Throughout this course, numerous examples of science promotion have been given, from the individual level of Pro-Ams to the supranational level of the EU Action Plan. Is there an appropriate political level for initiating science promotion or might a multi-level approach be more fruitful?
Certainly there is evidence that local or sub-national initiatives can engage people – from Science Cafés and Cities of Science, to the Pub Understanding of Science beer mats with scientific questions and the informal networks of Pro-Ams. People may be inspired to access science by it having a local presence, by it representing a strong regional tradition or by the desire to join a local knowledge community. Thus, we might find that people are joining in some element of science outreach as a means of generating (or maintaining) social cohesion. The Leadbeater and Miller paper (Reading 1) argued this well:
The fact that people can pursue amateur hobbies and interests without state censorship or interference is a good measure of freedom. People with passions that draw them into civic life are more likely to have a stake in a democratic process that defends this freedom of association.
(Leadbeater and Miller, 2004, p. 54)
There are also reasons to encourage science promotion on a national and international level. Nationwide schemes may have more resources to initiate diverse events and techniques, and any subsequent success may reach a wider audience and thus become self-reinforcing. The paradigm of linear transmission in science promotion is still common in the UK, but this paradigm is being modified as the social and political momentum towards dialogue and interaction gathers pace. Indeed, as Rennie and Stocklmayer (p. 766) observe: ‘With extraordinary speed, the tone of debate in Europehas changed to one of dialogue, openness and accountability’. However, you'll appreciate that while the rhetoric from ‘on high’ may have changed, the problems of how engagement might work in practice and getting scientists and policy makers fully committed to the idea remain.
It is perhaps not surprising, therefore, that Rennie and Stocklmayer go on to warn that ‘decisions about science and technology education and informal learning, for the many people whom these areas aim to reach, are no closer to resolution than before’ (Rennie and Stocklmayer, p. 766). To achieve resolution will involve many players on different political levels – not just the relevant office of the appropriate government department, but also the research community, industry, NGOs, opposition parties, the education sector and citizen groups – as well as individuals not part of a recognised grouping. Within this, we should recognise the contribution of the ‘subculture’ of independent collectives and individuals, such as the Pro-Ams, but we need to be sensitive about the extent to which that contribution is formalised since trying to do this may spoil its very essence.
Furthermore, initiatives at all geo-political levels could emphasise the cross-cultural cohesion that might be gained from enlightened science promotion. Clearly there is momentum for greater public involvement in the science–policy realm, but it is not always clear what the motive is for those who initiate science promotion programmes. Thus science promotion also needs to be genuinely dialogic and interactive, with an explicit agenda of public access and inclusion – as such, it actually needs to be more political. Perhaps this makes the case for all the types of promotion considered in this course – institutional and individual, ‘Go See’, ‘Go Say’ and ‘Go Use’ – to be considered as viable means of science outreach and public engagement.
This course has taken you on an analytical journey, from local science promotion events to international PEST (Public Engagement in Science and Technology) strategies, with many concepts and readings along the way. As a bit of light relief (but with a serious message, of course), you might enjoy the activity.
Do you recall the ‘event’ of ‘Pub Understanding of Science’ beer mats? See for yourself if they work – cut out the mat (attached as a pdf below) and see if it inspires your friends and family to engage with science.
‘Pub Understanding of Science’ beer mat for use with the activity.