Thursday, June 27, 2013

How long is a Nobel Prize worth?

Brian Cox No, the title is not a typo. A new paper in Public Understanding of Science looks at public attention spans around science news. 15 minutes is close to the length of fame that Nobel Prize winners can expect. In fact, the half life of public attention is about a week, which means that if you're involved in science communication and you write about such events longer than a week after they've happened, you're wasting your time because the public is bored and has already moved on.

From a scientist's perspective, the answer to this problem is to land yourself a BBC TV series. Initially, you will be talking about your subject area in an accessible and authoritative way, but soon, you will never be off our screens and be presenting series about topics you really know sod all about.

Segev, E. and Baram-Tsabari, A. The Half-Life of a 'Teachable Moment': The Case of Nobel Laureates. Public Understanding of Science June 21 2013, doi: 10.1177/0963662513491369
Some science-related events stimulate public interest, and create a teachable moment in which the underlying science temporarily becomes more interesting. Here, media attention, expressed by Google News reference volume, and changes in information seeking behavior, expressed by Google Trends, were used to estimate the length of a teachable moment for 2004–2011 Nobel Prize announcements. On average, Nobel Prize announcements attracted the attention of online users for no longer than a week. News coverage declined slower and occasionally displayed seasonal trends. There was a 50% drop in searches between the day of the announcement and the following day, and an analogous pattern for news coverage of all laureates varying for different disciplines. The affordances of using publicly available online data to identify the most effective teachable moments relating to science are discussed.

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