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II.11 Communicating and Popularizing Science



Communicating and Popularizing Science.
The communication of scientific knowledge in society.
The role of the media

Usually there are three different reasons for communicating scientific knowledge. First of all: scientific knowledge is of use for everyone. Of high usability for example is medical advice or meteorological information. The second reason: science is part of our culture and everybody has the right to share this knowledge. The third reason for communicating science: scientific knowledge may alter the world. Our daily life is influenced to a high degree by scientific knowledge. Often this influence is of good value for most of us--like most technologies. But increasingly scientific influence is regarded as risky or even dangerous, e.g. nuclear power or genetic engineering. Societies have to decide on those issues and therefore people have to be informed about that kind of science. They should know how to vote on the development of these technologies.

In all these areas of popularizing and communicating of scientific knowledge media have to play an important role. Where scientific knowledge is of use for everyone media have to distribute that knowledge. That's the service-function media often have to play. Where science may provide a new insight in how the world is functioning media should disseminate these discoveries in special sections or magazines. That's the cultural aspect of science reporting. And where science itself is under scrutiny, media have to provide arguments and room or time for discussion. That's the democratic argument for science communication.

This afternoon we will focus on five key issues in science communication and popularizing: First we will have a look to a big scientific research plant, to CERN. Paola Catapano will present the efforts of the communication group at CERN and will elucidate the difficulties scientists have to face when communicating such complicated matters like fundamental physics.

Secondly we will have a closer look to the scientists itself. Toss Gascoigne from the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies has deep experience in training scientists to understand and love the media (with contribution from Jenni Metcalfe).

Thirdly Carol Rogers will look at the audiences, the missing variable in science communication. So far we know very little about how audiences make sense of information about complex scientific issues. This presentation will offer several audience-centered approaches for modifying media coverage and we all are keen to get these information.

Fourthly we will have a look to a developing country, Colombia. Nohora Elizabeth Hoyos is director of the largest science center in South America, Maloka. She will answering the question: science communication--an exotic luxury?

Fifthly we will look to an organization deeply experienced in science communication: the British Association for the Advancement of Science. Peter Briggs will highlight the events the British Association is organizing like the National Week of Science or the Science Festival. These events create opportunities for direct contact between scientists and the public but are also a valuable source for the media.

Winfried Goepfert Freie Universitaet Berlin, Germany

Chair: Winfried Goepfert Center of Science Journalism, Freie Universitšt Berlin, Germany
Rapporteur: Istvan Palugyai Vice-President, EUSJA Hungary

Session co-ordinator: Winfried Goepfert Center of Science Journalism, Freie Universitšt Berlin, Germany
Local secretary: G. Bencze Central Research Institute for Physics, HAS, Hungary

Science communication, a duty of scientists

Paola Catapano
CERN, Switzerland

"We have arranged a global civilization in which most crucial elements profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces"

Carl Sagan, A Demon Haunted World, 1996

Science popularization is "the" tool to bridge the growing gap between society at large and the world of science. An institution such as CERN, the largest world laboratory for particle physics, has a key role to play in trying to bridge this gap. In the case of CERN, the promotion of the institutional image coincides with the popularization of fundamental physics and the role of science as a progress "engine" for knowledge. It is therefore a social duty for the scientists to communicate science. However, it is only recently that scientists have developed an awareness that the future of fundamental physics also and increasingly depends on the society’s commitment and the interests of non-physicist citizens. Communicating science to a non knowledgeable public means translating ideas and concepts that are often extremely complex and distant from common sense into a comprehensible language and creating interest in the public without betraying the scientific truth. A very difficult if not almost impossible task !

To illustrate the science-society gap and the difficulties of science communication, some results from two surveys conducted in 1997 on visitors to two similar particle physics exhibitions, "Quark und Higgs" in Vienna and "Quark 2000" in Rome are presented. These case studies illustrate the distance between the scientific community and the public and are an example of how scientists involved in the job of communication do not understand the need to "translate" their jargon and the need to study their audience’s requirements before producing texts, exhibitions, video-clips etc.. The public interpretation of basic science and the public’s failure to understand it correctly are highlighted in these surveys.

Any science communication action, like any marketing initiative, cannot ignore the perceptions, the needs and the previous knowledge of its target public. As obvious as it may appear, this essential starting point has too often been neglected in the popularization of basic science, and in the world of particle physics in particular. The conclusions of the study are an attempt at highlighting the importance of introducing a professional approach in setting a public-oriented science communication strategy.

Training scientists to understand
and love the media

Toss Gascoigne
Executive Director, FAST, Australia

Scientists generally are fearful or suspicious of the media, especially if they have had little experience. The inexperienced scientists "essentially distrust the media and doubt the media's potential to help their science. They are particularly fearful of misrepresentation, inaccuracy, and loss of control; and see the media as exploitative and manipulative". (Gascoigne and Metcalfe, 1997)

Training in media skills can help overcome the barriers between scientists and journalists. Toss Gascoigne and Jenni Metcalfe have been running two-day media skills workshops for scientists in Australia over the past seven years. The workshops have also been run in South Africa and New Zealand.

This paper outlines the workshops, summarises the response of the participants, and describes a change in attitude by participants towards journalists over the course of the workshop.

An initial assessment of the workshops found that "most of the media workshop graduates feel that they have better control over their media appearances, that it is helpful to their communication efforts, and that they now feel more comfortable working with the media". (Gascoigne and Metcalfe, 1997).

An essential element to the workshops is the involvement of five working journalists. Many people in this area recognise the cultural barriers between the scientific and media worlds. Scientists have a stereotypic image of journalists and journalists have similar images of scientists, views often shared by the public. For example, scientists participating in focus group discussions felt that the public saw them as "boring men in white coats in a world of their own, people whose actions and motives are to be regarded with suspicion or distaste" (Gascoigne and Metcalfe, 1997). Journalists are also aware of their negative image in the community and the poor ratings their occupation gets in opinion polls.

