Distillations: Sharing science for the public good

It’s that time of year again. No, we’re not talking about the holiday season (though, happy holidays everyone!). We’re talking AGU’s annual meeting! To celebrate, we’re releasing an episode each day of the conference, corresponding with the theme of the day. This year, the theme of the meeting is Science Leads the Future, and we’re kicking things off with our CEO, Randy Fiser, who focused on the importance of effective science communication (which is exactly what our colleagues in Sharing Science do!).

This episode was produced by Shane M Hanlon and mixed by Collin Warren. Artwork by Olivia Ambrogio. Interview conducted by Autria Godfrey. 


Shane Hanlon:              00:00                Hi, Vicky.

Vicky Thompson:           00:01                Hi, Shane.

Shane Hanlon:              00:02                Vicky, what day is today?

Vicky Thompson:           00:06                Today is Monday, December 5th.

Shane Hanlon:              00:10                Okay, so you got the Monday part right, but it’s actually the 12th or maybe someday after that.

Vicky Thompson:           00:19                Why are you doing this? We always record ahead of time, but why are you doing this right now?

Shane Hanlon:              00:26                I love the that you’re like, “Shane, don’t do this.”

Vicky Thompson:           00:28                What is this?

Shane Hanlon:              00:30                Okay, so here’s the deal. This episode is special. All our episodes are special, but this one’s special in that this week, I guess as folks are listening to this, and as I go through this, I’m losing the thread, but stick with me. So this week we’re releasing an episode every single day. So instead of once a week, we’re doing one a day as part of HEU’s big annual meeting, that you and I just happen to be at in Chicago.

Vicky Thompson:           00:55                Shane, you’re in your basement in Virginia.

Shane Hanlon:              00:59                Play along Vicky.

Vicky Thompson:           01:00                Okay. Okay. So I can’t imagine what you’re actually going to be like during this release schedule. So stressed.

Shane Hanlon:              01:09                Oh goodness. Okay. It’ll be great. It’ll be fine.

Vicky Thompson:           01:12                It’ll be fine. Okay. Famous last words.

Shane Hanlon:              01:19                Science is fascinating, but don’t just take my word for it. Join us as we hear stories from scientists for everyone. I’m Shane Hanlon.

Vicky Thompson:           01:29                And I’m Vicky Thompson.

Shane Hanlon:              01:30                And this is Third Pod from the Sun. All right. So aside from our temporal musings and my stress levels, we are here to introduce our first episode, and it features none other than our CEO, Randy Fiser.

Vicky Thompson:           01:49                Coming in hot.

Shane Hanlon:              01:51                I know, right? Only the best for our audiences. And so Randy kicked us off talking about the theme of our meeting, Science Leads the Future.

Vicky Thompson:           01:59                Great. Let’s hear it.

Randy Fiser:                  02:02                Hi, I am Randy Fiser, CEO of AGU. And as the CEO of this organization, I have the privilege to lead the 150 staff members and to partner with the board and the council in helping AGU be successful and to really translate earth and space science for the future.

Autria Godfrey:             02:27                Right, let’s dive right in. So this year’s theme is Science Leads the Future. What does that mean to you?

Randy Fiser:                  02:33                So to me, Science Leads the Future is really about how the information that our scientists gather and study is really important to how we make decisions about where we go in the future. I mean, look at the issues that we’re dealing with in the society, climate change. We have other types of societal challenges that we’re dealing with, environmental justice issues, sea level rise. All of those things are just things that we are facing in the future and lots and lots of decisions need to be made around that. As scientists collect data and information, using that to inform policy, using that to inform actions that we take is really critical for us because if we don’t do that and we just based it on perceptions or ideas or concepts, we really can make the wrong decisions as a future of our planet.

Autria Godfrey:             03:20                And you mentioned all the different, I guess, issues that we are facing. So how do we make sure that science stays at the forefront when it comes to tackling some of those problems?

Randy Fiser:                  03:28                I think that’s a great question because it’s really important that scientists learn to communicate their science to the general population. We need to do it not as scare tactics and get people freaked out that, oh my God, the world is ending, but do it in a way that really shows that one, we can convey the information that makes it understandable, makes it actionable, and really touches in people’s values and how they believe the world is structured and what they care about. So if you talk about to somebody who is really interested in say, fishing, and you’re able to convey to them that the temperature of the water that’s changing around the fish that they are using as sustenance for their family is going to cause the fish to no longer be there, that not only conveys the science, but in a really transferrable way, but it also helps them understand that, from a value perspective, something that they care about is going to be gone in the future.

Autria Godfrey:             04:23                You have to boil it down to their practical terms.

Randy Fiser:                  04:25                Yeah, absolutely.

Autria Godfrey:             04:26                You touched on this just a moment ago, but the word future, we would like to think, expresses hope and optimism, but I don’t have to tell you that certainly in this atmosphere these days, sometimes it can also elicit feelings of fear and uncertainty. How can science keep it positive?

