African universities urged to teach science communication

11 October 2002 Science writers from 10 African countries have called upon universities on the continent to introduce courses on science communication into the curricula.

The more than 50 science writers, journalists, editors, public information officers and scientists were gathered at a workshop organized in Entebbe (Uganda) from 30 September to 3 October 2002 by SciDev.Net, an electronic news forum reporting on science issues of interest to the developing world.

Participants urged NEPAD to include support for science communication in its programmes, while governments were invited to incorporate science communication into national policy and funding strategies or to strengthen these where they already existed. Scientists were encouraged to communicate their research to the public and to organize themselves into national and regional networks for the purposes of ‘cross-fertilization’.

It must be said that scientists in Africa tend to underestimate the importance of communicating their research to the public, despite the fact that this would foster better understanding of science. And when media editors reject science stories as lacking in market appeal, this exacerbates the communication ‘bottleneck’.

Other obstacles to science communication cited by participants were inadequate infrastructure for writers, lack of Internet access, insufficient financial resources, few opportunities for suitable training of journalists and low pay.

Participants urged fellow science communicators to organize themselves into writers’ associations, develop databases of science writers and to investigate ways or reducing the cost of access to electronic sources of information. They were also encouraged to use science days and other events to promote science.

Participants underscored the importance of science communication for socio-economic development by constructing bridges between science, technology and the end-users.

The Consensus Statement adopted in Entebbe echoes paragraph 48 of the Science Agenda, which calls upon governments, international organizations and relevant professional institutions to enhance or develop programmes for the training of scientific journalists, communicators and all those involved in increasing public awareness of science.

The organizer of the workshop, SciDev.Net, is sponsored by the world-renowned science journals Science and Nature in association with the Third World Academy of Sciences. It is published with the financial support of the UK Department for International Development, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency and the International Development Research Centre in Ottawa, Canada.

Nature made a noteworthy contribution to the World Conference on Scienceis (WCS) process. In November 1998, it published an Editorial on the WCS entitled Rewriting the rules for a post-cold war world. The article concluded that the Conference would be ‘"a unique chance to reassess the dynamic of international scientific co-operation and address the challenges it currently faces’". In January 1999, Nature launched a WCS website accessible through its Internet home page which had an estimated number of visits of over 100,000 per week. Two months later, in response to demands by the scientific community, the site was expanded into French. For the three months immediately preceding the Conference, Nature ran a weekly page of news about events associated with preparations for Budapest.

During the Conference itself, Nature not only provided a daily coverage of the event on its web site (http://www.nature.com/wcs/), thereby enabling a wide public to closely follow closely the debateswork of the Conference, but also printed and distributed a daily Conference newspaper.

For more information, go to http://www.scidev.net; see also WCS Newsletter of 12 September 2002