The first day of a Conference is like a "soft launch": early arrivals attend pre-conference symposia and participate in workshops, building up to the official opening ceremony, followed by the really busy days ahead.
This week, Lilly is sponsoring the 5th Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC). We are here because science is at the core of everything we do, and we support the CSPC in their mission to bring together Canada's science policy community and foster greater collaboration and dialogue.
In a busy day that covered a wide range of subjects, with symposia and concurrent panels with titles such as: "Science Diplomacy", "Asian Science and Technology Strategies and Progress" and "The Complexity of Driving the Bio-Economy: Genomics, Canada's natural resources and private-public collaborations", two of the sessions struck a similar cord. In the morning there was a pre-conference symposium on "Science and Technology Communication", and in the afternoon there was a panel discussion on "Journalists are from Mars; Scientists are from Venus. Will they ever be on the same planet?"
Both of these sessions recognized: a) that scientists are not always the most effective communicators, b) that connecting with the general public, the media and government officials has never been more important, and c) therefore, scientists must do a better job of telling their stories, for their own sake and in the interest of science. It was very encouraging to see so many participants enthusiastically engaged in these discussions. There was none of the stereotypical attitude often ascribed to researchers, that can be summarized as: "just let me do my work; don't bother me with trivialities like media interviews or public relations." In this new era of Twitter, Facebook and all the other channels of democratic mass communication, everyone realizes how important it is to communicate effectively, and many of the presenters provided practical examples of how science and scientists can do a better job of telling their compelling stories.
Just as important as the formal part of the day are the many corridor conversations among participants. Many still believe that Canada is a great place for science-based companies to do business. What concerns me about that is that this can foster complacency and lead to Canada falling behind the rest of the world in terms of industry investing in research and innovation in this country. Communication and conversations are important in this area, and can ensure we get back on the right track, for the benefit of everyone. That's just one of the reasons why I'm happy to be at this Conference, listening to, and talking with, other science stakeholders.