A SCIENTIST’S SURVIVAL KIT

A SCIENTIST’S SURVIVAL KIT
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Published Date:02-07-2017
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SCIENTIST’S SURVIVAL KIT Infrastructure, human resources, international cooperation, research and development, environment and health, societal issues, industrial innovation Infrastructure, human resources, international cooperation, research and development, environment and health, societal issues, industrial innovation, Infrastructure, human resources, international cooperation, research and development, environment and health, societal issues, industrial innovation Infrastructure, human resources, international cooperation, research and development, environment and health, societal issues, industrial innovation Infrastructure, human resources, international cooperation, research and development, environment and health, societal issues, industrial innovation Infrastructure, human resources, international cooperation, research and development, environment and health, societal issues, industrial innovation communicating science Infrastructure, human resources, international cooperation, research and development, environment and health, societal issues, industrial innovation Infrastructure, human resources, international cooperation, research and development, environment and health, societal issues, industrial innovation Infrastructure, human resources, international cooperation, research and development, environment and health, societal issues, industrial innovation Infrastructure, human resources, international cooperation, research and development, environment and health, societal issues, industrial innovation Infrastructure, human resources, international cooperation, research and development, environment and health, societal issues, industrial innovation Infrastructure, human resources, international cooperation, research and development, environment and health, societal issues, industrial innovation Infrastructure, human resources, international cooperation, research and development, environment and health, societal issues, industrial innovation Infrastructure, human resources, international cooperation, research and development, environment and health, societal issues, industrial innovation Infrastructure, human resources, international cooperation, research and development, environment and health, societal issues, industrial innovation Infrastructure, human resources, international cooperation, research and development, environment and health, societal issues, industrial innovation, Infrastructure, human resources, international cooperation, research and development, environment and health, societal issues, industrial innovation Infrastructure, human resources, international cooperation, research and development, environment and health, societal issues, industrial innovation Infrastructure, human resources, international cooperation, research and development, environment and health, societal issues, industrial innovation Infrastructure, human resources, international cooperation, research and development, environment and health, societal issues, industrial innovation Infrastructure, human resources, international cooperation, research and development, environment and health, societal issues, industrial innovation Infrastructure, human resources, international cooperation, research and development, environment and health, societal issues, industrial innovation Infrastructure, human resources, international cooperation, research and development, environment and health, societal issues, industrial innovation Infrastructure, human resources, international cooperation, research and development, environment and health, societal issues, industrial innovation Infrastructure, human resources, international cooperation, research and development, environment and health, societal issues, industrial innovation Infrastructure, human resources, international cooperation, research and development, environment and health, societal issues, industrial innovation Infrastructure, human resources, international cooperation, research and development, environment and health, societal issues, industrial innovation Infrastructure, human resources, international cooperation, research and development, environment and health, societal issues, industrial innovation Infrastructure, human resources, international cooperation, research and development, environment and health, societal issues, industrial innovation Infrastructure, human resources, international cooperation, research and development, environment and health, societal issues, industrial innovation Infrastructure, human resources, international cooperation, research and development, environment and health, societal issues, industrial innovation Infrastructure, human resources, international cooperation, research and development, environment and health, societal issues, industrial innovation Infrastructure, human resources, international cooperation, research and development, environment and health, societal issues, industrial innovation Infrastructure, human resources, international cooperation, research and development, environment and health, societal issues, industrial innovation Infrastructure, human resources, international cooperation, research and development, environment and health, societal issues, industrial innovation Infrastructure, human resources, international cooperation, research and development, environment and health, societal issues, industrial innovation Infrastructure, human resources, international cooperation, research and development, environment and health, societal