Increasing Public Engagement with Science

“We in Ireland we are proud of our reputation for creativity, for originality and for our unique and imaginative view of the world.”(Higgins, 2012)

This summer Ireland hosted the Euroscience Open Forum. This science conference had speakers from all aspects of the scientific community. From those who study the basic structure of the Universe, like Rolf-Dieter Heuer, to food specialists such as Hervé This. It is this diverse nature of science we need to communicate to the public. 

Ireland has a strong tradition in art and literature, which is championed both by citizens living at home and the diaspora living in many countries around the world. We have a number of theatres in Dublin dedicated to showing the works of Irish playwrights. The work of W.B. Yeats is taught to everyone from the age of twelve upwards, but, as President Michael D. Higgins said in the opening ceremony of ESOF 2012, not many people “would mention prominent parts of the Irish intellectual achievement such as Bell’s Theorem, or the development of fibre optics in communication, or the splitting of the atom, or the Beaufort Scale, or the effectiveness of the mariner’s compass or the many other inventive and forward thinking achievements which owe their success to the innovation, creativity and original thinking of talented Irish scientists”. (Higgins, 2012)   

 

It is vitally important, to the future of Ireland, that our citizens equally understand the role and position of science within our society as they do the role of the arts.

Firstly, we should understand our place in the history of Science and its development. To this end I would put forward the following proposals:

-          Set up a Science Museum to showcase the inventions and discoveries of the Irish science communities: This may be initially set up within the environment of the National Museum and, if successful, spun out into its own location.

-          Commission radio, television and web series that detail the history of Irish science: RTE have stated in their latest Public Service Statement that it ”will reflect and nurture traditional and contemporary Irish cultural expression and seek to inform a greater understanding of the wider world.” (RTE, 2010). A series showing the history of Irish science would fall under this policy. 

-          Create local points of historical scientific interest in each county: Recruit people to fully research and explain the history, geology and science of the county. This can be done by working in conjunction with companies already in operation, like Ingenious Ireland. 

Following on from this, we should encourage the public to engage with science. I would propose the following:

-          Family-friendly astronomy nights:  Organize astronomy sessions around events like the Perseid meteor showers. Have science communicators available to explain the stars/meteors and planets that are visible in the sky. In order to appeal to families have the area well staked out, have hot drinks available and communicators that specialize in teaching children. 

-          Expand the Science Gallery: I would propose that the gallery exhibitions tour the major cities. Gallery spaces can be located in each city and procured for a short time to showcase the exhibits. This would allow more people to see a more immediate, practical science. 

-          Expand Science & Math week: I propose having two weeks a year dedicated to Science & Math. One in the spring and one in the autumn. In addition to the activities aimed at children, there should be adult science-based events, perhaps commissioning science-literate comedians/playwrights etc. to produce programming.  

-          Lectures: A series of public lectures should be organized with the current top Irish scientists and held at each university. If possible, these should be recorded and made available as a web series.

 

This country contributed greatly to the progression of science, with many of the set theories coming from Irish people.  Our future lies in the technology and scientific field.    

It is important that we engage with all elements of the public, from the very young to the very old, in order to progress the understanding of science, and its place, in this country.

I believe the best way to do this is through the above policy of education and active engagement. 


Works Cited:
Higgins, M. D. (2012, July 11). Opening Ceremony of the Euroscience Open Forum Conference. Euroscience Open Forum, 1. Dublin, Ireland.

RTE. (2010). Public Service Statement. Dublin: RTE.

PR in science.. Essay on @MarsCuriosity #scicomm

Without doubt the best known science-related public relations initiative of the last few years was NASA’s Curiosity mission to Mars. 

In recent years NASA has faced shrinking budgets, which in turn has led to a cessation of manned spaceflight within the US. Their focus has been on robotic missions to nearby planets, Messenger to Mercury, Juno to Jupiter and of course the three main Martian rover missions, Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity. 

Curiosity had an initial launch-date of September 2009 however, due to the late delivery of components, NASA delayed the launch (NASA 2011). This may have proved to be a boon in PR terms, as Curiosity was able to ride a zeitgeist of social media when it eventually landed in 2012.

