promised Land is screened in the US and the UK. Fracking can of course also be seen as a controversy.


At the beginning of the year I covered some controversies around GM food, but later in the year such scientific controversies were replaced by controversies that affect science much more deeply, such as impact, open data, big data, and, perhaps most importantly, open access, covered by Beverley here and Warren here), as well as protests over science policy and science funding.


Some topics were just there for the picking, such as the increasingly surreal wrangling over neuroscience, well captured in this nice spoof,  or the data visualisation of Darwin’s tree of life, or the anniversary of Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring, or a guest blog on botany and so on. Public lectures were covered in some posts, such as in this guest blog by Ash Chaudry. Holidays too provided inspiration for posts, such as thinking about Venice and then the importance of glass in science. More seriously, the issue of transparency also needed to be tackled, as well as that of visualisation. And less seriously, I loved writing a blog post about the joy of making science songs….

Language and metaphor

Issues of science and language, especially with relation to making science public, are intimately intertwined, and they needed to be blogged about, such as the importance of metaphor, the issue of jargon (in our team), the language of impact and the languages of uncertainty.

Blog Posts not written

There are also posts that I wish I had written, such as one about a little war that broke out at the end of this year between various ‘mediators’ operating at the interface between science and society (and, in the process, sort of tortured the poor category of ‘science communication’) (discussion and emerging links to other blogs here) (I have mused about the meanings of ‘science and technology studies‘ earlier in the year). I also wish I would have written a post on curiosity (and wonder, which Kate Roach had covered a bit earlier in the year when I was ill)….

Forthcoming events in 2013

So what about next year? I am looking forward to two events: the launch event of our Making Science Public programme of research, which should bring together a sparkling lot of talent and spark off some controversy; and the Science in Public 2013 conference that will be hosted by the University of Nottingham this year. I hope to see you all (two readers, if I am lucky!) there!!

I began my year of blogging with a post that tentatively embraced this new medium of communication and I ended it by bringing my whole family into it. I hope that over the next year, the Making Science Public blog will continue to thrive and attract a growing family of readers.

Happy New Year.


Photo of Wollaton Park taken on 31 December, 2012




Posted in Personal Reflection