Taking science to people
Burnett, F. (2010, January). Taking science to people. Available from: http://frankburnet.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/taking-science-to-people.pdf
Science communication is a practical activity undertaken by both individuals and organisations. It has always been a key aspect of the process of scientific investigation which in modern times is usually carried out by more or less competing teams working at a distance from each other on aspects of the same problem. In such circumstances clear and rapid communication of experimental results is crucial to the on-going process of discovery. It used to be the case that this communication took place between experts with similar training and backgrounds and a shared specialist language but the increasingly inter- and trans- disciplinary nature of research, particularly into complex problems, like climate change, means that this is now less often the case.
Communication of science by scientists to public audiences has a history traceable to the famous public demonstration lectures given by the likes of Faraday and Davy at the Royal Institution early in the 19th century. These events were designed, like the BBC, to entertain, educate and inform, as it might be argued, is much of the science communication activity of the present day. However the public’s willingness to consume uncritically the wonders of science has diminished markedly since the times of the pioneer popularizers and this has meant that the funders of science are having to work hard to convince the public that the research they support will lead to positive social consequences.
All the above trends and circumstances have created a context for increased investment in taking science to the public and has led to an ever-increasing number of people working at the many interfaces between science and society. Many of these are active researchers, but they are being joined by considerable numbers of what are usually described as “science communicators”. The first wave of this new breed of specialist communicator worked mainly as journalists within the mass media, but more recently they have begun to occupy roles that either involve them communicating science directly to the public or alternatively they are creating the contexts in which scientists have such live interactions.
This guide is designed to be of value to science communicators, scientists and indeed researchers in any field, seeking to engage a wider audience with their work and its social implications.