The publicity campaign began properly in 2009 when NASA gave the public the opportunity to have their names etched into a silicon chip that would be sent to Mars (NASA n.d.). They also launched a competition inviting young people from across America to come up with a name for the Rover. This competition was conducted in partnership with Pixar, who provided WALL-e related prizes for the finalists (NASA 2009). 

People have a tendency to connect with objects that have been humanised (or anthropomorphised). In linking it to WALL-e, NASA made Curiosity more than just a mechanical exploration device, and helped to capture the imagination of the public.  

Image ©NASA

Image ©NASA

Image ©Disney/Pixar

Image ©Disney/Pixar

NASA allowed people follow the progress of curiosity. In 2008 they had set up a twitter account for the rover (@MarsCuriosity). While tweets from the account are written by people working on the MSL (Mars Science Lab) team, the point of view is from the rover. Followers have been able to connect with the robot and as a result feel more attached to the project. The NASA team let ordinary people into their world. Curiosity frequently answers questions from the public via the account.  

This was essential in bridging the gap between regular space enthusiasts and the general public. By opening up avenues of communication directly with the team the public, and in turn the news agencies, got more interested.  

In the run-up to launch-date NASA ramped up the access with live-broadcast briefings and Q&A sessions. Videos of Curiosity, its flight plan and landing mechanism were issued to news shows and web-based newspapers like the Huffington post (Stenovec 2011).   

The next stage of Curiosity’s life would be spent hurtling through space. The only major news during this stage was the course correction needed in early January. Once again @MarsCuriosity led the way in informing people about how this would be done and why it was needed. In fact, throughout the 9 month trip, the twitter account kept a running commentary of everything it was doing or seeing, from monitoring solar flares to being nominated for shorty awards (Shorty Awards 2013).

This constant stream of information meant that Curiosity never quite fully left the public’s consciousness. There are now over 1.3 million people following @MarsCuriosity (to compare,the other NASA account for Spirit and Opportunity, @MarsRovers, has 192k followers). 

In June 2012, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (the unit behind the rovers) released a YouTube video entitled:Challenges of Getting to Mars: Curiosity's Seven Minutes of Terror (NASA JPL 2012). In it the engineers involved with the project detailed the difficulties with a Mars landing and the very precise nature of getting Curiosity to the ground. Within a fortnight the YouTube video had racked up over half a million views and was cited in the New York Times (Chang 2012). 

It was, in some ways, a work of genius. First NASA encouraged us to care about this machine; the voice of the twitter account is genuine and funny. The public were able to watch the launch and follow its journey through space. And now, in the final stages, NASA introduces danger into the mix. This little robot may burn up on entry.

To add to the anticipation of the entry sequence, mid-July, NASA released a game for the XBOX Kinect called ‘Mars Rover Landing’ allowing people to attempt their own landing (McGlaun 2012). The game was outside the comfort zone of NASA, as it was the first time they released anything for the console market.

The stage and mood were set. The rover was nearing Mars. And on the 6th of August at 6.25am, Curiosity entered the Martian atmosphere and the seven minutes of terror started. Over a thousand people watched the descent in New York’s Times Square (Space.com 2012). Thousands watched the NASA feed from different countries around the world. More followed Curiosity’s dive on twitter. 

The tweet that announced a safe landing “I’m safely on the surface of Mars. GALE CRATER I AM IN YOU!!! #MSL” was retweeted 70,635 times. 14,641 people favourited it.
 

Image ©twitter

Image ©twitter

NASA’S aim with Curiosity’s PR was to increase knowledge of the rover, the work that NASA do outside of manned space flight and to show the people responsible for their budget that there was still an appetite for endeavours in space. While we cannot yet know if there will be an increase in money made available for NASA, we can say with some certainty that the public’s imagination is still captured by space, and by the possibilities of travel to another planet. 

