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Obstacles to effective science communication

Mike and colleagues -

I would like to invite every member of the network to list the three greatest obstacles, in their view, to effective communication of science and sharing of knowledge, internationally and within countries.

I would encourage the network to debate the issues thus raised, to prioritise the most important and to develop a plan of action for addressing them.

Julian Cribb

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Comment by Jan Breitling on June 12, 2007 at 17:55
I agree with Jack's points, but would also add the mistrust of many (non science eduacted) people towards science and scientists. This mistrust can lead to romantic and simplified ideas and approaches. So, education (on every level) of basic science should be one way to go.
Comment by Jan Breitling on June 12, 2007 at 17:49
Very interesting points. Comunicating science to the public, to a certain audience, or the is the same when trying to teach a specific subject to a heterogenous group of students with very different backgrounds. The problem of taking for granted that the students have a basic scientific knowledge is similar to the one you described, JulianC, when talking about the wider population.
Comment by Swapnil Bhartiya on June 12, 2007 at 15:06
I agree with Rima that most of the science writers in India are not well versed in lastest developments in science and technology, I was shocked to hear that most of the Indian science fiction writers were not aware of the major movement going on around -- Free Open Source Software lead by Richard Stallman.

In a country like India that produces engineers in masses, how stupid an un-informed science communicator would appear. And in most of the cases same thing is happening.

Another obstacle in India is denouncing indigenous changes. We want to maintain the status quo unless forced by KFC's. Now, in Deewali we buy cookies and coke...there are a lot of cultural changes happening, but most of the science communicators are still stuck with 'superstition'...this is strange...what you think?
Comment by Jack OSullivan on June 12, 2007 at 12:19
Three greatest obstacles to effective communication of science and sharing of knowledge, internationally and within countries:
1. Most government leaders and politicians do not have any scientific background, and are therefore unable (and frequently unwilling) to understand scientific and technical issues, especially as these are becoming more complex year by year.
2. Deliberate misinformation and untruths promulgated by governments and corporations, with the intention of concealing environmental problems or the unwanted side effects of the technologies which they are trying to promote, for their own self-interest;
3. A culture, now world-wide, based on the acquisition of wealth for its own sake, and on greed, competition, and "the bottom line"; a culture where discovery for its own sake is of little or no interest unless it can become a source of vast profit to some corporation.
These obstacles seem very depessing, but on the other hand the world has many people and societies who have rejected the type of culture described above, and who are inspired by science, enthralled by new discoveries about the universe in which we live, and who care about this planet and its living inhabitants !
Comment by Dr.Arvind Mishra on May 19, 2007 at 1:24
You have a very valid point Ms. Rina when you talk about compartmentalization of knowledge in India.Its really very unfortunate but an able science communicator as envisioned by Mr. Julian could play a decisive role to rescue the situation.
Yes ,Julian science and and science communication both are very different disciplines and here too the greater responsibility of taking science to masses lies with a sci communicator only because most of the scientists fail communicating effectively even their own work to public.
Invigourating discussion indeed!
Comment by Julian Cribb on May 18, 2007 at 21:02
Speaking as one who came to science from arts - ancient Greek actually - I can avow there is no obstacle to becoming a communicator of science. What you do not understand obliges you to get the scientist to explain carefully until you do understand it - and you are then in a good position to share that knowledge with others, such as farmers, industry, government or the public. I've noticed that science communicators who have a science background sometimes take basic science knowledge as a given in the wider population: alas, it is not so. The art, if there is one in science communication, lies in explaining the relevance of the science to the user, rather than the detail or method. Relevance may mean application - or it may mean something more complex like ethical implications. The other, equally vital role, is to explain to the scientist what society requires from science, whether or not it is ready to receive it and what questions or objections it may have. We have many examples - like GM food - where the scientists rushed ahead with the science without first consulting with the people and, as a result, found their technology rejected and their efforts wasted. The science comunicator can thus compensate, to some degree, for the scientist's lack of exposure to the humanities, to social trends or developments outside his/her field. This can lead to as better fit between science and society, and more rapid adiption of new technologies.
Comment by Rina Mukherji on May 18, 2007 at 16:55
Agreed, Arvind. But as you say, one should be genuinely interested in scientific issues to be able to successfully communicate on science. Unfortunately, there is very little inter-disciplinary study in India. The compartmentalization is so bad that students of science hardly ever bother to learn about arts and commerce. Where training on the most current developments are concerned, every single communicator needs to get the exposure-whether he/she is from a science background or not. Perhaps, this forum could do something about it, especially where participation in international meets go. This is something we from the South need more than the others.
Comment by Dr.Arvind Mishra on May 18, 2007 at 13:07
Interesting debate! While its not necessary for a scientist to be a proficient communicator its mandatory for a sci communicator to be well read in scientific matters.Its a professional demand for him.But a formal degree is necessarily not required for fulfilling such demands.Anyone genuinely interested in scientific issues can develop a liking for relevant issues in science and technology and could go for reporting the same in media in convincing manner.I think formal and informal,both kinds of orientation periodic trainings to selected scientists in the art of communication must be given to enhance thir communicative skills.Likewise training in basic and current sceintific developments should be imparted to sci cummuinactors especially those who have backgrounds other than science.This two pronged strategy could be very fruitful in changing the not so good scenario of worldwide science communication in general and in third world countries in particular.Its true that knowledge is power and it should very well be in ethics of sci communicators to impart the scientific knowledge amongst those who are in its dire need.
Comment by Rina Mukherji on May 18, 2007 at 10:38
I agree about scientist being just too focussed to understand the implications of what they research for the wider use of humanity. As journalists, it is definitely upto us to simplify everything of jargon so as to reach out to the naivest reader out there. But for that, it is important for the journalist to understand the basics of the research done. And here, at least, I found my background in science extremely helpful in understanding what the research was about, and interpreting it for my audience. Because, say what you will, most least in India..cannot explain much about the work they are doing, notwithstanding its importance. Where editors are concerned, it is films and entertainment which appeal much more than anything. Serious matters are being given the go by. Politics hogs the rest of the pages. Even business analysis suffers.

Human knowledge will defnitely grow exponentially. It is the communicator's job to interpret it, right? That is why we are around, Julian!
Comment by Julian Cribb on May 18, 2007 at 2:52
We should reflect that human knowledge now doubles every five years. But the sharing of human knowledge is not increasing at anything like that rate. This means the gap between those with access to knowledge, and those without, is growing wider. Since knowledge is also power and wealth, the gap here too widens. This is the central issue of our century - more vital even than greenhouse (which is in itself but one science communication challenge).

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