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Publishing a popular science book II


 
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Professor Darryl Jones, urban ecologist from Griffith University and author of the book The Birds at My Table, gives some advice for those who want to publish in the scientific field. Professor Jones strongly believes that anyone involved in publically funded scientific research has an obligation to communicate it. This should be done in a style that is accessible to the general public and doesn’t diminish the complexities of the scientific work. It is an antidote to the standard approach from academics that journalists don’t understand their work and don’t report it well. Once senior colleagues told him he was wasting too much time writing popular articles and should concentrate on scientific journals but now you get brownie points for appearing in the general public. Some scientists (and some fields of science) still hide in their labs and don’t communicate with people.

 
Professor Jones’s son, for example, performed his post-Honours presentation on neurology to his parents. Despite both being professors in a science field they had no idea what he was talking about!
Professor Jones strongly encourages colleagues and students to pitch a story on their latest research.
There are many avenues to achieve this as there are many outlets now for publishing that can be widely accessed by the general public. There are still hard copy magazines like Australian Geographic and Wildlife Australia. An online newspaper called The Conversation is managed by journalists but written entirely by academics. The journalists approach specialists in every field possible and present their work in a colourful way. They are always looking for new stories. Such outlets mean people can start out on a small scale before gearing up to writing a book. Darryl and friend

 
The growing field of citizen science means there must be thousands of people across Australia currently involved in citizen science working side by side with scientists. Indeed Australia does have a Citizen Science Society and scientists now have the chance to do work that they never had the faintest chance of doing before. Now there are dedicated ordinary people who want to assist scientific research and they have infectious enthusiasm.
It also means that there is an audience for scientific research that is not just academics. A month ago the World Festival of Science was held at Brisbane’s Queensland Museum with internationally renowned people giving talks. Every session was sold out! This is incredibly encouraging.
Communicating scientific research in scientific publishing just takes the write approach.

 
Into the Lion’s Den
Professor Jones has just been invited to the RSPCA’s big conference that they have every two years. They have an official line that bird feeding is bad so his new book The Birds at My Table challenges an orthodoxy that has been around for a long, long time. He has also decided to write a new book straightaway on the back of it. Probably called Feeding the Birds at Your Table it will have comments and guidelines for what people in Australia can do when feeding wild birds, filling an information gap.

 
Professor Darryl Jones was interviewed by Ruby Vincent for A Question of Balance. Image from Darryl Jones. Text by Victor Barry May 2018.

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Publishing a popular science book I

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