MSC Science Communication - Essay

The below essay is in response to the following question:


(Fair warning: this is a long post)


It has been argued that contemporary science is socially (re)contextualised, with porous boundaries between institutions of science and those of wider society, and open to public dialogue. Describe how these claims apply to two of the five issues below and assess how the prevailing social conditions of science affect scientists' performance on those selected issues:
 

  • call for improved integrity and accountability systems to reduce scientific misconduct 
     
  • claims that science is losing public trust and needs to work harder to regain and maintain i
     

                                                --

Within the last century science has moved from the world of elite institutions and into everyday life. This is largely due to the success of scientific endeavor  We regularly use items that, as Brian Cox has said, in 1912 would have been considered the cusp of magic. (Cox & Ince, 2012) 

While it may be said that science has been re-contextualised to reflect our contemporary society, it is unclear if the scientific community has followed. In this essay I will argue that in order for science, and the communication of it, to evolve it must embrace the technology it invented. 

I will look at the issues surrounding peer review, scientific misconduct and the current systems for accountability. I will look at the pressure on scientists to publish and how this is being challenged from within the scientific community. I will also look into the falling trust in scientific institutions, how science communication affects this, and what measures are being taken to counter it. 

Improved integrity and accountability systems to reduce scientific misconduct:

It can be argued that with the formation of the Royal Society in the 1600’s, modern “peer” review began. Robert Boyle’s insistence on repeat experimentation and the recording of all results, both successful and unsuccessful, created the blueprint for scientific research used to this day. 

Indeed, Science continues to rely upon peer review to bestow legitimacy. When Emmanuel Priori and Robert Conrad were asked, in 1946, to decide how the federal (US) government could best support university research without impacting academic freedom they advocated peer review. According to D. Allan Bromley, President Truman found this difficult to accept. He believed this could create a situation “where the pigs decided who gets into the trough”. (Bromley, 2002)

While peer review is the current best system for evaluating science, Truman had a point. Not all peers are equal.

For example, in a recent study on the effect of GM corn on rats published in Food and Chemical Toxicology found that female mortality was 2–3 times increased, mostly due to large mammary tumours and disabled pituitary. It also found that males had liver congestions, necrosis, severe kidney nephropathies and large palpable tumours. (Séralinia, 2012). 

As the results were released to the press under embargo, journalists were unable to verify the data with other scientists before the news conference. However, within hours of the study being published, scientists and science enthusiasts from around the world had dissected the paper and discovered many troubling problems with it: Most notably that some of the GM test groups were healthier than the controls. 

The Séralinia study passed peer review and remains un-retracted at Food and Chemical Toxicity, despite journals such as New Scientist detailing the problems with the paper and linking to other more comprehensive studies (MacKenzie, 2012). It has been referenced by numerous newspapers and anti-GM groups to back up their assertions that GM causes cancer. 

This is not the first time that those outside the traditional system have found problems with peer-reviewed papers. In December 2010 The journal Science published a NASA research article online: “A Bacterium That Can Grow by Using Arsenic Instead of Phosphorus“. (Wolfe-Simon, 2011) 

Within days the study had been ripped apart. Rosie Redfield, in her analysis of the paper on her website RRReasearch, concluded, “I don't know whether the authors are just bad scientists or whether they're unscrupulously pushing NASA's 'There's life in outer space!' agenda.  I hesitate to blame the reviewers, as their objections are likely to have been overruled by Science's editors in their eagerness to score such a high-impact publication.” (Redfield, 2010) 

Redfield highlights one of the main issues with peer review. In the rush to publish a headline-grabbing paper, scientific accuracy was sacrificed.

In both of the cited cases, science bloggers analysed the journal reviewed papers and detailed the problems with them. However, in the case of Wolfe-Simon et al’s paper, Wolfe-Simon refused to engage in dialogue outside peer-reviewed system. She has been quoted on the topic as saying, "The items you are presenting do not represent the proper way to engage in a scientific discourse and we will not respond in this manner." (Zimmer, 2010). 