issues, industrial innovation Infrastructure, human resources, international cooperation, research and development, environment and health, societal issues, industrial innovation Infrastructure, human resources, international cooperation, research and development, environment and health, societal issues, industrial innovation Infrastructure, human resources, international cooperation, research and development, environment and health, societal issues, industrial innovation Infrastructure, human resources, international cooperation, research and development, environment and health, societal issues, industrial innovation Infrastructure, human resources, international cooperation, research and development, environment and health, societal issues, industrial innovation Infrastructure, human resources, international cooperation, research and development, environment and health, societal issues, industrial innovation Infrastructure, human resources, international cooperation, research and development, environment and health, societal issues, industrial innovation Infrastructure, human resources, international cooperation, research and development, environment and health, societal issues, industrial innovation Infrastructure, human resources, international cooperation, research and development, environment and health, societal issues, industria innovatioInfrastructure, human resources, international cooperation, research and development, environment and health, societal issues, industria innovation I f h i i l i h dd l i dh lh i l i i d i li i GENERAL INFORMATIONINDEX PREFACE INTRODUCTION A new job to learn Why engage in science communication? The advantage of being a scientist What is in this book Thanks LEAVING THE IVORY TELLING A SCIENCE TOWER STORY Science and society: just like a marriage Telling a story, or rather getting read The rise and fall of the Public Understanding of Science Arguing, or rather persuading Do people care about science and scientists? Explaining, or rather making what is difficult easy Dialogue with society The text: short, clear and effective How knowledge and opinions of science are shaped The use of pictures The perception of risks Be part of the game Communication is an indispensable Sisyphean task USING JOURNALISTS Journalists and scientists: two different cultures What is a “good” piece of news? THE ABCS OF Not all journalists are alike How to access the media COMMUNICATING WITH How to answer the media’s requests Working together THE PUBLIC From peer to peer to public communication Competing for attention KNOWING THE MEDIA The power of emotions The power of storytelling Choosing the right medium Why is science “difficult”? Television Ethics in science communication Radio The generalist press The specialized press Books PLANNING YOUR Science museums and exhibitions The Internet COMMUNICATION Starting off on the right foot Clarify your aims Know your own audience Assess constraints and opportunities Choose your message When communication is an uphill battle The ten laws of human communication INDEX - 7INTRODUCTION A NEW JOB TO LEARN A man who wants the truth becomes a scientist. A man that wants to let his subjectivity free may become a writer. But what should a man do who wants something in-between? Robert Musil In 1992, the astronomer Carl Sagan, Openings and closings protagonist of countless public appearances, as well as the author There have always been scientists of twenty books translated worldwi- dedicated to disseminating their de, an enormously successful televi- own work, the first being Galileo, sion series and a Hollywood film, who the Church never forgave for was denied membership to the his choice to write in vulgate rather National Academy of Sciences. In than in the more obscure Latin. fact he was not able to raise the Over the years, however, their required two-thirds vote from its willingness to do so has changed. members. Director of the Laboratory The Nineteenth century was one of of Planetary Studies at Cornell the most propitious, especially in University, Sagan had distinguished England. Beginning in 1826, and himself for the calculation of the for over twenty years, Michael greenhouse effect on Venus, for his Faraday described the latest deve- studies on the surface of Mars and lopments in science every Friday on the oceans of Titan, Saturn’s evening, during extremely crowded large moon. Too many colleagues lectures held at the Royal turned up their noses at his tireless Institution. activity in spreading scientific news, Yet, in the first few decades of the which had made him, perhaps the Twentieth century scientists’ enthu- most famous scientist in the United siasm for popularising science was States, and one of the most vibrant already greatly declining. In 1938 defenders of science in the world. Lancelot Hogben, afraid of jeopardi- Two years later the National zing his upcoming nomination as a Academy of Sciences reconsidered Fellow of the Royal Society, asked its vote, honouring him with the his colleague, Hyman Levy to pre- Public Welfare Medal. Sagan had tend to be the author of his book brilliantly challenged two important Mathematics for the Million, a popu- prejudices which besiege scientists lar work which became an internatio- that choose to communicate with nal bestseller. Only in the 1980s was the general public: the idea that there a large scale resurgence of scientists who do are distracted from public engagement with the world of their “real” work – research – and the research. This was no coincidence, idea that scientists are not able to as we will see in the next chapter. express themselves clearly, as if their mental universe were