Randy Fiser:                  04:45                Yeah, that’s a great question as well. Thinking about a sustainable future and really painting the picture that if we do the right things as a planet and we do the right things as people on this planet, that we really can actually create a future that everybody is going to be excited about, that we are going to be happy that our grandchildren can live in, and that we can really do the right thing as a planet and create this environment that we know we are capable of doing. So I think always putting out the challenges, because we got to let people know what we’re facing, but doing it in a way that says, but if we do that, this is what the future could look like for us. And not just do it as doom and gloom. It’s just like, oh, this is what’s happening, the sea level’s going to rise and islands and coastal lines are going to just disappear, and never saying, but if we do this, this could happen.

Autria Godfrey:             05:37                Did you ever think that scientists would have to embark on a PR mission to let the general public know, hey, we’re on your side here, we’re working for a better world for everybody?

Randy Fiser:                  05:45                Yeah, that’s been a critical area of AGU for a long time. So we did recognize that there was this translation of our science that wasn’t taking place and that people were not understanding it. And so we really have put programs and initiatives in place in the organization to help scientists be better communicators of their science because it really is about that value connection. It’s about making it understandable. I think everybody inherently knows that our planet is not on a good path right now, but if you hear messages that translate to something that you feel, you can sometimes grab onto those messages even when they’re wrong. And we need to be better at how do we translate our message and our information and our knowledge to people so that they grab onto that and not somebody else’s message that’s trying to take them on a different path.

Autria Godfrey:             06:36                Well, the fall meeting this week, it’s a great opportunity for researchers and to scientists to exchange those messages. What are you looking forward to in the week ahead?

Randy Fiser:                  06:43                Well, one is just seeing everybody. I think it’s always, always great to bring this community together and we’re looking at about 23,000 people being here and we think 80% of them are going to be in person. We don’t want to forget about our virtual connection. We have people from all over the world who are also going to be connecting with us online, and we’re trying to create an experience where both get the same or at least an equal experience out there. So just seeing everybody, seeing the power of the science that’s shared here, but also seeing this community really focusing on the issues and challenges that we need to face as well. So we are going to be looking at areas of diversity, equity, and inclusion as a community, environmental justice. We’re also looking at climate interventions that are taking place and really how can we address some of the challenges that are going to be faced with that. So it’s just really incredible when this group gets together and how much knowledge and information is shared in one place.

Autria Godfrey:             07:44                You mentioned some of the new initiatives that AGU will be embarking on for this year’s meeting. Anyone in particular that you are most looking forward to or that you think might be the most impactful?

Randy Fiser:                  07:54                So AGU is developing an ethical framework, which is going to put a construct around those research initiatives to have conversations to say, is this the right thing to be even doing and thinking about? From an ethics perspective, from an environmental justice perspective, from a pure science perspective, are these types of interventions that could really have a positive impact on our planet or could they, through no fault of anybody’s, but unintentional consequences that just far outweigh the opportunity that’s coming from this research initiative? So really critical conversations taking place at fall meeting around this and over the next year. And it’s really, I think, an important part that the scientific community along with partners can play in the future of this planet.

Autria Godfrey:             08:39                Very. Certainly. It sounds like you’re trying to encourage scientists to kind of think out of the box. I mean, so often we think of scientists, they’re focused on their work, they’re focused on their research, but to kind of think a little bit more big picture.

Randy Fiser:                  08:49                Yeah. Well, a lot of what AGU has been doing lately is getting … Discovery science is incredibly important to us, so learning more about our planet, learning more about where our planet is going, all of that is critical. But if it’s not translatable over into solutions, then we have a problem. And so that’s really the outside of the box piece. Scientists can’t do that by themselves. They need others to do that. So how can we build partnerships with others to really look at solutions? And that needs engineers, it needs social scientists, it needs everybody to really kind of be at the table, which is also where our diversity, equity, inclusion comes in. Because if we don’t create a table that allows people to come to it and have a voice, whether they’re scientists or not, then we’re also missing those voices and the solution making.

Vicky Thompson:           09:43                Are you looking forward to the rest of the week?

Shane Hanlon:              09:47                I am. We’re going to hear from a bunch of different scientists on themes of art and innovation and environmental justice, open science, and no big deal, but just the future of the planet.

Vicky Thompson:           09:59                Right. No big deal.

Shane Hanlon:              10:00                Yeah, exactly. So stay tuned, folks, for a great week. And with that, that’s all from Third Pod from the Sun. Special thanks to [inaudible 00:10:10] Godfrey for conducting the interview.

Vicky Thompson:           10:12                And to you, Shane, for producing the episode. Audio engineering was by Colin Warren, with artwork by Olivia Ambrosio.

Shane Hanlon:              10:18                If you’d like to see video for at least part of this interview, go to YouTube and search for AGU TV.

Vicky Thompson:           10:25                We’d love to hear your thoughts. Please rate and review the podcast, and you can find new episodes in your favorite podcasting app or at ThirdPodfromtheSun.com.

Shane Hanlon:              10:33                Thanks all and we’ll see you, oh geez, tomorrow.

Vicky Thompson:           10:37                Oh boy.

Shane Hanlon:              10:40                Thanks all.


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