592   Roundtable discussion

"The Public Understanding of Science" - a generation on

It is now 35 years since the Royal Society – the UK’s premier science organisation – published its report “The Public Understanding of Science”. 1985 in Britain was the middle of the “Thatcher years”, a time when science – particularly “blue skies” science – felt itself to be under attack. The Royal Society deemed that public ignorance of and indifference to science had to be addressed.

The report – also known as the Bodmer Report after its chair Sir Walter Bodmer – ushered in a flurry of initiatives: scientists were told they had a duty to communicate with their fellow citizens, media outlets were urged to carry more science in their pages or on the airwaves, prizes for good science communication were set up, university students and researchers were provided with courses, and Members of Parliament and Ministers were advised / lobbied on behalf of the scientific enterprise in general and individual projects in particular. 

A lot of this activity was criticised as adopting a “deficit model” agenda of citizen ignorance as against more nuanced “contextual approach” involving the science people needed to live their daily lives. “Science and/in/with/etc Society” became the rallying cry.

But what has really been achieved and changed a generation on from Bodmer? Is it a case of “every attempt is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure” (TS Eliot The Four Quartets, East Coker, 1941). And was Bodmer’s influence restricted to the UK and/or the English-speaking world? This round-table will discuss “The Public Understanding of Science – a generation on” with a UK and international panel.

This Roundtable Discussion will be linked to the new PCST book, "The Emerging of Modern Science Communication".

Author: Steve Miller
University College London, United Kingdom

Speaker: Martin Bauer
LSE, United Kingdom

Martin Bauer, former editor of the journal Public Understanding of Science, has been at the forefront of UK science communication research since he joined the UK Science Museum / Imperial College. Martin spearheaded the Museum's media monitor in the early 1990s, which looked - for the first time in a systematic way - at science in the UK's newspapers. Martin has carried out several longitudinal studies of science in the media, the evolution of the field from scientific literacy through public understanding of science to various combinations of science and/with/for society. As a Swiss national, Martin is also able to bring a continental European consideration of this subject.

Speaker: Melanie Smallman
UCL, United Kingdom

Melanie Smallman was one of the first cohorts of students on Imperial College's MSc in Science Communication and is now a lecturer at University College London. So she has been able to witness at first hand how the teaching in this area has developed. At the same time, she has been an active researcher, particularly as science communication has become incorporated into ideas around responsible research and innovation. Outside of academia, Melanie has run her own science communication consultancy and worked as an advisor to the UK government's Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), a role she carried out in the wake of the Mad Cow Disease scandal of the 1980s and 90s.

Speaker: Bernard Schiele
UQAM, Canada

Bernard Schiele is Professor of Communication at UQAM in Canada and a founder member of the PCST network. He has undertaken a wide range of research on science communication, in all its guises, in the francophone world, which has a rather different tradition of divulgacion de science from that of the UK community. Nonetheless he has observed developments amongst the anglophone world for many years, including its influence - positive and negative - on those of other countries. Bernard's overview of the community enables him to place the UK developments into a wider context, including a longer historical perspective, that allows for differences and similarities to be explored in depth.

Speaker: Luisa Massarani
House of Oswaldo Cruz, Brazil

Luisa Massarani is coordinator of the Science Communication masters at the House of Oswaldo Cruz in Rio de Janiero in Brazil, and the coordinator of SciDevNet for Latin America. She is a member of the PCST Scientific Committee and coordinator of the Brazilian Institute of Public Communication of Science and Technology.. Although most of her research has been carried out in Brazil, Luisa has spent considerable amounts of time in the UK, in particular, during her PhD studies when she worked at UCL. So she is well acquainted with the UK science communication/public understanding of science community and its particular approaches to the field, and how those approaches have developed. She also brings to the discussion an understanding of how those approaches play out in different national and historic contexts, and under conditions of very diverse political attitudes to science, given the more recent changes in governments in Brazil.

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