IAU Focus Meetings (GA)

FM 19: Communicating Astronomy with the Public in the Big Data Era

Start date/time

August 6, 2015

End date/time

August 7, 2015


United States


Pedro Russo

Coordinating Division

Division C Education, Outreach and Heritage

Other Divisions:


Co-Chairs of SOC:
Pedro Russo (Leiden University)
Kimberly Kowal Arcand (Smithsonian Astrophysical)


IAU Commission 55 would like to organise a focus meeting on astronomy communication. The focus will be on the new role of the researcher in astronomy communication. Questions and topics that we would like to see addressed during such a session are:

  • How can the work of researchers be recognized in astro communication?
  • How will big data and big science affect the way that we communicate with the public?
  • What would researchers like to improve in communication initiatives?
  • How can researchers effectively engage with "upstream communication"?
  • How can communicators support the work of the researchers?
  • What is the relationship between public opinion and research funding?


There has been a notable shift in the profile of the information gatekeepers: from being a select group of scientists, authors, journalists and editors to the new curators of knowledge: the crowd. Social media tools have grown from obscurity to almost uniform adoption with incredibly rapidity, and popular services like Facebook and Twitter are the favored knowledge sharing tools among new the information gatekeepers.

While it could be argued that new discoveries are making it into the mainstream dialogue more readily than ever before, there is still room for improvement and innovation. The social media tools that ease science communications can be (and are!) used by everyone. We are still defining the best techniques to prevent important knowledge from being drowned out by the sheer volume of content. With an average of 40 scientific papers published on astro-ph on every day of 2012, triage is necessary, and we have to develop new and innovative ways of steering the public through the huge amounts of new research to results that will interest them or impact their lives.

There have been some successful initiatives designed to research the best-practices in using new technologies to communicate science. Large organisations, such as NASA, ESO, ESA and JAXA, have embraced social media to reach out to new audiences. Other organisations have created citizen science projects that have made scientific data accessible to the general public. The results of the social and educational research inform how we can effectively communicate science research. This Focus Meeting is designed to provide an intensive review of the lessons learned — both the successes and the failures — from these initiatives, and address how we can stay ahead of the crashing tide of information.


Besides one papers per session for the IAU GA Proceedings we will will produce a concrete outcome by the end of the session, a Playbook on Communicating Astronomy with the Public in the Big Data Era


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