Criodán Ó Murchú, Science Outreach Executive with Midlands Science on Storytelling in Science

In this guest blog, Science Outreach Executive Criodán Ó Murchú outlines his recent experience at the European Media Hub as he was selected to take part in the 2023 Storytelling in Science Course.

This year, I had the pleasure of being invited along to the European Media-Science Hub’s (ESMH) 2023 “Storytelling in Science” course. Taking place in Strasbourg, France, the course involved 3 days packed with lectures, panels, and practical lessons designed to improve science communication skills, journalism in science, fact-checking, and what’s next for science in media. Travelling from Ireland, I had a less conventional route compared to my continental counterparts.Getting to Strasbourg is not straightforward – nestled in the Alsace along the west of the river Rhine, there are no direct flights from Ireland. As a result, I chose a method that would be timely and lower emissions than taking multiple flights – a combination of flying and rail.

Flying to Amsterdam, I then took a TGV to Paris, changed to another TGV, and continued onwards to Strasbourg. My flights resulted in just over 350kg of CO2 whilst my longer train journeys accounted for 12kg of CO2. An important saving during the climate crisis. I luckily had secured a window seat for the entire journey and was glad I had. As we hurtled across the Netherlands at near 300kph and France touching 320kph, one could soak in the views of dairy farms, wind turbines, forest and woodlands, and distant hills and mountains.

Our course began on Tuesday afternoon, meeting at the European Parliament (EP) building. Roughly 30 minutes by tram from my accommodation, the EP backs onto the river Rhine, giving tourists a fantastic look into some of the Orangerie district and its architecture. MEP Christian Ehler, Chair of the Panel for the future of Science and Technology (STOA) welcomed us to Strasbourg and to the beginning of our course along with Vitalba Crivello of the ESMH.Chloe Hill, Policy Manager of European Geosciences Union, moderated the opening panel on “The importance of science reporting, past lessons and future challenges”. This session examined how science journalism and science communication have been coping with the big changes imposed by the advent of social media and how they have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and by the climate crisis.Panellists included Mr Ehler, as well as Professor Jason Pridmore, Vice Dean of Education for the Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication, Rotterdam, The Netherlands – leading TRESCA and COALESCE projects, Pampa Garcia Molina, Director of the Science-Media Center Spain, and Kai Kupferschmidt, correspondent for ‘Science’ Magazine in Berlin, Germany.

Wednesday opened with Kai Kupferschmidt walking us through a practical workshop on the differences between scientific writing and journalists reporting of it. This was a fascinating delve into language, accessibility, and provoking interest in a topic.The following session examined how public trust in science has changed in an evermore digital world. Carolien Nijenhuis of the ESMH moderated for Prof. Eveline Crone, Luca Bertuzzi, and Amy Ross Arguedas. We discussed the concerning trend of the general public’s trust in science and science media and what could be done to counteract this, using contemporary tactics.

The final session of the day was titled “How to avoid the misinformation trap? Understanding science denialism via behavioural science”. Philipp Schmid, Behavioural Scientist at Institute for Planetary Health Behaviour (IPB); University of Erfurt, Germany led the discussion alongside Barbara Gormley, Lecturer in the Schools of Psychology and Communication at Dublin City University (DCU), and Rocío Benavente, Maldita Ciencia, Spain. Kai returned for his final session with us on Thursday morning. Here we examined the “importance of storytelling in science reporting”. This session was personally the most impactful as it drove home the point that discussing, educating, and reporting on science relies on a storied element to it – it must be entertaining. It must be novel and exciting, even if it is comparably bad news. Our remaining trainings centred on “best practices in science journalism” and new digital tools for science reporting i.e., ChatGPT.

On Friday, June 9th, the European Youth Event began. This event has 10,000 young people from around Europe visit the EP to take part in an enormous number of activities, trainings, talks, and more, from influential minds in Europe. Suggested for our group were two sessions, both focused on telling climate stories. The second hosted Simon Clark to present a master class. Simon is a YouTuber who holds a PhD from the University of Exeter. He has recently published a book which I brought along with me with the hopes of getting it signed. Thankfully following the master class, Simon graciously spent some time outside the venue answering follow-on questions, picking apart discussion topics, and signing my book.

I returned home late on Saturday 10th, following a similar journey to before, albeit in reverse. This time there was unfortunately more airport running than I have ever done in my life. Having made my flight, I’d say my time management skills are in tip top shape. I am immensely looking forward to my next meeting with my fellow science communicators, hopefully in a venue and area as gorgeous as Strasbourg was.