so far from the Today, however, most of the best common man that at the very least popular books on science are not they need a “translator”. created by “translators”, but by 10 - INTRODUCTIONscientists. Just think of Richard a waste of time, but rather, in some Dawkins, Antonio Damasio, Stephen cases public engagement is now Hawking, Edward O. Wilson, Jared indicated as an “obligation”. Some of Diamond or Luigi Luca Cavalli these institutions, such as the Sforza. American National Science Foundation and the British Research Even outside of the star system, Council have produced guidelines on increasingly more scientists are deci- communication, and many have ding to try out this new job. In fact, created press offices or have hired a everyone, to different degrees and communication officer, promoting with different roles, may be asked to initiatives of every type including discuss or comment on his or her educational websites, documenta- own research or research in their ries, science shows and volunteer field. The reasons are varied many: service in research. Some, such as s(he)may need to respond to a jour- the American Society for nalist’s request, intervene on a deba- Neuroscience, have even formed a ted issue, assist with an exhibit or a staff of professionals dedicated to television show, present a degree, assisting scientists in communica- speak with lobbies or spokespeople tions with the general public. for interest groups, present their own activities to industry, local institutions More and more frequently, some or other possible financers, or simply basic training in communication is collaborate effectively with the press considered necessary for those who office of their own institution. work or are about to undertake a career in research. In Great Britain, A new climate for example, most of the Research Councils offer their Ph.D. students a Not many years after Carl Sagan’s few days of training in communica- rejection, the situation changed. tions and the media, while proper Today, in fact, scientific institutions courses are offered by universities, themselves, like the English Royal such as The University College in Society and the French Académie London. In the United States the des Science, the Australian American Association for the Commonwealth Scientific and Advancement of Science and the Industrial Research Organisation as Scientists’ Institute for Public well the American Association for the Information are the organizations Advancement of Science, are all invi- which usually see to this. ting their members to discuss their Why is there such renewed own work. It is no longer branded as enthusiasm? INTRODUCTION - 11WHY ENGAGE IN SCIENCE COMMUNICATIONS? Today communicating is considered a strategic function by the majority of organizations which interact in our social system. It identifies them, justifies them, allows them to gain consensus and to work to achieve the objectives that all systems have: to survive, to protect themselves, to obtain resources, and to grow. Annamaria Testa First and foremost: that everyone can contribute to the Acquiring familiarity with the tech- progress of knowledge. niques of public communication of Satisfaction science may, finally, be useful in tea- The vast majority of scientists will ching. In fact, there is no reason to Communicating with other agree that, spoken or unspoken, it is make a subject more difficult than scientists absolutely natural to desire the dis- necessary. semination of research, be it one’s Paradoxically, public communica- Even if (contrary to what happens in own or from one’s field of study. It is tion can also help inform other public communications) students rewarding to go outside the confines scientists of your own activities, have freely chosen to study a sub- (human too) of one’s specialization overcoming the barriers which ject and have a precise reason for and share one’s own passions with separate different disciplinary fields. studying it, the ability to interest others: managing to do so can be a Progress in science and technology them and keep their attention alive, source of great personal satisfac- are, in fact, so rapid and numerous while helping them to save cognitive tion. Whatever the reason for deci- that in general scientists are only energy, can become precious in any ding to communicate, if you are not able to keep themselves updated in type of lesson or presentation. able to transmit your own passion it a highly specialized niche area of will be very difficult to obtain good knowledge. All scientists, in other Often, however, the communica- results. Konrad Lorenz was so words, are part of the general public tion of science has other purpo- popular because of his extraordina- when something that lies outside of ses, which are, perhaps, less ry ability to get his readers involved their field is discussed. noble but not less important. in the adventure of ethology, and the In the United States, competition for More than an end, in these cases, same is true for all the great scien- coverage in an important newspa- the dissemination of scientific cul- tist-communicators. per, like The New York Times, has ture becomes a means. Being In addition to spreading knowledge, been very strong, since it was dis- able to effectively express your- telling science stories helps convey covered that it helps to become bet- self, means being able to effecti- the value of a scientific way of thin- ter known even amongst collea- vely persuade others and send king and a rational attitude to pro- gues. out messages with clear objecti- blems, even to those which have Some preliminary data cited in ves in sight. nothing to do with