Two Decades of Science Communication

bradley-south-park-biohazardToday is my twentieth anniversary as a science writer-editor and yet it seems like only yesterday that I walked into the editorial offices of the Royal Society of Chemistry, having abandoned the chemical lab in favour of publishing on 23rd January 1989. A fateful day. Not only did it represent a permanent move to Cambridge and a totally different career direction to what I’d imagined during university days, but it was also the day I first met my then-future and wonderful wife, Tricia.

It’s all been a rollercoaster of a ride in more senses than one, and something of a long-term follicular challenge with respect to building the business, as you can probably see by comparing the photo of me as a youth on this post (no I’m not switching avatars) with the more recent portrait on my resume page. While you’re on that page you can also check out a list of past and present publications, magazines, papers, journals, trade pubs, websites, broadcast media companies, and not-for-profits with whom I’ve worked during the last twenty years.

I suspected from an early age, surreptitiously dismantling watches, building Lego Technics gizmos, messing with magnets and steelies, and reading anything scientific or technical voraciously, that I’d probably end up in science. I love science, see? I love feeling curious about the world around us and that science provides us with explanations as to why things are the way they are and how they work.

My awful passport photo from the 1980sIt certainly does unweave the rainbow; and that’s a good thing. To my mind, rainbows are more wonderful because now I have a feeling for how they work as well as an aesthetic appreciation of the natural beauty. I’m sure Newton would agree. A rose by any other name smells sweeter if you can envisage the chemistry that produces its scent, and I’m sure Shakespeare would agree with me on that point too!

Science can predict the future, it can solve problems, it allows us to see further than we otherwise would by providing giant shoulders on which we might stand. Moreover, the giants can walk around and so, unlike received wisdom, archaic dogma and mythological explanations of reality, science can shift its paradigms when faced with new evidence or a predictive failure of a theory.

I discovered quickly enough during lab sessions that I was not cut out to handle test-tubes and Petri dishes. However, I felt I could turn a neat phrase to explain why such things are useful and what the science they enable can teach us. Editors such as Nina Hall at New Scientist, Dan Clery at Science, Rick Stevenson at Chemistry in Britain, Mandy Mackenzie at Gas Jar, and others seemed to agree and gave me the requisite column inches in their publications early in my career to wax lyrical on countless scientific discoveries.

This is about the 1500th blog post on Sciencebase, which started life way back in 1996 as Elemental Discoveries, I’ve no idea how many words I’ve written in total across all those dozens of publications, it literally runs into the millions. A quick Fermi calculation based on my workbook would suggest an average of 1000 words per working day over the course of 20 years covering everything from news of the fundamental chemical discoveries such as buckyballs and conducting plastics to features on supercritical fluids or dark energy.

I’ve no plans to stop writing about science, technology and medicine. So, wish me luck for the next twenty years communicating science.

16 thoughts on “Two Decades of Science Communication”

  1. Also celebrating this year is CERN, for it was at the Swiss research centre that the original idea for the World-Wide Web was mooted on 13th March 1989.

  2. My hearty congratulations to David Bradley, the extraordinary science communicator on his 20th anniversary of his science blog. It is easy to get a religious promoter or cult promoter these days. Let his religion of science multiply in algebraic proportions.

  3. Many, many thanks for the kind words and congratulations, here, on twitter, by email and elsewhere. I hope I can live up to the high standards you set me in the coming years, and yes it is probably time I wrote a whole book…

  4. My congratulations on your 20th anniversary! The world needs more perceptive and interesting science writing like yours. I’ve been happily reading your work for many years, both before and after your web debut, and hope to continue doing so in the years ahead. Science and the public owe you a debt of gratitude for transforming obscure complexity into vibrant relevance.

  5. You are still very young! We need more good commentators: it is more difficult to be a good communicator than it is to be a reasonably good scientist, which we all know because we got more names on our list of colleagues than our list of science writers like Martin Gardner, Bill Bryson, and the bloggers we love. There is such a mess between religion and science in the whole world. I tend to think that we are more medieval now than we were in the 70s. Look for instance at thoughts from Kansas and the fight for evolution (http://www.scientificblogging.com/adaptive_complexity/creationisms_legal_history_door_wide_open http://scienceblogs.com/tfk/2009/01/texas_passes_first_reading_of.php ). It is also a big fight to keep the public interested in what we do.
    Time for you to write a book.

  6. Hi David
    What a day it is for you (and your wife)! Happy anniversary to the both of you. I hope you are doing something appropriately celebratory. I too have only just discovered your site and find it a great source of interesting info relevant to my work – I am currently helping VSN International to publicise the recent free availability of their data analysis software, GenStat for Teaching, to all schools, colleges and universities worldwide – I hope that is of interest to you and your readers. Anyway as per your suggestion, I’ve just taken the opportunity to look through some of your portfolio and came across a few articles that I would most definitely like to pen a response to soon. But with my children clamouring for my attention today, this will have to wait till Monday. In the meantime, if you could recommend some science books for children, that would be appreciated. Best wishes ml

  7. congrats !!! Brutha
    For being a succesful guy . if i were u i would be really happy. having a great mind .being able to solve a math lesson….unfortunately l weren’t u….
    you’ve got to be the best for human -kind with an insightful that you got<okay!!!!!!

  8. David,
    I really enjoyed reading about the path that you have taken in your career. Also, I found your insights (re: rainbows and role of science in our society) very refreshing.

    Your story of success based in your curiosity and passion of science is a great model of all the newbies (such as myself) that are starting out. I’m sure your ability to effectively convey science to the general public has benefited thousands of people over the years, and I’m sure it will continue to through the coming decades.

    Keep up the good work!
    -Thor

  9. Congrats, both for originally going for it and sticking to it! This is inspiring for me to read, as I, too, became a scientist, (because I love understanding how nature works) only to find out that I don’t really like doing science or really knowing how only ONE thing works. Now, I am getting back to my ‘second’ choice – writing.

    And I have to say, the 80s were scary. Scary hair. I don’t think I would ever post a pic of my hair from that era where it could publicly be viewed! I like your current look (current follicular status notwithstanding) much more!

  10. Hi David,

    I just discovered your blog, but I already love it. I’ve been looking for good science blogs.

    To me, what is needed is sharing that excitement of science and that curiosity about the world around us that you feel. I am dismayed that my students show very little of either of those things. It’s been bred out of them by too many years of boring cookbook science, or simply by the idea that school = drudgery.

    Keep spreading enthusaism and passion!

  11. All the best for the next twenty, David. Enjoy the science, enjoy the skepticism. Greetings from Washington DC, where we are all picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves off, and hoping that mention of science in our President’s inaugural address actually augurs more sustained and sustainable funding. Looks like we’ll have about USD$2.2 billion added to our Research & Related Accounts for science funding from the stimulus package at NSF, but I am not comfortable with this very temporary infusion…

  12. Happy Anniversary David! 20 years in science communication, that’s quite something! Love at first sight, hm? Must have been a bumpy ride, too. Things like the Schoen case can be disillusioning sometimes, and so can be the fight for valuable space in science magazines.

    However, communicating science to as many people as possible, through whatever media that works, is an important task; keeping society informed not only on scientific breakthroughs but also aware of the importance of long-term, visionary research is crucial. That’s why your past 20 years have been so important. Good luck for the next 20 years!! You know, science writers never really retire, the science is simply too damn interesting…

    Joerg.
    PS: love that photo :-)

  13. Congratulations David – and not just for the writing but
    >for being a ‘hub’ helping others to connect with each other
    >and for telling us about new techy / webby things to help us do that better :)

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