“Everyone. There’s no specific demographic. Ann Druyan, the writer of the show [and wife of the late Carl Sagan], succinctly noted: anyone with a beating heart. The cosmos is not for one demographic. It’s for everyone. It belongs to everyone.” Neil deGrasse Tyson on the ‘target audience’ for Cosmos
Thirty years ago, when Hey, Hey It’s Saturday moved to prime time, no one was thinking, “What’s the demographic that watches Hey, Hey It’s Saturday?” The whole family watched it. It was a time where things could be conceived and delivered to everyone.
If this is still possible in the age of digital media is a question for another blog entirely, but when it comes to issues such as climate change and the world we live in, shouldn’t the ‘target audience’ be everyone?
This was the approach taken by Neil deGrasse Tyson and the team behind Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey – a show not only about science, but our understanding of our place in the universe.
Many people who read this may turn their noses up at a reference to ‘Hey, Hey It’s Saturday’. Many of these people are probably the same people who limit their writing to a very defined (and limited) demographic.
Many of these people are likely science communicators who communicate only to their peers.
There are some – yet, not enough – who cross the divide and make science accessible, such as Dr Karl Kruszelnicki. For those who struggle to “bring their science to the pub”, partnering with people who understand the science, as well as the media and its audience, is a way to broaden your appeal.
Opening up science to a broader audience has many advantages. For starters, governments would be less likely to cut programs (i.e. CSIRO cuts here in Australia and cuts to NASA in the US) if the populace were more interested in science.
A more scientifically-engaged populace can also have advantages for science itself – particularly in the field of research. A great example of this can be found at the US Ivy League university, Cornell.
Biologist Caren Cooper, a research associate at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, carries out her avian studies with the help of thousands of assistants, none of whom are paid for their work.
That’s because Cooper, relies on the help of “citizen scientist”, volunteers from across the United States who contribute data to her research projects. These lay people provide information that enables her and other scientists to study bird life in ways that would otherwise be impossible.
Tell me the same thing couldn’t happen (or to some degree isn’t already) in areas such as climate change.
A more engaged population will help to change the relationship between science and society. In an age where we face more environmental challenges than before, “citizen scientists” can play an important role in helping researchers uncover knowledge that assists leaders from business, government and civil society to manage our changing world.
With the high-speed internet able to handle enormous amounts of data in real-time, we have the infrastructure for these innovative, multi-disciplinary, cross-sectoral collaborations – we just need the motivation.
Talking to us and engaging with us – as many of us as possible – is a good place for science to start.