science. Nature even indicate how scientific Historically, one of science’s most works that were covered by new- But above all it is important important cultural contributions was spapers were later cited more fre- for science its example as “good training for quently in specialized publications. democracy”. In fact, it was also Furthermore, new fields were If many scientists end up enthusiastic through science that the West lear- announced and in some way even about disseminating science, it is also ned to defend its own reasons with defined with respect to the others, in because they have had to make a vir- rationality and an assessment of books for non peer audiences, as tue of necessity. The great paradox of reality, distrust towards established occurred in the mid Nineties with the science today is, in fact, that while it is moral and cultural authorities, tole- studies on consciousness and ear- a hegemonic culture – few others are rance for others’ ideas and the belief lier with cosmology. able to change our way of living, pro- 12 - INTRODUCTIONducing, working and thinking so pro- to do, the more opportunities there fic opinions have on the decisions foundly and quickly – science literacy are to encounter (sometime even to related to research priorities beco- remains low. clash with) different social stakehol- mes obvious. Because scientific With rare exceptions, such as South ders or different points of view. research is ever more often the true Korea and Finland, international sur- cultural, social and economic driver, veys show almost unanimously that Thus, if until recently communicating the quality of science communica- citizens lack scientific knowledge, with society was an optional, today tion has become essential to demo- even in the most developed coun- it has become a necessity. And no cracy and progress. On the one tries. This shortcoming is even more one, in the scientific world, can hand then, it is necessary to avoid a serious given the continual growth of afford to ignore this. In fact, you technocratic drift, which would knowledge and its practical applica- cannot expect someone else, for mean shielding the true decisions tions. At the Lisbon Conference in example an “enlightened” politician, from public scrutiny behind a media 2000 the European government lea- to defend the interests of science. In smokescreen. This operation, in ders pledged to make the Union “the the last few years the relationships truth, would most likely boomerang most competitive knowledge-based between science and society have in the short run, as past experience society and economy” by 2010. As a begun to change radically. In this has taught. On the other hand, it is result, the poor understanding of regard some have spoken of a necessary to avoid the opposite, science by young people has beco- transition from “academic” science populist drift, in which an expert opi- me subject of public debate in to “post-academic” science. nion is much less important than the Europe. Disregarded in the past, the The important decisions which involve political game and the inevitable results of international enquiries on scientists’ work are no longer made by irrationality of the mass media. Not the level of student preparation, such the scientific community alone or by just this. It is also important to pre- as PISA (Programme fro International some office in a state department. vent the birth of a subclass, scienti- Student Assessment by the OECD), More and more often they are the fically speaking, made up of people are now published by important daily result of a complex negotiation with a who know nothing at all about the newspapers. In addition, occasions number of social groups: national and progress of the techno-sciences, for friction between science and local politicians, private companies and cannot understand how the society continue to multiply due to the and their associations, lobbies or spe- modern world works, and are there- influence of new technologies, the cial interest groups, “moral authorities” fore unable to participate in the life choices new advances force us to and the media. Often such decisions of a technological society. make or the impact new knowledge are also presented to the general has on the beliefs and values at the public, whose opinions are later reflec- The general objective of an effective base of our identities, culture and ted in the way the media and politi- policy for science communication is ways of thinking. cians behave. to (re-)construct a climate of reci- If one simply considers research on procal knowledge and trust bet- The new necessity to communicate cancer or AIDS, human space mis- ween science and society, establis- with the general public actually sions, biotechnology or genetic hing an authentically open and not shows how successful science is: screening, the growing weight (for just “cosmetic” dialogue with the the more you know and know how better or worse) which extra-scienti- public. INTRODUCTION - 13Visibility, consensus, trust campaign was necessary to “sell” rily lost causes. A referendum cam- the Human Genome Project. Initially paign which intended to prohibit any The first objective, from this point of the campaign involved periodicals type of research in biotechnology view, is to obtain visibility. In fact, it is for the scientific community and was defeated in Switzerland in difficult to make yourself heard if you then gradually included popular 1998, because scientists made an are not “visible”; or rather, if you are magazines which baptised the all out effort to inform the general not recognised as someone impor- human genome “the book of life”. public, and