This insistence that journal peer-review is superior to all other forms of review is under pressure. Websites, such as Retraction Watch, now monitor papers post-publication for retractions. Ivan Oransky strongly believes that with technology today, any time you find the original piece of content, you should be able to find the correction or the retraction. (Hoppenhaus, 2012)

Currently, if a paper is retracted, there is negligible impact. In a preliminary analysis of 1,112 retracted papers from 1997-2009, John Budd (School of Education, University of Missouri) found that the papers were still cited, with only 4% of the citations mentioning the retractions (Noorden, 2011) . 

Retractions and corrections lie at the heart of science. Scientists are human and, consequently, make mistakes. There should be no stigma attached to notifying journals that further investigation has yielded different results and the original paper should be amended to reflect this new information. 

However, there is heavy competition between academics to secure tenure and funding, with the battle being fought on the field of publish or perish. The pressure can lead to secrecy and misconduct within the scientific profession. Daniele Fanelli (Universtiy of Edinburgh) studies research misconduct and believes forms of indecency and sabotage are likely to be common, from vindictive peer review and dishonest reference letters to withholding key aspects of protocols from colleagues or competitors (Maher, 2010).

If Fanelli is correct and these forms of misconduct are common, then science ultimately suffers as a result. An atmosphere where you cannot trust your peers to assist or support you is not conducive to acknowledging when mistakes have been made.

Academic success relies on high-impact publications, rather than on a continuous stream of high quality research (Harley & Acord, 2011). This may change with the increasing influence of the internet. If journals lose their grip on disseminating data, the need to secure high-profile publications may diminish. 

There is a growing movement calling for open-access to data. There have been incidents of academic piracy already. The late Aaron Swartz was arrested in July 2011 for downloading over 4 million articles from JSTOR. While he denied any involvement, it precipitated the release in September 2011 of JSTOR’s public-domain content. 

Dr Ben Goldacre, a proponent of open access, launched a blistering critique of the issues in medical science in his recent book Bad Pharma. He argues in the book, that publication bias is endemic and dangerous. The main problem according to Goldacre is that negative results are rarely published, so as a result, “the entire medical and academic community, around the world, when we pool the evidence to get the best possible view of what works, we are completely mislead.” (Goldacre D. B., 2012) He is currently campaigning for pharmaceutical trials to be registered, so that negative data can be captured a long with positive results. 

There are some significant issues with open access. Goldacre himself, noted in a 2011 blog post on the JSTOR theft, “One major problem with the current publishing model is that it’s hard to give access for free to the motivated public, while still gathering income from institutions.” (Goldacre, 2011). 

While there are problems in the implementation of open access to data, leaving scientific knowledge hidden behind pay-walls is no longer acceptable to many in the industry. The Wellcome Trust, for example, will no longer give grants to researchers who fail to make their results freely available to the public. In addition to that it will discount non-open access publications when assessing potential grant awards. (Wellcome Trust, 2012)

As more scientific research moves into the public domain, and out from the need to be in designated “high-impact” journals, the pressure to massage data or falsify findings should decrease. 

Ivan Oransky believes that this move towards openness will also help raise the public’s trust in science. He is quoted in Nature as saying “What scientists should be doing is saying ‘In the course of what we do are errors, and among us are also people that commit misconduct or fraud. Look at how small that number is! And here is what we are doing to root it out’.” (Noorden, 2011)

Science is losing public trust and needs to work harder to regain and maintain it:


Science is a continuously evolving discipline. Each breakthrough builds upon the work of previous generations. Occasionally new knowledge will cause existing theories to be reassessed. When Einstein developed the Theory of Relativity it shifted the prevailing view of Newton’s theory of gravitation, not quite supplanting it but it allowed scientists to view the universe in a new way. 

While this may be common knowledge within the fields of science, the public often are unaware of it. Jane Maienshcein, in her paper Innocent Reflections on Science and Technology Policy, considered the plight of politicians, “They are neither stupid nor ignorant, but they do not understand the statistical, evolutionary, or community nature of much of the scientific process. They typically believe that when we know something, it should stay known and not give way to apparently contradictory results.” (Maienschein, 2002)

The public trusts science. It is scientists they are unsure about. In a Eurobarometer report on Science and Technology, 58% of respondents felt that “scientists cannot be trusted to tell the truth about controversial scientific and technological issues because they depend more and more on money from industry.” (Directorate-General, 2010)

This mistrust has its roots in the fallout of scientific or medical scandals. Over the last century, with each scientific breakthrough, there have been less savoury side effects. From nuclear energy to GM foods, the shadow of Frankenstein’s monster looms large in the public’s imagination. 

