Urgent times in Science Communication
Today, the British Government publishes findings from an inquiry into science communication which has taken place over the last 12 months. It discovers that there is much work still to be done to embed science communication into society - and into science - and that this is crucial to ensure a deeper public understanding of science.
Professor Andy Miah has written a piece for the Conversation about its findings, but here's a quick run-down of some of the key points, with a little bit of editorial comment. Prof Miah also submitted evidence independently to inform the inquiry.
- STEM Education needs #SciComm to inspire people into science (14)
(But we probably don’t understand much about the journey from ‘I’m inspired’ to being involved in science.)
- Informal science learning – through festivals, for example – have a role to play, but they need to be affordable/free (17)
(Make it free, if you possibly can).
- 20% of people go to science museums (33% history, 36% zoo/aquarium, 41% nature reserve) (20).
(These figures don’t tell us a great deal really, even at face value. Most cities don’t have science museums, but maybe every city should have one!)
- #SciComm is still too white, male, and middle class. (19)
(Well, there’s a surprise. Check out our list of Women in #SciComm).
- ‘science capital’ is the new buzz word (21)
(But we are not too sure what this means yet, read some Bourdieu to help).
- Only 28% of people believe journalists check scientific findings before publishing, while 71% believe the media sensationalise science (23)
(We need to know more about what the public thinks ‘checking’ entails, while also distinguishing between science journalism as entertainment vs sensationalising).
- Explaining the scientific method is crucial in #SciComm (25)
(Crucial and often overlooked in favour of showing findings).
- The media’s pursuit of balance conflates opinion and science, furthering misunderstanding (29).
(News media should not approach scientific evidence as if it is political opinion, but scientists must be saint-like in their neutrality and know when they are not experts in something.)
- Mandatory link back from news articles to open access articles would help further understanding (31)
(Such a good idea. It’s just a hyperlink to a DOI, but also ensure journalists have access.)
- “The government should ensure that a robust redress mechanism is provided for when science is misreported” (35)
(Direct quote for emphasis, but what should this be? A fine?)
- Science communicators must understand their audience to ensure impact (36)
(In other words, when you design your #SciComm event/materials, think about the demographic of who you will reach. There is no generic ‘public’ out there).
- Researchers need public engagement to be part of their Time Allocation Model for the situation to be improved (39).
(Oh yes we do, it’s too serious to be just good ‘citizenship’ within a university).
- The government should be more visibly active within science communication, with dialogue being central to such work (41-45).
(Not just in its funding of initiatives, but in how it publicly engages).
- The REF Impact agenda has created more interest from academics for public engagement, but it derives from selfish reasons, rather than ‘genuine mutual benefit’ (49).
(True, but enlightenment can follow from pursuing something for selfish reasons. More is probably better in this case).
- There is skills deficit within science communication; most scientists are not yet great communicators (51).
(We find this a lot. Not all forms of communication need to be pursued by all scientists. You can write, present, advice, strategise, enable, etc etc).
- Policy makers must more carefully consider what qualifies as expertise, and should be informed by the aspirations of their consultation (57-58).
(We still believe in experts, but we need to figure out what qualifies one as an expert. Being a celebrity scientist isn't enough. You need actual publications that evidence your expertise).
- The anti-lobbying clause in government grants and contracts would have undermined REF impact aspirations and runs contrary to science communication (64).
(Phew! – But, phew also that we don’t have a lobbying culture like the USA).