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A Basic Solution: Effective Science Communication Impacts Research Funding

Posted by Jill Roughan May 3rd, 2013 .
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Obtaining funding to support basic research has always challenged scientists and entrepreneurs.  However, in today’s tumultuous economic climate and looming sequester cuts, the future of life science funding is more uncertain than ever.  Since San Diego has been rated among the top life science biotech regions in the US and is home to some of the world’s top research institutions, one of the things that San Diego can rely on is that we are great at innovation. So, how can we, as a community, ensure that this innovation is financially supported despite these circumstances?  A panel of local science communication experts gathered to discuss these issues at SDBN’s April 29th Biotech Journalism Panel event. The panelists were Brad Fikes (San Diego Union Tribune), Heather Chambers (California Healthcare Institute), and Brian Orelli (Freelance Journalist). The panel was moderated by Carin Canale, Founder of Canale Communications and member of the Biocom board.

The Success Story – San Diego, the Media, and Stem Cell Research

Let’s face it, scientists have experiments to do and grants to prepare.  Most don’t want to be bothered with the particulars of how and with whom to communicate their science, outside of their sphere.  But what if there was evidence that effective science communication to the public actually impacted funding?  This question started the panel discussion and we quickly focused our attention on San Diego’s own success story: stem cell research.  It is clear that media coverage of the stellar stem cell research community helped put our city on the map in this field.  Raising public awareness of the innovative science we were doing ultimately impacted funding decisions made in Congress, the NIH, and alternative funding sources, including the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM).  Within the last 5 years, San Diego has become the one of the premiere regions for stem cell research and works closely with CIRM which is bringing top-rate scientists, employment opportunities and funding into the region.

However, it won’t come to anyone’s surprise that this wasn’t easy and basic research is a hard sell.  So, what reagents were added to the stem cell research ‘media beaker’?  Turns out, just as the science, the solution was basic as well.   The main components were:

  1. Articles were written that appealed to a mass audience and were very broad.  Hyperlinks were added to the articles if someone wanted to obtain more detailed information.
  2. The articles brought in the patient perspective.  Disease-related basic research is relevant for patients and they’re very keen to find out the latest news.
  3. Blogs targeting the more engaged or educated consumer.

San Diego’s Next Success Story – You

Photo courtesy Ramy Aziz, who Tweeted it during the event.

A general rule of thumb and what is most important is that scientists need to know how to tell their story to different audiences.  If you are able to effectively communicate your work with your peers, a layperson, various funding agencies, your institute’s Public Information Officer and a reporter, this will increase your chance for exposure because all of these individuals will share your interesting story. The panelists provided some helpful tips on things to keep in mind when trying to ‘sell your story.’

  1. To avoid being misinterpreted, talk slowly and restate what you’re saying or have the individual explain your story back to you.
  2. Treat interviews as a conversation; provide analogies; don’t just read from a polished abstract or press release.
  3. Explain why your work is unique from other research in your field.
  4. Hit the ‘high points’ not ‘all points’; Decide what are the most important elements of your story that you want to share.

Taking Matters into Your Own ‘Tweets’

One great way to get your message out there is Twitter.  Scientists tend to be risk-averse when they are experimenting with new models of scientific communication (they have enough experiments to do).  However, we know that life scientists have used social media platforms such as Twitter, LinkedIn, and blogging, to obtain funding, find jobs, and build collaborations.  The platform that has most recently gained a lot of momentum in the life science realm is Twitter. Twitter is an online networking tool that allows users to engage in a world-wide conversation by sharing text- based content—called tweets—of up to 140 characters. It is estimated that 3-5% of life scientists are currently using Twitter and this percentage is rapidly growing.  Tweeting has evolved into a great resource where the dynamics have helped create an environment of positive scientific exchange.  In fact, attendees at the SDBN event were tweeting and you can follow their virtual conversation here.


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Biotech Journalism Panel Series Part 2: Who’s Great At Communicating San Diego Life Science?