It is the responsibility of people working in science to communicate the risks and rewards of new scientific knowledge the public. Unfortunately in the same Eurobarometer report, a majority of European citizens felt that scientists did not put enough effort into informing the public about new developments in Science and technology. (Directorate-General, 2010)

This lack of ongoing and open communication is systemic. As Roland Jackson noted, in his rebuttal to Durodié’s paper on the Limitations of Public Dialogue in Science and the Rise of the New ‘Experts’, while there is increasing acknowledgement that two way communication is needed, there is little endorsement of it in reality. (JACKSON, et al., 2005)

Without dialogue fear of change, or the unknown, flourishes. Mark Lynas, a well-known environmental activist, spoke of his own early fears regarding GM in a recent lecture to the Oxford Farming conference, “Mixing genes between species seemed to be about as unnatural as you can get – here was humankind acquiring too much technological power; something was bound to go horribly wrong. These genes would spread like some kind of living pollution. It was the stuff of nightmares.” (Lynas, 2013) 

The controversy surrounding GM foods stems from a fear that we, humanity, step above ourselves. The term “Playing God” is often used by anti-GM campaigners. These people care about the subject and are not stupid, but it can take years of research into the science behind GM food production to fully understand it. 

The public is not served by science engaging in heated debates behind closed doors, while exhibiting a consensus to the public. Inevitably the truth will come out. Daniel Sarewitz made the following point, “a claim of scientific consensus creates a public expectation of infallibility that, if undermined, can erode public confidence; And when expert consensus changes, as it has on health issues from the safety of hormone replacement therapy to nutritional standards, public trust in expert advice is also undermined.” (Sarewitz., 2011) 

This can be seen in the BSE crisis in the UK and, to a lesser extent, in the l’Aquila earthquake trial last year. 

The scientists involved with investigating the BSE crisis in the UK made markedly different statements in private to those made to the British public. A Scientific advisor was quoted in private as saying “"It would not be justified to state categorically that there was no risk to humans", while at the same time, in public the MAFF minister was saying “... clear scientific evidence that British beef is perfectly safe". (Millstone, et al., 2006)

When the scandal eventually broke, it took down the department of MAFF, and in the process degraded the public’s faith in government and the scientists associated with it. People felt they had been patronised by the institutions that should have been open and frank about the risks. (Millstone & Zwanenberg, 2000)

This failure to be honest about risk is not limited to the UK. In October 2012 six Italian scientists were jailed for failing to adequately warn of an earthquake in l’Aquila, Italy. The judge recently made his reasoning public. The six were not jailed for failing to predict an earthquake, as had been popularly reported. Instead, the judge stated, they were jailed for their complete failure to properly analyse, and explain, the threat posed by the swarm of tremors that preceded the main earthquake. “The deficient risk analysis was not limited to the omission of a single factor, but to the underestimation of many risk indicators and the correlations between those indicators." (Billi, 2013)

It may be that Judge Marco Billi is incorrect in his finding. The scientists are appealing the verdict. However, what lies at the heart of the case, like with the BSE scandal, is the perceived disregard for proper dialogue with the affected public by the scientists. People do not necessarily need their fears soothed by platitudes. Science and its communicators should respect the public enough to be open and honest about the upsides and downsides to modern science. 

“Unlike a pallid consensus, a vigorous disagreement between experts would provide decision-makers with well-reasoned alternatives that inform and enrich discussions as a controversy evolves, keeping ideas in play and options open.” (Sarewitz., 2011)

Conclusion:

In the 21st century it is no longer practicable, or in fact possible, to hide knowledge behind expensive pay-walls. As the old media industries of film and music have found  out to their detriment. Information wants to be free. 

