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Defense Department Wants You to Get Scienced

Tuesday, February 02, 2010
by Katie Packard

The U.S. Defense Department’s weekly podcast series, “Armed With Science: Research and Applications for the Modern Military,” emphasizes the important roles science and technology play in military operations by interviewing scientists, engineers, policymakers and other personnel. Not only does the series highlight cutting-edge technologies and capabilities, it also encourages information sharing and collaboration across the government and the military.

The series was launched in January 2009 through the Defense Department’s Emerging Media Directorate. It’s the only Defense Department podcast dedicated entirely to science and technology. Lt. Jennifer Cragg, USN, an operations officer in the directorate, explains that the concept was developed in 2008 after public affairs officers working in various commands in the U.S. Navy realized there was “a unique need to communicate effectively about science.”

Dr. John Ohab, a new technology strategist in the Public Web division of the Defense Media Activity, agrees. “We interview scientists, engineers, policymakers, teachers—anyone involved in science and technology in the government to have them talk about science in ways that are meaningful to the general public.”

The series has two goals, Ohab shares: to convey the Defense Department’s involvement in science and technology and to communicate science and technology in ways that are accessible to anyone. “We want to demystify science,” he says. “There’s often a disconnect between the general public, the government and scientists. We want to break down those barriers to show the scientists as humans.”

From the beginning, the series has been successful. The first podcast received 3,000 feed or download requests. Throughout the year, episodes have been downloaded 200,000 times. Because of its popularity, the series began to air every week instead of every other week.

“Everyone wants to be a part of this,” Ohab shares. “What started as a DOD thing has now become a government thing. We have 50 government agencies and PAOs looking to find the people who can best speak about [these topics].” The series features guests from the military, government agencies such as the Department of Veterans Affairs and NASA, and other organizations such as the Science and Entertainment Exchange.

The original focus of the series was on science and technology in relation to military operations, but that has expanded. Podcast topics include anything from applications to policy to high school science fairs.

Some of Ohab’s favorite episodes include a focus on substance abuse in the military with the Military Health System and a focus on cyber crime with Jim Christy, director of future exploration at the Defense Department Cyber Crime Center. “Here he’s talking about cyber crime, which is not necessarily the most pleasant thing, and we’re learning about him as a person. He’s [a retired special agent], he’s advised multiple presidents, he’s a retired college hockey referee. He developed the first forensic technique to recover data from a cut-up diskette. He’s a Little League baseball coach.”

This emphasis on the stories and people behind the science is a driving force behind the Armed With Science blog. “Every week, I ask people, ‘What did you do to get to this division? What’s your background?’” Ohab explains. “Their background and stories are often the most interesting part. That’s going to be the focus of the blog—first-hand accounts, people’s stories.”

Ohab also intends for the blog to serve as a test site of sorts. “We’re trying to use the blog to test out some of these new social technologies.” Ohab wants to see what works and what doesn’t work. Tools being considered include applications that allow users to choose which account they want to log into when leaving blog comments, for example logging in under their Facebook or Twitter accounts.

Lt. Cragg notes, “We’re trying to use as much social media [as possible] to get the information out there. I like learning about social media tools to inform people about science. It’s like walking into a science class every day.”

In addition to the blog, Armed With Science is also on Facebook and Twitter. Follow along and get scienced!