The Science Conversation Bubble

Over the last few days I’ve been floating in a bubble of conversations about science with some 350 writers, bloggers, teachers and scientists from the US and abroad. We gathered under North Carolina storm clouds to talk about science.

What we share in common is an appreciation (and for some, a love affair) with things scientific, ranging from the science of bugs to the role of science in a democracy. But more important we all share the belief that science needs to be communicated—and communicated well—to a variety of publics.

What made this gathering different from the conferences I typically attend is that all the folks I encountered are actively writing and engaged, predominantly in social media: on blogs, on websites and on cell phones (in addition to more traditional media of magazines, newspapers and books).

The conference, called ScienceOnline2012, offered sessions throughout three days on topics ranging from Blogging the Mel Brooks Way to Self-Censorship. Sessions departed from typical style by inviting presenters to engage audiences in a lively discussion of the topic at hand, thus earning the moniker “the UNconference.”

And while folks spoke, audience members snapped photos, tweeted and blogged in tandem with the speakers, relaying messages on social media in “real time,” allowing anyone plugged into the gathering to participate virtually.

In the sessions I attended, one-third to one-half of audience members were engaged in some form of communication, writing or scrolling through laptops, ipads and cell phones. Often session leaders would interrupt their dialogue to share the tweets received minutes before.

Because my work examines how science unfolds in social discourse, particularly in the context of American Indian issues, I was invited to share some of my ideas about the intersection of western and indigenous sciences.

American Indians are often labeled as “anti-science” in mainstream discourse by writers who know little about native cultures. Perhaps the most salient case is the discovery of Kennewick Man, a 9,000 year-old skeleton that was coveted by science and Indians alike.

In the discourse surrounding Kennewick Man, Northwest tribes were regarded as backward because they requested that the skeleton be returned rather than “sacrificed” to science.

My perspective is that Indians are hardly anti-science: many tribes encourage and support kids who become biologists, forest managers and engineers, who then return home to help guide management of natural resources and build tribal infrastructure.

Rather, indigenous ways-of-knowing tend to embrace science—rather than separate it—within the entirety of the ontological domain. In other words, native science isn’t separated from art, culture, language and spirituality.

But conversations about science and Native Americans, specifically in media channels (newspapers, television shows and movies), frequently depict tribes as provincial and backward.

Conference-goers asked how conversations might be reconstructed to consider how indigenous ways-of-knowing can be pulled under the umbrella of popular science discourse. One avenue is to add story-telling as a bonafide method for discussing Native Science.

I agree.

[See the website and connect to science blogs at


About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
This entry was posted in authenticity, censorship, Kennewick Man, Native Science, science, science communication, social media and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to The Science Conversation Bubble

  1. dieta says:

    The last ten years have witnessed explosive growth in Native Science education, research, organizations, and activities — only a sample of which is noted here. The Alaska Native Science Commission was established by the Alaska Federation of Natives, with support from the National Science Foundation, in 1993. In 1995, the Alaska Rural Systemic Initiative began the first year of what has become an extraordinarily successful 10-year program for developing science education curricula that incorporate Native ways of knowing and learning. Other Rural Systemic Initiatives sponsored by the National Science Foundation and designed to increase the efficacy of science education work with Native peoples in the Colorado Plateau area, the Navajo Nation, and tribes of the Northern Great Plains.


  2. Pingback: ScienceOnline2012 – thoughts about present and future | Country to Travel

  3. Pingback: ScienceOnline2012 | Broddy Olson

  4. Pingback: ScienceOnline2012 – thoughts about present and future | Chat Rooms

  5. Pure love and suspicion cannot dwell together: At the door where the latter enters, the former makes its exit.


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