What do scientists think about science communication? Is this any different to times that pre-date the Bodmer report?
In 1985 The Royal Society backed a report called The Public Understanding of Science, also known as The Bodmer Report. It introduced the importance of the public view of science and how they come to understand scientific knowledge. It opened a large debate over the role of science communication. Science communication is the process of disseminating scientific knowledge to audiences outside the scientific community. Thanks to the Bodmer report which kick started serious study into the subject, science communication has now become a fully fledged discipline in its own right with universities offering courses to study it and institutions offering training. It highlights issues over how, what, when and who should communicate scientific knowledge. This essay will look at how scientists themselves think of science communication by looking at studies that have targeted scientists with the topic of communication.
The Role of Scientists in Public Debate was commissioned by the Welcome Trust and conducted by MORI in December 1999 till March 2000. The author specifically wanted to assess the role of scientists in communicating to the public because research into this field mostly focused on public attitudes. The author describes that scientists have 'increasing calls for them to become more involved in communicating their research to the public.' This increasing awareness that scientists themselves are seen as an important in science communication rather than outsiders such as journalists and government bodies is an interesting statement to be made because it seems that it is only an awareness that exists not a full program of communication.
The MORI study showed that mostly all scientists feel it is their duty to communicate science to the public. 84% agreed that it is their duty and those scientists who felt their science has strong ethical and moral implications agreed more often than those who felt there discipline had no such implications. The discipline the scientists is involved in has an affect on how they view communication and when this is coupled with the fact that 53% of scientist felt the public had a lack of scientific knowledge then misinterpretation of science is high on their agenda and is a factor in preventing them from communicating. This need to explain ethical and morally implicated sciences is a reaction to the sensationalist stories that the media have portrayed when science has not taken the lead role in communication, some examples are the BSE crisis and the GM debate.
Time is another factor which scientists highlighted as disabling their ability to communicate. The author writes:Many scientists feels constrained by day-to-day requirements of their job, leaving them with too little time to communicate (60%), or even to carry out their research (56%).
However, over half the scientists would like to spend more time on communication, There is a hint here of a positive view of communication culture. 69% of the scientists interviewed felt it was scientists who had the main responsibility for communicating science but only 41% thought scientists were the people best to do so. The reasons for this aren’t just time constraints, the amount of skills, training and previous experiences prevented the scientists of feeling well equipped to carry out communication.
Despite no full culture of communication apparent in the study, the interviewed agreed communication had many benefits and no communication had little benefit. 38% said there were no disadvantages of communication compared to 14% who saw no benefit. The advantages stated by the scientists directly improved the situation of the individual e.g. 32% saw communication as advancing their career and 29 % felt it would increase their chances of funding. In this respect it is the individual who requires focus...
Bibliography: Wellcome Trust, The Role of Scientists in Public Debate, (December 1999 - March 2000)
<http://www.wellcome.ac.uk/stellent/groups/corporatesite/@msh_peda/documents/web_document/wtd003425.pdf> [accessed 1 November 2010]
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