Posted by Mary Canady April 28th, 2013 .
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Part of the motivation behind organizing our upcoming biotech journalism event is that we want to encourage more communication about the terrific life science advances in the region. In putting the panel of local science communication experts together, we realized that there are many other examples we can discuss to inspire you to promote your scientific work. As part of our #SDScicomm series, here are 7 great San Diego life science communication efforts.

First, though, let’s talk about why science communication is so important. As the online media landscape is developing, the public hears from many anti-science ‘voices’ such as sources that tell them vaccinating is a bad idea and that global warming is a hoax. We crunched the numbers from a recent Pew report (the data are on p. 11 and the analysis can be found in this Google doc) and found that there has been an 11% decrease in support for life science funding over the past 26 years. Surely the reasons for this are varied, and the Pew report also points out that the public has become more austere in other areas as well (p. 6). However, if your lab/institution/company has not yet felt the effects of shrinking government and investor support, you are definitely in the minority. Science communication is now more important than ever, especially as new sources of information are taking hold.

alternate textFigure 1. US public’s support for increasing life science funding has declined 11% since 1987. Image links to supporting data.

Great San Diego Science Communication Examples

  1. Life Technologies’ Anti-Sequestration Campaign. In an effort to stop the government’s across-the-board sequestration funding cuts, Life Technologies implemented a campaign making it easier for scientists to contact their congressional representatives. According to Robin Smith, Sr. eMarketing Manager at Life Technologies, the campaign generated at least six thousand responses in a month (12 minute mark in video). Of course we all know that the sequester happened, but that doesn’t mean the efforts didn’t raise awareness. Indeed, the conversation is very active currently (follow #sciquester on Twitter) and life scientists should be vocal to their friends and families as to the impact on their work and lives. Life Technologies took a bold step and likely used a significant budget to back this campaign, they should be applauded.
  2. San Diego Entrepreneur’s Exchange (SDEE). The SDEE is a fantastic resource for startups and small companies, with frequent events and lots of ways to get involved. I attended an event titled “Built To Last, Not For The Exit” in which three local entrepreneurs presented their inspiring stories of how to create a long-lasting life science company in San Diego. SDEE is also active in supporting funding of small companies, providing education about getting Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Grants and support of pro-SBIR legislation.
  3. Sanford-Burnham’s Beaker Blog. We had Heather Buschman, Scientific Communications Manager at Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, on our panel last October to discuss blogging from an academic institution standpoint. Heather is the tour de force behind Sanford-Burnham’s Beaker blog which is an excellent example of science communication as it offers news and insights to scientists as well as to the public. Don’t take our word for it, the blog has gotten numerous awards. We wish each of our outstanding research organizations had a blog such as Beaker. It would be even better if they also provided the infrastructure for every lab to have a blog. We can dream, can’t we? We provided a list of San Diego life science institution news and resources pages on our last #SDScicomm post.
  4. SciVee. One of the founders of SciVee is UCSD’s Phil Bourne, and the vision of this project is to allow researchers to communicate their research through video presentations. SciVee provides software to facilitate creation of presentations, and each can be paired with an uploaded document. Dr. Bourne is a long-standing advocate of science communication and open access, and is the Founding Editor in Chief of PLoS Computational Biology and Associate Director of the Protein Data Bank, in addition to being UCSD’s Associate Vice Chancellor for Innovation and Industrial Alliances. We are dying to get Dr. Bourne to speak at one of our ScienceOnline San Diego events, but as you can imagine he’s very busy!
  5. Salk Mobile Science Laboratory. I heard about Salk’s Mobile Science Laboratory from a colleague and had a hard time finding it on their website, it seems like a great but perhaps not widely publicized resource. The bus visits 18 schools a year, reaching 2200 students each year for the past ten years. The lab focuses on DNA-related experiments—wouldn’t it be great to have a bus for each area of life science?
  6. San Diego Festival of Science & Engineering (SDScienceFest). The SDScienceFest has been going strong since 2009 and I volunteered for the expo this past March at Petco Park. Through 35 events, 55,000 children and adults are exposed to the great science and engineering happening in San Diego. I overheard one child saying “This was the best day ever!” upon leaving the expo and several asked us when the next event would take place. Outreach to the public is incredibly important, and I saw only a small percentage of our 400+ biotech companies participating in the event. The SDBN hopes to improve the number of biotech companies participating in future SDScienceFest events.
  7. Crowdfunding. An interesting development in research funding is the use of so-called ‘crowdfunding,’ or raising money through public requests. The most popular initiative is SciFund, and the founders aim to help scientists better communicate their research through their campaigns. A few local groups have begun to use crowdfunding, including a lab at TSRI, a local company trying to cure Malaria, and an online forum for scientists. These efforts are all in their early stages, and time will tell whether this funding model is viable. If you’d like to get started with your own crowdfunding campaign, check out this great training program from SciFund.

