Thinking Laterally

Science is more important to our lives than most people realise. Lateral's mission is to support the next generation of science communicators, to help bridge that gap. 

Illustration by  Bo Moore .

Illustration by Bo Moore.

This is an editorial for Issue 1 by Lateral editor-in-chief Jack Scanlan. He really hopes you enjoy reading Lateral.

Science communication is a rapidly expanding field. Science clearly has inherent benefits to society through advances in technology and medicine. But many people are realising that a general population that understands how science works and where it fits into their lives is intellectually healthier than one that doesn't. Likewise, societies that value science will elect politicians who value science, leading to greater investment in research. They will also be less successfully exploited by those with pseudoscientific agendas. As an example, the rise of the climate change "skeptic" underpins a growing need to educate about the scientific process and how it relates to climatology and earth science. 

The issue? A lot of science can be hard to understand; it's a basic fact that modern scientific knowledge is no longer made up of basic facts. Genomics — the study of the genetic underpinnings of all living things, including humans — is a field of study crucial to medicine and agriculture, but to grasp many of its concepts, a person needs to be versed in molecular biology, computer science, chemistry and many other areas of science. Likewise, climate science — one of the most important and depressing areas of study in recent decades — is based in complicated geology, chemistry and physics. Those are just two examples, there are many others. 

So it is not just science communication that is needed, but good science communication. Scientists need to learn how to express the core ideas of their research to an audience that doesn't have their specialised education, but, also, professional communicators must improve their understanding of science, so they can use their skills to aid the research community in this goal.

Lateral Magazine was founded to jumpstart this process near the ground floor, with a focus on supporting the science communication abilities of young and up-and-coming scientists, writers and artists. Other publications try transforming career researchers into public spokespeople for science, and while this is a necessary step, it's not the only one that needs to be taken. Students and recent graduates are some of the most passionate science enthusiasts out there, but a lack of support for their work leaves many disillusioned that science communication could ever be a viable career, or even a fruitful hobby.

We recently raised over AUS$11,000 to get this idea off the ground, in order to pay all our writers and artists for the time and effort that goes into their work. In an age of volunteer blogging and "content creation", it's important to us that young science communicators have more avenues through which they can expect reimbursement and a structured editorial process. Personally, I wish more opportunities like that were offered to me earlier in my journey into science communication, and I'm excited to be a part of a team that is making it possible for others.

Our inaugural issue is about origins, beginnings and firsts. We thought that was appropriate, and we hope you enjoy it. 

By Jack Scanlan

Jack is the Editor-in-Chief of Lateral.