With pressure from funders, such as the Wellcome Trust, and high-profile journalists, like Ben Goldacre, open access to data will happen. It is up to people working in the field to make it work for science. The current peer-review system is proving ineffective in the information age. The flaws within the system (bias, delays and an inability to uncover misconduct) are being highlighted with increasing speed. (Benos, et al., 2006)

Misconduct will always exist in science, however, by opening up access, and reducing the power of the “high impact” journals to decide careers, the pressure to fake data in order to score points on the tenure ladder may decrease. 

It is by opening up science to the public for review, that we will get a chance to regain the trust lost in previous decades. In reviewing the case studies quoted, I noticed that the real issue was not that there was risk inherent in science, but that scientists did not take the time to adequately explain those risks; instead they gave simple platitudes to dampen panic. 

Trust is lost when it is not reciprocal. It is no longer feasible for scientists to communicate using solely the deficit model. Communication also involves listening. It is only by both sides being given a chance to explain their points of view that a genuine consensus can be reached. 

Massimiano Bucchi has said “communication is not simply a technical tool functioning within a certain ideology of science and its role in economic development and social progress, but has to be recognised as one of the key dynamics at the core of those co-evolutionary processes, redefining the meanings of science and the public, knowledge and citizenship, expertise and democracy.” (Bucchi, 2008)

The issues surrounding integrity in science and public trust are the result of the same underlying problem. Scientists should able to properly discuss issues surrounding academic research without fear of losing their position or funding. Likewise scientists speaking about matters of importance to the public should not be afraid to be honest about the risks and benefits to any new or existing technology. 

It is only by encouraging open dialogue between scientists, journals, and the public that we can begin to solve these problems.

Bibliography 

Benos, D. J., Bashari, E., Chaves, J. M., Gaggar, A., Kapoor, N., LaFrance, M., et al. (2006). The ups and downs of peer review. Advances in Physiology Education, 145-152.

Billi, J. M. (2013). L'Aquila Earthquake Trial.

Bromley, D. A. (2002). Science, Technology, and Politics. Technoloy in Society, 9-26.

Bucchi, M. (2008). OF DEFICITS, DEVIATIONS AND DIALOGUES. In Handbook of Public Communication of Science and Technology (pp. 57-76). Abingdon: Routledge.

Cox, B., & Ince, R. (2012, 12 18). Politicians must not elevate mere opinion over science. Retrieved 12 28, 2012, from The New Statesman: http://www.newstatesman.com/sci-tech/sci-tech/2012/12/brian-cox-and-robin-ince-politicians-must-not-elevate-mere-opinion-over-sc

Directorate-General, R. (2010). "Science and Technology" - Special EUROBAROMETER 340. European Commission.

Goldacre, D. B. (2011, 09 16). Academic papers are hidden from the public. Here’s some direct action. Retrieved 01 12, 2013, from http://www.badscience.net/: http://www.badscience.net/2011/09/academic-papers-are-hidden-from-the-public-heres-some-direct-action/

Goldacre, D. B. (2012). Bad Pharma. London: Fourth Estate.

Harley, D., & Acord, S. K. (2011). Peer Review in Academic Promotion and Publishing: Its Meaning, Locus, and Future. Berkeley: Research and Occasional Papers Series, Center for Studies in Higher Education, UC Berkeley.

Hoppenhaus, K. (2012, 3 6). My Interview with Ivan Oransky at #scio12 - The Transcript. Retrieved 01 02, 2013, from Digitalgrip.fieldnotes: http://field-notes.digitalgrip.de/2012/03/06/my-interview-with-ivan-oransky-at-scio12-the-transcript/

JACKSON, R., BARBAGALLO, F., & HASTE, H. (2005). Strengths of Public Dialogue on. Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy, 8(3), 349-358.

Lynas, M. (2013). Lecture to Oxford Farming Conference. Oxford.

MacKenzie, D. (2012, September 19). Study linking GM crops and cancer questioned. Retrieved December 29, 2012, from New Scientist: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn22287-study-linking-gm-crops-and-cancer-questioned.html

Maher, B. (2010). Sabotage. Nature, 516-518.

