Behind the #scicomm scenes: Talking to children about meat production

Our group recently had a paper published in the journal Appetite. The personal inspiration for this work came partly from my time working as a PhD student at Sydney and Melbourne shows in the Pigs and People display. We would be on the microphones all the time talking to people about pigs during the show, but we were told not to talk expressly about meat on the microphone and “slaughter” was definitely a word to avoid. We could answer questions openly off mic off course, but it was felt that parents may not appreciate us being too graphic in front of their children. This was during the ‘Babe’ years, but 20 years on the idea that we (or more specifically the meat production industries) might be avoiding being open about meat production on the basis of a perception made me wonder how do Australian families talk about where meat comes from?

This has been my first “real” paper and it had been interesting to finally try out the things I’ve been telling scientists to do for years in science communication. It’s too early to see whether it’s all paid off (in the sense that it’s helped my career as a researcher) but so far I feel like this has been a great start to returning to academia and being able to apply all of the #scicomm things. It all starts to get a bit meta actually: doing research that aims to improve science (research) communication and trying to be a good research (science) communicator at the same time. Anyway, here are the steps we took to extend the reach of our work beyond out academic peers:

  1. We worked with our University’s media office to get a media release out as soon as the paper was publicly available. (Actually it was a bit after because Appetite is very quick at getting the accepted version up online – even before final edits!)
  2. On the back of the media release I was asked for 5 radio interviews and I said yes to all of them. 1 didn’t happen for a few weeks, 1 pre-recorded, 1 live in studio and 2 live via phone. I can’t be grateful enough for my experiences with Radio Adelaide and being involved in a live show because of how this helped me manage my confidence. There is no other way to get confident than practice!
  3. My friend Sarah Keenihan wrote a piece for The Lead which was shared in all sorts of interesting places. I got pinged on Twitter by a Canadian Mummy/food blogger site 3 times a day for a week!
  4. We shared the paper URL, media release, The Lead article, and interviews in our own social media networks and added it to our Academia and ResearchGate profiles.
  5. We checked with our library about the self-archiving policies of the Journal. Apparently after an embargo period Appetite will allow us to put a pre-publish version on sites such as Academia and ResearchGate as well as in the University of Adelaide’s digital repository. This means that the research will be freely available to people who don’t subscribe to journals.
  6. On the basis of the media release we were invited to do a piece for The Conversation (but we could have pitched one also). They wanted it to be a part of a series which took a while to be published but you can read the full article here. On the back of that I was asked to do 3 more radio interviews, all live via phone.
  7. And now I’m linking The Conversation piece into all of my blogs and LinkedIn (like this piece – again meta). I would have done it earlier but had been waiting on The Conversation and if we hadn’t got that I would have done my own version and shared that via my social media networks.

So what does all of this ‘outreach’ mean? I’ve already been asked to speak about the work at some meetings and conferences, but that might also be on the back of a lot of networking I did last year as well. I do feel like more people have heard about the research and that includes potential funders (I hope) of future work. I have to be honest about that as it’s part of the reality of being a grant-funded research-only academic.

In addition to trying to secure future-funding, academics are often challenged to define the impact of their work in other ways. We are also challenged to define impact in science communication; often it’s impact on the public but increasingly we are asked to demonstrate the value of research communication to the funders and to the Universities. I now have media monitoring reports that can put a dollar value on the air time that the interviews are equivalent to. I have also checked the Altmetrics for the paper and we are doing very well. I have seen research that suggests a good Altmetrics score leads to high citations and that’s where we start to hit paydirt for academics in terms of track record. [As an aside, while trying to find the link to that research, I stumbled on it’s Altmetrics score. When I said we are doing very well – this blows us out of the park!].

But all of this is starting to make me sound (and feel) a little mercenary. These kind of things are important to me only because they enable me to do the work I want to do, and that’s been the biggest thrill of all. I’ve been able to share our work with people who I think will value it. Now there are a heap of people out there who talk about agriculture who know that Australian families talk to their children about meat production at home, during meal preparation and eating, before their children start school, and in a way that aligns with their values. While we found differences between urban and rural people, the belief that children should know how meat is produced was shared, as was respect for the animal that gave its life to provide it. To me, this is a fundamental first step to encouraging better conversations about food production, so that we can work out together how to produce safe, nutritious, affordable food, that is produced sustainably and humanely. now and into the future.



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