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Knowledge-Able Citizen

The other day, Kate organized a talk by Sheila Jasanoff about science communication and subsequently summarized the talk on her blog. You need to read the whole thing, but the main point is that there is a difference between a one-to-many communication of usual science communication (the ‘public service model’), including science education, policy speaches, etc., more often than not presented by non-scientists, e.g., journalists, politicians, etc. and the many-to-many interactive engaging of scientists with the public in a two-way communication (the ‘public sphere model’):

Thus, perhaps the issue is not how we package science, but how we engage the public to think critically about the science. While packaging can be done carefully and with reference to specific audiences, Jasanoff maintained that packaging fails to energize the ideals of the public, which would represent the most forward-thinking approach, and thus may represent apathy or acquiescence. Only after conveying the deeper importance of science will the public lend its energy and support to the scientific enterprise, as, in Jasanoff’s words, “all human-created work is worth reflecting on.”

In a follow-up post Kate elaborates on the idea from her own perspective:

But scientific literacy stems from much more than this initial info-bite. I have rarely had someone who, after I’ve spouted some sort of scientific semi-nonsense, hasn’t asked me insightful questions and pushed to understand more about it. Whether a scientist or non-scientist, most people have an innate curiousity that drives us to understand our surroundings, who we are, how we work – all the major fundamental questions driving science itself. When kids are little, this curiosity is wonderfully unaffected, but as we age, we either grow more jaded, more insecure, more over-scheduled, more whatever that causes us to restrict that curiosity, securing it away with an airtight cap. So, to me, Jasanoff’s argument on behalf of the Knowledge-Able Citizen rings true – society is composed of people very much capable of knowledge, of curiousity, and of understanding. And, if many of those are willing to engage with science, given the opportunity and the time, it seems that the most effective way to communicate science is by nurturing that curiosity, encouraging critical scientific thinking, and engaging the public more deeply in thought-provoking, challenging issues. The seeds of it are already there.