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