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Time and transformations in practices and cultures of science communication

This session addresses practices and cultures of science communication, past and present. We aim to engage empirically and conceptually with the historical development of media, actors, systems and institutions of science communication up from the 19th century and up until the present day. We present papers on different regions and countries: Scandinavia, Russia, Estonia and the Netherlands. We seek to provide historical overviews and new understandings of the emergence of practices and cultures of science communication in national as well as transnational contexts. Time and place as well as different media for science communication play an important role in all presentations demonstrating how historical contexts for science communication change and thus enable transformations in the ways in which actors practice and perceive science communication. All presentations emphasize contextual factors that have shaped and continue to shape practices and cultures of science communication. The discussion will be facilitated by our chair Michelle Riedlinger of University of the Fraser Valley. The first three out of the four papers are based on chapters in Communicating Science: A Global Perspective, edited by Toss Gasgoigne et al., ANU Press, 2020 (open access, http://doi.org/10.22459/CS.2020). 

Author: Kristian H. Nielsen
Aarhus University, Denmark

The emergence of modern science communication in Scandinavia

The three Scandinavian countries, Denmark, Norway and Sweden, all have a rich history of science communication. Popularisation efforts by the scientific community have co-existed and co-developed with efforts to make science communication useful for purposes of democracy, education, farming, environment, industry, health, welfare and more. One of the challenges faced in all three countries is how to match the demands of the academic community with the demands of society, hoping to share, make useful and critically discuss the fruits of research. The enactment of the third mission for all public universities serves as a modern example of such a match, but also shows the difficulties involved. There are many similarities across the three countries covered in this paper such as an ongoing emphasis on the role of science communication in enforcing citizenship, public deliberation and social responsibility, but also many differences. The making of modern science communication in Scandinavia also testifies to the fact that Denmark, Norway and Sweden are firmly embedded in international developments. As open economies, the three Scandinavian countries have a long tradition of international collaboration. Denmark joined the present EU in 1973, Sweden in 1995, and Norway joined the European Economic Area in 1994. As such, they are all three collaborating partners of e.g. Horizon 2020 and national science policy is strongly influenced by EU policy. An important policy objective is to ensure that the results of publicly funded research are made open and available to the different publics. Furthermore, Responsible Research and Innovation is high on the agenda. One crucial question for each of the three countries is how they manage to build bridges between international ambitions and national publics facilitating science communication that build identity and citizenship. Co-authors: Per Hetland, University of Oslo, and Dick Kasperowski, University of Gothenburg

Estonia, the small country that chose the educational focus

Speaker: Arko Olesk
Tallinn University, Estonia

Estonia, with just 1.3 million people, is one of the smallest countries in the world to use its own language as the primary language in all areas of social life. Today, the country also has a modern science communication landscape with science centres, science festivals, established science journalism, and a national programme to foster science communication. The leap to a modern science communication system in Estonia required several supportive factors to come together in the beginning of the 2000s. The society was recovering from the ruptures caused by the transition following the regaining of independence in 1991. The scientific community started to discuss the same set of perceived problems that helped to launch the science communication movement in Western European countries in the 1980s and 1990s: lack of students in STEM-fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), little or inaccurate media coverage of science, and the diminishing role of science and scientists in society. New resources became available, most importantly funds from the European Union (EU). By around 2005, the stage was ready for a quick expansion of science communication activities in Estonia. One prominent initiative was TeaMe, the national science communication programme (funded by European Social Fund). It declared as its aim to “increase the awareness of young people and the whole population about the impact that research and development and innovation have on national competitiveness and productivity and thereby on social well-being”. As a result, many of the programme’s activities focussed on science communication in the educational system: guiding the interest of young people towards choosing a career in STEM fields. A significant section of various science communication activities in Estonia is still dependent on project-based funding, including EU funding. This means that the science communication system in Estonia, while developed, is still fragile.

The Emergence of Modern Science Communication in Russia: From All-out Science Propaganda to Modest Public Engagement Initiatives

Speaker: Dmitry Malkov
ITMO University, Russia

Throughout the 20th century Russia experienced dramatic reversals in terms of government support of science communication activities. The evolution of science communication in Russia has closely followed the train of political and ideological thought in the country, thus drawing a line between Russia and other world regions, which can still be discerned to the present day. During the Soviet times, science popularisation enjoyed an unprecedented scale and support fueled by the era of fast technological growth, space exploration and ideological rivalry with the United States. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, however, popular science plummeted together with science itself. The grave economic situation led to dwindling science funding and left virtually no room for any institutional support of science communication. These events left a profound mark on the public and political support of science communication and largely defined the attempts to rebuild science communication practices around the country in the 21st century. While many Western nations were busy elaborating on novel theoretical and practical approaches to science communication, including dialogue and participatory engagement models, Russia remained isolated from this discourse until the late 2000s. Today, despite the renewed role of the state and industry in Russian science communication and a growing number of bottom-up initiatives, there remains a large theoretical gap required to describe, understand and promote effective policies that can address unique challenges posed by the modern science communication in Russia. Co-author: Alexandra Borissova, ITMO University

The meaning of public–private partnerships for science communication research and practice

Speaker: Fred P. Balvert
Erasmus University Medical Centre, Netherlands

Current approaches of science communication promote the engagement of all societal stakeholders in research. These include private companies that pursue economic profit. The role of companies in research is problematic from the perspective of science communication for two reasons. Firstly, private enterprises do not fit into the discourse of science communication that has developed since the second half of the twentieth century. Secondly, the role of commercial partners in research is considered as controversial in the public debate and the media. In order to stay relevant, science communicators have to develop useful modes of dealing with industrial partners in science communication theory as well as in practice. With examples drawn from the Netherlands, this paper explains the relation between research and industry from a historical science communication perspective by making a distinction between the values of curiosity-driven research, societal relevance and market economic principles. It points out the roles and responsibilities of the stakeholders involved: researchers, research institutes, science communicators, journalists and companies. It concludes with a schematic division of the modes of science communication practice.

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