learned to use the same tant and entitled to speak by the When, in the first half of the Nineties, instruments of public communica- general public or specific stakehol- the Finnish government gave the ok tion as their adversaries. ders. Naturally, visibility must be positive; namely, it must be associa- to a decade-long 13.5% annual Finally, there are times when it is ted with social consensus regarding increase in spending for research, essential to make a scientifically its very existence and activity, which the decision was made possible by based voice heard loud and clear, can play on an entire range of moti- the construction of a widespread such as when irrationality risks vations, from the usefulness of one’s and profound social consensus in exploding, in situations like the own research to national pride. the country. The ultimate example is SARS epidemic, an earthquake or More than ever, obtaining or protec- Telethon’s financial contribution to the umpteenth new “cure” for can- ting your financing is tied to this research for rare genetic diseases. cer. The fundamental objective is, consensus. Social support is, in Telethon is a series of national chari- however, to establish with society, fact, a prerequisite for political sup- port. Just think, for example, of the ties professionally managed, that or key members of it, a deeper and role public mobilisation played in collect donations for dozens of more solid relationship based on determining the financial contribu- millions of euro with single annual trust. Only on this basis, tested over tions for the research and treatment televised events. time, will the inevitable gap be brid- of two important illnesses with very Without social consensus, not even ged; even if to some degree there different incidence like AIDS and lobbying is enough: as the GMO will always be a difference between breast cancer, or for cancer experience has shown, politics must those who hold very complex kno- research and research on cardio- follow the electorates orientation, no wledge and all the rest. vascular diseases, which in actual matter how unreasonable it may be. fact represent the number one cause of death in western countries. Consensus, not necessarily of an And there are other examples as entire social body, becomes, in fact, well. even more important when the objective is difficult to reach. When the decision is controversial, and it Social consensus is not automati- may be so for various reasons, the cally created, based on how good final decision is always political. And the cause is objectively, but it needs to be actively pursued with effective political decisions are not always communication. rational. In some issues, which can be defined “ideological”, the free- It was no coincidence that a few dom of research itself may be in years of an intense communication question. But they are not necessa- 14 - INTRODUCTIONTHE ADVANTAGE OF BEING A SCIENTIST Nothing shocks me. I am a scientist. Indiana Jones The combined pressures to publish not (well) represented in the public underlined that the general public and find resources for research do arena risk losing their say, resour- views being a scientist as an asset, not make the life of a scientist easy. ces, trust and at times even free- compared to the journalist. Their Even without the added task of lear- dom. credibility is higher simply because ning a new job. There is nothing exceptional in all of (s)he is are the one who creates the Many may not feel particularly talen- this. All great social actors have had knowledge and does not simply ted as communicators. And per- to take this same road, and science pass it on second hand. haps they are not. Basically, they is beginning to take it up at least a have chosen a completely different generation late, compared to, for If it is true that the consequences of career. Many others may not like this example, the private sector. And this science and technology are too job, perhaps because they feel as if is a road that you cannot turn back important to leave in the hands of they have to “dirty their hands” in on. Why not, then, delegate public scientists alone, it is also true that some way. Others may not like the communication to professionals? As the relationship between science idea of adding their personal contri- in all organizations, in science, com- and society is too important to sim- bution to the general information munication is inevitably being hand- ply leave in the hands of non scien- overload. led more and more often by profes- tists. Communicating with the general sionals, and it should be that way. public is, in fact, not without risks, However, the active involvement of At times, to speak with a foreigner it as we will see further on when we scientists remains indispensable, is better to learn their language examine some of its ethical aspects. because they are always the first link rather than to use an interpreter, and There is an actual risk that even in in the chain of communication. then perhaps complain if you do not important choices the better com- Every choice made at the beginning understand each other. municator’s position will prevail, and of the chain will influence everything notthe one held by the scientist with that happens subsequently, for bet- better arguments. Moreover, a ter or worse. Professionals, such as scientist may be appreciated more if the press officer, must, in any case, (s)he is telegenic rather than for the be informed and guided. impact factor of their publications. Moreover, because of the very spe- The need for public communication, cific nature of science compared to however, remains. other sectors, it is