There are many resources to help you get started doing more communication and outreach such as ScienceOnline and Nature’s SpotOn science outreach initative. We will highlight the above and other local life science communication efforts at our biotech journalism event, and perhaps you know of others you’d like to share? Please leave them below, thanks!


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Biotech Journalism Panel Series Part 1: Where Do You Get Your Local Life Science News?

Posted by Mary Canady April 25th, 2013 .


In anticipation of our Biotech Journalism event Monday, we’re providing resources related to San Diego life science communication tagged here with #SDScicomm (also the hashtag for the event). Over the five years since the SDBN’s creation, we’ve seen a lot of changes such as the SDUT’s acquisition of the North County Times, the rising popularity of news organizations such as Xconomy, and more local companies starting blogs. Keeping in touch with the local life science news is important for many reasons: to learn about advances, funding, jobs, and events. We cover many sources in our news feeds, which you can subscribe to, and we’ve also created a Facebook interest group you can follow. If you have another news source, contact us and we’ll add it. Also, encourage your organization to provide more news and information online, preferably with an RSS feed, as this is how we combine them into a single source. Share news and events with your colleagues and friends too, this helps science in the region gain more visibility.

So, tell us, which of news sources do you use? Comment below!

San Diego Biotech News Sources

Institution Resource Links
Accelrys Blog URL
Allele Biotech Blog URL,RSS
Assay Depot Blog URL,
Biocom Event Calendar URL
BioSpace* News URL
Genomeweb* News URL, RSS
Illumina Blog URL,RSS
Life Technologies Blog URL, RSS
Salk Institute Event Calendar URL (mailing list)
Salk Institute News RSS
San Diego Business Journal News URL
San Diego Biotechnology Connection News URL,RSS
San Diego Union Tribune News URL,RSS
Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute Blog URL,RSS
SDBN News, Event Calendar URL,RSS (feeds)
The Scripps Research Institute News RSS
Trilink Biotechnologies Blog URL,RSS
Xconomy News URL,RSS

*Requires filtering for San Diego news.


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SDBN 2013 Poll Results: Drug Development, Translational Research, Green Tech Top Interests

Posted by Mary Canady February 7th, 2013 .
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We have the results of our 2013 poll. You can see the questions we asked here, we kept it short this year. See the results below and we will try to cover the interests and companies you are interested in!


Company of Interest # Votes
Illumina 5
Novartis 3
Genomatica 2
Intrexon 2
Life Technologies 2
Pfizer 2
Sapphire Energy 2
Sequenom 2
Synthetic Genomics 2
Verenium 2
Amgen 1
BP Biofuels 1
Cardinal Health 1
Ceres 1
Dart Neurosciences 1
Ferring 1
Halozyme 1
Johnson and Johnson 1
Roche 1
SG Biofuels 1
Takeda 1
Trius Therapeutics 1
Verdezyne 1
Vertex 1

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SDBN 2013 Poll

Posted by Mary Canady January 17th, 2013 .
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San Diego sunset 1/1/2013, image courtesy Flickr user nette1274 (click image)

2013 is here and we’d like to know how we can serve your needs this year. Please fill out this short survey and we’ll send you a 2013 MO BIO calendar (also shipping with orders from them through January). (Poll is now closed, see the results here.)