People & Science

A publication of the British Science Association

24/10/2014

Show me content for... +

Show me content for...
Events
Resources
Volunteers
Teachers
Professional development
Families & teenagers (aged 12+)
Families (children aged 12 & under)

Donate

register

Register with us and you can....

  • Sign up to our free e-communications
  • Become a member of the Association
  • Create your own web account, & post comments
  • Be part of British Science Festival
  • Save your favourite items

Register

Keep up to date with the latest news from the British Science Assocation. Sign up to our RSS feeds and take us with you when you are on the move.

You are here

Shorts: December 2011

Australian universities launch The Conversation

A group of Australian universities has launched a news website called The Conversation as a place where academics can write on topics related to their expertise for the general public.

Raising the level of public debate

A group of Australian universities has launched a news website called The Conversation as a place where academics can write on topics related to their expertise for the general public.

Raising the level of public debate

`One of the main ideas is to raise the level of public debate in Australia. Areas such as science, to give just one example, receive scant coverage in the mainstream media, unless the story fits into a certain narrative,’ Section Editor, Science and Technology, Paul Dalgarno, told People & Science.

But science writer Martin Ince has doubts: `If you look at most fields of life, people realise that journalism exists for the readers.  It’s only scientists that have trouble with this concept and think that journalism is about the people who are being written about. The worst danger of The Conversation is if it means scientists… pretend they don’t need journalism.’

However, he also welcomed the urge to communicate: `I think we should praise that scientists are going to talk about their work to the rest of the world.’

Following debates

Dr. Peter Geoghegan of the School of Social and Political Science at Edinburgh, is editor of Political Insight magazine and a writer and journalist himself. `I don’t think you should have to work in a university to read and follow academic debates,’ he said.  `Most academics are interested in getting their research out to a wider audience in a way that doesn’t cherrypick some elements of it at the expense of others. Having a forum where that can happen is, I think, a really good idea.’

However, Ince has more reservations. `If you actually look at the Conversation website… it’s got a pretty traditional mixture… of press releases, news stories and stories by scientists,’ he commented, continuing, `But not all scientists want to write about their research for a general audience, and so the problem with this approach is that you might get important stories not being written.  What I don’t really get any idea of is how editorial judgment is applied to see what are the important stories.’

Dalgarno explained how The Conversation obtains its content. `Much of what we do is commissioning comment and analysis pieces from experts, or those involved in work that is going on within universities… to write something unique for us,’ he explained. `All authors have a profile page [saying] who they are and what their expertise is. They also have to fill out a disclosure statement.’

Parlying about science?

Parliament could have something to learn from the science public engagement community, according to Andrew Miller MP.  Miller, who chairs the House of Commons Select Committee on Science & Technology, thinks that Parliament’s ability to engage the public with science is ‘very, very challenging’. `The scientific community took earlier strides than Parliament did to engage the public,’ he told People & Science, adding, ‘There have been some very positive changes in the recent past.’

A three-way conversation?

Parliament could have something to learn from the science public engagement community, according to Andrew Miller MP.  Miller, who chairs the House of Commons Select Committee on Science & Technology, thinks that Parliament’s ability to engage the public with science is ‘very, very challenging’. `The scientific community took earlier strides than Parliament did to engage the public,’ he told People & Science, adding, ‘There have been some very positive changes in the recent past.’

A three-way conversation?

Miller’s comments come after ScienceWise published a review of past public engagement on genetic modification (GM). ScienceWise manager Diane Warburton, who contributed to the report, told People & Science:`There can be quite entrenched views on GM, which makes it a very interesting and very political issue. What ScienceWise has always tried to do is to put the public into that conversation as well, so that it’s a three-way conversation between scientists, the public and whoever’s making the decision.’ 

Engaging in democracy

Parliament has been seeking to improve the way it engages the public with the political process. It held its first `Parliament Week’ in October with a programme of activities and events around the UK to build greater engagement with parliamentary democracy.

The Hansard Society recently looked at how public engagement could be improved, specifically with three focus groups: with first-time voters, with parliamentary officials, and with MPs and peers.  Beccy Allen, one of the co-authors of the society’s Parliament 20:20 report, summarised their findings. `The first-time voters wanted Parliament or MPs to come out to them as well as using methods… such as TV, social media and YouTube... They wanted to get a real sense of who the politicians were as people,’ she said.

Political balance

The officials and parliamentarians were less focused on two-way engagement than in putting out information for the public. Allen explained, `One official said, “Everything is political here.  It’s not straightforward.  Information is a tool for politicians to use against each other.” Parliament sees its role very differently from MPs. [Officials have to be careful to provide] balanced information.’

Miller sees some scope for hope: `A few months back I went to a really, really good Royal Society of Chemistry lecture that was aimed at the public.  Could Parliament do something like that on an apolitical basis and have public debates that put the work of Parliament into context?’ he pondered, adding, `Parliament does [already] do that but only on a very small scale.’

581
11297
Listen up, geoengineers!
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Coun...
more
582
11297
Centenary ecology fund
The British Ecological Society will be celebrating...
more
583
11297
Chief Scientific Advisers investigated
The House of Lords Select Committee on Science and...
more
584
11297
India and China
A new book (Constructing Culture of Science: Commun...
more
585
11297
Geoengineering support
The public supports research on geoengineering, acc...
more
586
11297
Mobilisation and Mutual Learning Action Plans
The European Commission’s Science in Society (SIS)...
more
587
11297
Communication required
The International Council for Science (ICSU) has re...
more
588
11297
Complaints on the Horizon
Scientists for Global Responsibility has criticised...
more
Dr Joanna Carpenter
Dr Joanna Carpenter is the Shorts Editor of People & Science
Join the debate...
Log in or register to post comments