By Dr Michael Edmonds
Over the past couple of years I have spent time participating in, and thinking about science communication. I have observed an ongoing call for more scientists to engage with the public and to communicate science with greater clarity, and I have seen scientists around the world rise to this challenge.
Yet, there still appears to be a demand from the public for more science communication. Hilary Miller recently posted a link discussing an EU survey looking at public perceptions of science which included the following statistic – 57% of those surveyed think that scientists should be doing more to communicate their work to the general public.
This leads me to ask the question — How much science communication is enough? We already have scientists trying to engage the public through newspaper and magazine articles, blogs, books, and public talks. There are also many excellent science programmes available on TV and DVD. So how much more do we need, or does the problem lie elsewhere?
While I think more science communication would be beneficial, I suspect that part of the problem does lie elsewhere. The public may, when surveyed, ask for more science communication but how many of them follow this up when opportunities are made available? How many are willing to take the time to attend a public talk, or buy a well written generalist science book? How many regularly read science magazines or blogs?
I am reminded of a conversation I had with a friend who teaches first year university science. Concerned that students might need more opportunities for learning, she asked a large (several hundred) first year cohort how many would be interested in extra tutorials. A large number of the students agreed that tutorials would be helpful. Yet when the tutorials were established, less than ten students attended regularly.
Scientists can do their best to make science entertaining and relevant to the public, but for the public to understand science, it does require some effort on their part as well. Communication is a two way process.
Dr Michael Edmonds is an educator, researcher and manager at Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology. He has strong interests in the communication and promotion of science.