Audiences: the missing variable in science communication

Carol Rogers
College of Journalism, University of Maryland, USA

In many ways, understanding the audience remains the weak link in the public communication of science and technology. We know a lot about the audience interest in science and about audience interest in having science presented in the mass media. However, we know a lot less about how audiences make sense of information about complex scientific issues when they encounter it in newspaper, television, and radio reports. Specifically, to what extent does the way in which science is presented in the mass media affect the public's understanding of science? Does science information in the mass media empower audiences to function more effectively as citizens in today's society? This presentation addresses those questions by taking a look at what audiences themselves actually say about media coverage of three areas of science -- health, environment, and technology.

Among its conclusions are that news stories about these issues, regardless of media, often fail to provide even the most basic information. Further, they usually lack the context that audiences need to enable them to understand the information. In addition, mass media science stories are sometimes structured in ways that make comprehension difficult and are framed in ways that inhibit understanding. Building on this information, the presentation offers several audience-centered approaches for modifying media coverage in ways that can help audiences better understand such major public issues as AIDS and global warming.

Popularising science in an emerging century:
necessity or luxury?

Nohora E. Hoyos
Director, Maloka Ciencia y TecnologŪa Interactiva,, Colombia

Colombia, with 40 million inhabitants is the third most populated country in Latin-America, after Brazil and Mexico. It has a unique geographic situation in the northern corner of South America and an exceptional variety of climates between the Amazon forest and the Andes chain. Its population is mainly white and has a very uneven income distribution: 5% of the population belongs to the upper classes and 60% to the lowest ones. Its Gini Coefficient, a measure of income distribution is 57.2, one of the highest in the world. As the rest of the region, it has an intermediate economic development, with a per capita income of around
$ 3000 and a sustained GNP increase, averaging 4.2 % annually for the last 20 years. The population growth rate has substantially decreased in the last decades, to reach 1,8% at present. Indicators such as life expectation, social security coverage and health services have considerably improved to the point that, according to a recent study, Colombia occupies the 5Th. place in this field among all Latin-American countries. Last years economic crisis has had a considerable impact on its economy, bringing the growth rate close to zero in 98 and 99 but still positive, in contrast with most of the neighboring countries, where strongly negative values are expected. Despite this relatively favorable overall situation, it is evident that the violence that has affected the country for decades is a major obstacle to sustained social and economic progress. The roots of this situation are multiple and have to be analyzed with extreme care, since both historical and social factors are to be taken into account. The present government is making great efforts to start negotiations with the different sectors of the community that are involved and, for the first time in decades, serious possibilities of reaching a long lasting peace within a few years appear in the horizon. The process to peace will be long and complex and will need fundamental changes in the society that may imply the sacrifice of many privileges. Independently of these aspects, it is clear that as in the rest of the region, an enormous effort in education, and science and technology must be made in the next few years in order to reach the accelerated growth that will guarantee acceptable living standards to the population. The regional investment in these two sectors is still very low and has not increased in the last decade. In contrast with eastern countries, like Korea or Singapore, where the investment in S&T has grown from 0.5% of GNP to nearly 2% in 10 years, in Latin-America it has remained, with a few exceptions, close to an average 0.4% without an appreciable variation over the same period. In Colombia, thanks to the joint efforts of the scientific community and of the government, the evolution has been more positive, since this figure has increased from 0.15% of GNP in the last decade, to almost 0.7% in 1996. We have to emphasize that the Colombian Association for the Advancement of Science, A.C.A.C., a private, non-profit institution, has played a major role in this context though its leadership in science policy. In particular, it has been the architect of the legal framework for scientific activity that has served as the base for the establishment of the National Science and Technology System. Furthermore, the Association has pioneered public understanding of science in the country though the biannual science fair, Expociencia, the popularization journal Innovacion y Ciencia, the TV program, Universos, and scientific activities for the youth. In the last 5 years, A.C.A.C. has been responsible for the construction in Bogota, the 8-million capital of the country, of the largest Science Center in South America, Maloka, which now has become an independent institution, that keeps strong links with the Association. Maloka has become a symbol of the local capabilities, being totally designed and built by Colombians, and is inspiring 7 similar projects in Colombia and some others in the neighboring countries. In conclusion, the long-term work in the field of public awareness of science has been essential to create a positive attitude among policy makers that will guarantee a long-term support to these essential activities

Science festivals and weeks:
adaptable vehicles for science communication

Peter Briggs
Secretary, British Association for the Advancement of Science, UK

Science festivals and science weeks are now found in many countries. Ranging from major national activities to village celebrations, they take a wide variety of forms. They can be seen as a natural development of the multidisciplinary meetings held by associations for the advancement of science, and can be adapted to the changing demands of science communication, in terms of both audience and methodology. In addition to creating opportunities for direct contact between scientists and the public, they can be a valuable source for the media, which in turn enable them to reach far larger audiences.

This presentation will be based on experience in the United Kingdom, where events such as the annual meeting of the British Association, the Edinburgh International Science Festival and the National Week of Science, Engineering and Technology are all relatively successful.

However, concern in the UK that enough able young people are not been attracted into science, and the apparently low level of appreciation of science that has characterised some recent controversies about issues such as BSE, cloning and GMOs, represent two major challenges for science communication, and hence for science festivals and weeks if they are to remain effective into the 21st century.

The presentation will outline the development and form of some of the activities that currently take place and discuss how they can meet the challenges both of changing perceptions and needs in science communication and the opportunities presented by rapid advances in information and communications technologies. Finally it will consider the possibilities for creating or extending existing national activities into international initiatives.


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