Hi! It’s Lily again – and today I am going to be talking all about Science Communication or Sci Comm for short.
What is Science Communication? Who are Science Communicators? And crucially why is Science Communication important?
Keep reading to find out more …
What is Science Communication?
Science Communication is the practice of communicating science-related topics to non-experts. This often encompasses the communication of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) topics which we have discussed before.
The communication of science can take many forms, from written articles in newspapers, magazines and blogs to standing in front of a non-expert audience to give a lecture or leading an interactive science workshop for children.
Sometimes science communication is known by other terms such as:
Public Engagement – this usually aims to engage the general public in two-way scientific conversations, about shared issues and problems, to hopefully benefit society as a whole.
Outreach – these activities are usually seen as public lectures, activities and workshops to encourage the public understanding of science and scientific research and are also often used to encourage school children to take up STEM study in higher education.
Science communication is so varied and vast in what it encapsulates …
What is the history of Science Communication in the UK?
In the UK Science Communication came to prominence in the 1980s. The scientific community was concerned that Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government had adopted a policy for scientific research that prioritised projects with quick-rewards over those of a more fundamental, ‘pure science’ nature.
It was felt this short-term approach was due to a failure of politicians and the wider public to understand STEM. More ‘public understanding of science’ was needed. So in 1985 the Royal Society published a report on ‘The Public Understanding of Science’, referred to as the Bodmer Report.
This report was pivotal, firstly it stated that scientists should consider it their duty to communicate to others about their work and its importance. Bodmer led to the creation of the Committee on Public Understanding of Science (COPUS), which organised funding schemes for Science Communication activities. Handing out prizes for new initiatives including ‘popular science’ books—of which there followed quite a boom, led by Stephen Hawking’s 1988 Brief History of Time.
In 1989, John Durant (the first UK Professor of Public Understanding of Science at Imperial College), Geoffrey Evans and Geoffrey Thomas published the first major survey of public understanding of science in the UK. They found high levels of interest, but that only 14% of British citizens could be called ‘scientifically literate’ according to tests of knowledge of scientific terms and processes.
Secondly Bodmer called for more science in the media, enthusiastically taken up by the BBC, which already had several TV and radio programs. Other broadcasters also increased their science offerings. Newspapers responded by appointing science journalists, correspondents and editors, and some introduced special science sections into their regular pages.
So who are Science Communicators?
There are many ways that you can be a Science Communicator:
- Write as a science journalist at a national newspaper or magazine.
- Work in a university press office to help promote the breakthrough stories from scientific research carried out by the academics.
- Deliver science shows or organise events at science festivals, schools or science centres.
- Design and make interactive exhibits for science centres.
- Volunteer as a STEM Ambassador sharing your knowledge in schools and in the community.
I have been lucky enough to do lots of Science Communication from tours and workshops at science centres to volunteering at schools, to running coding clubs in youth centres and being a part of an incredible science festival! I love it, I find it so rewarding and could not recommend it enough!
I am particular passionate about inspiring more young women to pursue careers in STEM and getting young people excited and interested in STEM is a brilliant way to start!
So why is Science Communication important?
Some Science Communication can have a really powerful effect – take the success story that is Blue Planet II!
David Attenborough’s Blue Planet revolutionised the mindset of an entire nation. Millions of people in the UK were inspired and encouraged to change their habits. It managed to create real change in the way a nation thinks about single use plastics. It was reported that 88% of people who watched Blue Planet II changed their lifestyle in some way. Attitudes towards single-use bags, disposable plastic straws, and packaging will never be the same. According to research (by Waitrose), more than 60% of people use reusable water bottles more now than they did in 2017.
The Houses of Parliament announced a ban on single-use plastics and 60% of us also now more regularly use a refillable cup for takeaway coffee. With 66% of 18 to 24-year-olds saying they were more likely to choose a reusable cup when out. In supermarkets customers are also increasingly buying unpacked fruit and vegetables. Sales of loose pears, for example, are growing at 30 times the rate of bagged pears.
There is so much more to do but Science Communication can have real sweeping positive consequences across governmental policy and across society as a whole. Bringing important scientific issues to the forefront of people’s minds and leading to larger changes in habits and the way we live.
I believe excellent Science Communication like this, is important now more than ever in an age where we have an incredible amount of information at our fingertips all of the time. Unfortunately not all of it is factually accurate. The spread of misleading (and in some cases completely false) information is extremely prevalent.
The oversimplifying of scientific information is a very popular practice, otherwise known as “infotainment”, it focuses on describing new scientific discoveries in an entertaining fashion. This means important science is often sensationalised to get more views or findings are skewed or generalised to the extreme to make a good headline. The same goes for misleading graphs, stats and infographics and unfortunately, it is these that lend themselves beautifully to being widely circulated in the media. For example a study in Science found that fake news was 70% more likely to be retweeted than true news.
So we must continue to fight the barrage of misinformation and confusion with excellent, factually accurate and engaging Science Communication.
You can find out more about Science Communication and how to become a STEM Ambassador here.
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