Maienschein, J. (2002). Innocent Reflections on Science and Technology Policy. Technology in Society, 133-143.

Millstone, E., & Zwanenberg, P. v. (2000). A crisis of trust: for science, scientists or for institutions? Nature Medicine , 6, 1307-1308.

Millstone, E., Zwanenberg, P. v., Alvensleben, R. v., Dressel, K., Giglioli, P. P., Koivusalo, M., et al. (2006). Evolution and implications of public risk communication strategies on BSE. World Health Organisation.

Noorden, R. V. (2011). The Trouble with Retractions. Nature, 26-28.

Redfield, R. (2010, 12 04). Arsenic-associated bacteria (NASA's claims). Retrieved 12 30, 2012, from RRResearch: http://rrresearch.fieldofscience.com/2010/12/arsenic-associated-bacteria-nasas.html

Sarewitz., D. (2011). The voice of science: let’s agree to disagree. Nature, 478(7).

Séralinia, G.-E. (2012). Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 4221-4231.

Wellcome Trust. (2012). Wellcome Trust. Retrieved 1 2013, from http://www.wellcome.ac.uk: http://www.wellcome.ac.uk/About-us/Policy/Spotlight-issues/Open-access/Policy/index.htm

Wolfe-Simon, F. (2011). A Bacterium That Can Grow by Using Arsenic Instead of Phosphorus. Science, 1163-1166.

Zimmer, C. (2010, 12 7). "This Paper Should Not Have Been Published". Retrieved 12 31, 2012, from Slate: http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2010/12/this_paper_should_not_have_been_published.2.html







 

Science Policy.. mode 1 or mode 2

Amended from a mock policy paper assignment Oct 2012. 

 

Science, and the communication of science, is in a state of flux. People no longer listen solely to the traditional Expert Scientist. The internet allows a certain number of “sofa-experts”.

As budgets tighten, governments are hard pressed to justify spending significant amount of money on basic science research to voters. Funding is being funnelled into technology producing research where there is a definite product at the end. 

Most people know how to use their IPhone, they don’t understand quantum physics, or its application in their daily lives.

It is important to ensure that the public, and politicians, clearly understand the benefits that come from basic research. 

Michael Gibbons discussed the new social contract with science in Nature (Gibbons, 1999) “The old image of science working autonomously will no longer suffice. Rather, a reciprocity is required in which not only does the public understand how science works but, equally, science understands how its publics work

We need a mixture of mode-1 and mode-2 communication in science. People still want an expert, but they want to feel they know the expert. 

In developing policy in this era of communication I would suggest the following:

 

Firstly I think we need to adapt the traditional top down lecturing approach by more directly associating scientific research with everyday needs. 
 

For example, We could develop the following:

- A series of “What has science ever done for us?” leaflets for hospital or doctor waiting rooms linking medical breakthroughs with the science that lay the foundation. 

- Free lectures at convenient times for members of the public to attend, from subjects like “The Birth of the Universe” to “How the fruit fly influences genetics”. These lectures should be held in towns around Ireland and not just in the major cities.

- Weekly radio/TV/web series about science in the home (Perhaps specializing in gardening/cooking/brewing/farming)

In addition, training should be provided for local scientists and those in the technology sector in how to present their ideas and research in layman’s terms. 
It is important that they learn to communicate with all ages and all skill levels. 

The public should be able to engage with science in a more hands on way. In addition to Maths & Science week I would suggest the following:


- Comedy events centring around science - There are a number of highly educated, science-literate comedians from Ireland. We should use them. I'd like to see a science festival, similar to a comedy festival.  

- A Scientific Circus - Science communicators could tour Ireland, performing experiments, explaining science theories and hosting events like a public stargazing night. Local science teachers, chemists etc should be encouraged to get involved. 

   - Adult Practical Science - Teach the science of brewing/baking/gardening. 

All parts of society should be involved with science. Science needs to be commonplace and engaging. 

Cited:

Gibbons, M. (1999, December 02). Science’s new social contract with Society. Nature, 402(02/12/1999), c83-c84.