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Science Communication - Why we need it 03/01/2013 12:34 #34

Science Communication - Why we need it

Science is ultimately for the sake of diffuse knowledge and welfare of people. Thus Science Communication is within the concept itself of true Science since its beginnings. Read “ The dialogue concerning the two chief World systems ”, written in 1632 by Galileo Galilei. Already its structure manifests that it is a magnificent example of scientific communication. It is based on a dialogue among a scientist, a philosopher and a layman. Salviati presents the view of Copernicus and Galileo. Simplicio represents the traditional point of view. Sagredo is an intelligent layman in quest of knowledge.

Galileo, Dialogue, Title page by Giovanni Battista Landini, from Wikimedia Commons

It is said that the start of Science Communication as an academic discipline was triggered off by the BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy) disease, that occurred in the United Kingdom in 1980-1990. The delay to identify the "rare" disease that was found in a farm and the ineffective communication between the Government and the BSE professional Committee, induced a delay of Government action to stop the expansions. It took 15 years for the Government to take appropriate actions. Consequently, 208 examples of BSE infection to humans have been confirmed in the World (Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, Japan, as of July 2008).

The scarce scientific knowledge of BSE resulted in underestimating risks. The most significant cause of its expansion was, however, that all possible actions were delayed because of discrepancy of understanding between science professionals and lay people. This means that the scientific accuracy of professional journal articles does not suite to the extent of public understanding. This bitter experience became the engine to give birth to Science Communication as an academic discipline: people from all status/standpoints aim at creating together mutual understanding toward the various emerging issues in the Society.

Similar problems have occurred because of inadequate Science Communication in issues concerning environment, civil planning/engineering, food development and so on. Most of us should already know that the damage from the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant accident that occurred in 2010 has been enlarged because of imperfect communication between the Government and scientists, and scientists and lay people; in other words, between professional Science and popular Science.

Among the scientists, of course, there exist a number of different interpretations toward the emerging issues, and thus there exist lots of issues that have no solution or different solutions. And they do not know which solution we should take by reflecting scientific data and societal circumstances. Science Communication is therefore an urgent need to convey the issues untangled to the lay publics and create a "Sustainable Society" which stands on the decision making of each individual citizens as well as consensus made in the Society to pass it to the future generation.

The Styles of Science Communication

Science Communication has such public background described above, but at the same time Science Communication is not limited to discussing and making appropriate decisions in the Society: it is also applied to showing basic Science to children, to their parents and to lay publics, as well as to promoting curiosity and interest toward Science and inviting people to the next steps of Science.

Journalists and TV producers who tackle with emerging issues from journalistic point of view are included in Science Communication. Furthermore, nowadays the workers in charge of sales and public relations are required professional knowledge to communicate with the customers. Skills and concepts of Science Communication is required for those people as well.

The styles of Science Communication cover a wide spectrum. This includes workshops and events at Science Museums, as well as Science Cafés where the facilitators invite Science professionals as persons who provide basic topics to discuss together with the participants. A Science Festival, which is usually a big event held once a year, is another style of Science Communication and represents an important opportunity to interact with a large number of people. Others include: delivery of Science events to rural areas, creating Science goods to be sold Museums shops, Science writing and so on.

About 20 years have passed since a clear societal movement toward Science Communication and its research as an academic discipline, but its definition or style are not rigidly proposed. Professionals of Science Communication are feeling that it is too early to give a precise definition, because of the necessity to unveil all sorts of ongoing Science Communication activities. So, for now, we can say that all activities that try to convey Science to all kind of audience can be referred as Science Communication.
Midori Takahashi
Chair of SKYSEF executive committee and SSH Research and Development Specialist, Shizuoka Kita High School, Japan

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