often difficult for a non expert to have as good a com- The mechanisms which have crea- mand of the subject as the scientist ted the escalation of volume and doing the work, or to see all its impli- communicative hyperboles in every cations, even in the long term. sector of society now apply to The scientist, in other words, is the science as well. And the price for person best equipped to correctly not communicating, or communi- posit the communication, and at cating poorly, is becoming higher times to do it themselves. Most every day. Today those who are international reports have, in fact, INTRODUCTION - 15WHAT IS IN THIS BOOK The best effect of any book is that it excites the reader to self-activity. Thomas Carlyle The purpose of this book is to help the rules needs to be identified case would be resolved if citizens simply those who work in the world of by case, using your creativity, which had access to more scientific kno- research to communicate the is, as we all know, is a curious mix of wledge? This subject is then develo- contents and importance of their rationality and subjectivity. A book, ped using the results of reports and own work or the work in their field. moreover, may not be the best surveys, in addition to the most In fact, it provides the essentials for means to transmit practical kno- important analyses of how knowled- public communication in science wledge: it is better to demonstrate ge and opinions on science are sha- and technology for scientists who something and then have it done, ped, and ends with the new models wish to take this task on in person just as we do in the laboratory. of communication between the as well as for those who choose to The following pages, however, do world of research and society. use the media or professionals. In offer an good way to begin, or to re- Chapter 2 discusses the basic prin- this last case a scientist risks limiting order and enrich what has already ciples and concepts of communica- his role to checking the correctness been learned from past errors or ting science to the general public, of the content and wasting precious intuition. which are (almost) the opposite of opportunities, or worse dictating This book is arranged “from general those used for peer audiences. It wrong choices. theories to small tricks of the trade”, begins with the need to compete for The idea is to take a look at what in the sense that it begins with a attention in a world in which everyo- lays behind the work of professional more general and theoretical frame- ne is forced to raise their voice lou- communicators, like journalists, who work and, little by little, moves on to der and louder: excellent reasoning understand how to address the more practical and functional infor- is not enough and an emotionally public at large, and learn to use their mation. A simple manual of practical flat communication does not “make skills to the benefit of science. advice, similar to the ones already the grade”. Nor is it enough to This volume is a collection and sum- available internationally, would not “translate” into a simpler language, mary of reflections and experiences be enough, in fact, to get an idea of which presumes, in any case, that from the last few years, not only in how complex and sophisticated the the reasons (obvious and less the field of public communication of processes of communication are, obvious) why the public finds scien- science and technology, but also in especially if the subject is science or ce difficult are clear. It is necessary the social sciences and the wider technology. to create stories which contain and world of professional communica- Let us take a look, then, at the possibly embody the facts and argu- tions; in addition, naturally, to the book. ments that must be presented to the author’s own experiences. Chapter 1 helps understand how public. But, can you learn to communicate? and why the relationships between Planning is the subject of Chapter 3. The good news is that the rules to science and society are changing Public communication cannot be communicate effectively are few and and how long-standing difficulties improvised, and the most serious simple. The bad news is that it is not have been addressed. In particular errors, in fact, are those made at the easy or natural to apply them. To the crisis of the main approach used beginning. Planning means thinking some degree, in fact, communica- until recently, the so called Public carefully about a number of ele- ting is a repeatedly new process, Understanding of Science, is exami- ments: objectives, audience, the and the most suitable application of ned. Is it really true that everything subject’s limitations and opportuni- 16 - INTRODUCTIONties and messages to transmit. And every type of medium, as well as to own objectives and possibilities. The if the task is an uphill battle and the opportunities and dangers of main media are examined in relation involves more than one contribution, pictures. to science: their characteristics, dif- it is necessary to devise an informa- Chapter 5 deals with communicating fusion, audience, suitable topics, key tional campaign. through journalists, or rather how to advice and how to access them. Chapter 4 deals with communicating use the media to reach the target in person, as the author, and thus audience. Success means recogni- Given the wide range of topics dealt above all how to transform what you sing and overcoming the differences with, but also considering the value want to explain in something the between your professional back- of the reader’s time, this book is public is willing to listen to. Three ele- ground and the journalists’ experien- inevitably a synthesis which, to ments are examined in detail: what a ce, but also distinguishing between make the reading easier, has avoi- good science story is and how to the various types of journalists. A ded notes and quotations. For this find and construct it; how to be special topic discussed is how to reason a practical bibliography has convincing, applying the classic access the media as well as how to been added to facilitate a more techniques to science and technolo- answer their requests. The chapter detailed study of the subjects dealt gy as well as a few specific solutions. closes with how to learn to work with with in each chapter: documents Finally the ideas and the tools to journalists and the importance of which can be downloaded from explain, or rather to make a difficult establishing good personal relations- Internet, which are fortunately topic easy are discussed. In addi- hips with them. numerous in this sector, have been tion, attention is given to the quality Chapter 6 is dedicated to the choice given more attention than books of writing, a basic skill necessary for of the most suitable media for one’s and articles. THANKS Having worked with Piero Angela for over ten years has taught me almost everything I know about science and tech- nology communication. In addition to many “tricks of the trade”, Piero Angela has shown me that science can be explained clearly while respecting both science and the public. Precious advice and suggestions were offered by my friends, Romeo Bassoli, Massimiano Bucchi, Rossella Castelnuovo, Emmanuele A. Jannini and Elisa Manacorda. Finally, a special thanks to Prof. Enrico Predazzi, president of the National Conference of Deans from the Faculties of Sciences, who from the very start believed in the idea of a “survival kit” to help our scientists explain science and make its reasons heard. INTRODUCTION - 17CHAPTER I LEAVING THE IVORY TOWER Science and society: just like a marriage Today's scientists are no longer constrained simply by the laws of nature, as was generally the case in the past, but also by the laws (and attitudes) of the land. Norman Augustine Once upon a time there was an era sacred social role, to face the open the best way to understand the rela- in which, when science spoke, citi- sea of distrust, controversy and tionship between science and zens took off their hats and listened public assessment or, to use a more society is perhaps to compare it to a to the Word, in silence. It was the fashionable word, accountability. It marriage. era of The World of Tomorrow, the became necessary to account for 1939 New York fair, the era when their choices, not only to the general Just like a married couple, science the Atomium in Bruxelles was built public, but also to the same institu- and society look for and need each in 1958, the era when man landed tions which had previously suppor- other, and are joined by an unwrit- on the moon in 1969. In those days ted them unconditionally (probably ten, but no less binding contract. people believed what the doctor, because of the long-lasting upshot Society needs science as its driver physicist or agronomist said. of their victorious role in the Second for social, economic and political World War first, and later the Cold success, while science lives off the That period, a long honeymoon with War). resources, talents and freedom that science, is over. the society makes available. At the end of the Sixties, the term The new climate has resulted in very “scientific” began to take on negati- different consequences. For exam- In the good old days (even if they ve connotations, evoking more ple, English high energy physicists were not as good as memory would doubts than certainties. In the col- lost out, when a few years ago they have them) the partnership between lective imagination the promise to received the following request from science and society resembled old continue to improve life for all began Her Majesty’s Minister of Scientific fashioned marriages. We were all to lose ground to negative icons cal- Research: “In thirty lines explain why poorer, but at least the husband led “DDT”, “Chernobyl” or British taxpayers should invest a (alias science) was “the head of the “Talidomide”. substantial part of their resources in house”, or at least he could exercise Higgs’ Boson research”. What a certain amount of authority. Then, In 2000, the Science Museum of those physicists wrote is not known, when his authority was questioned, London conducted an in-depth but they did not convince the minis- the marriage itself underwent a cri- market survey for a promotional ter. Proposition 71 had more luck, sis. The most important The cou- campaign. One of the most impor- winning the referendum held in ple’s complaints represent its most tant findings revealed that its name California on 2 November 2004 to important symptom. needed changing: the most negati- resume research on embryonic ve element indicated by the focus stem cells and grant financing for If we listen to science, it tells us that group, and that the authors of the three billion dollars (financing is society does not understand it, that survey agreed had to be removed, uncountable) in that state alone. it is not interested in scientific results was the word science itself. At least Thanks to the people’s voice, and does not understand how science is not alone. California will likely become the science works. It does not pay As with every important group, from most advanced centre in the world attention to those questions science the government to the Catholic for this type of research too. knows the most about and exagge- Church, science and technology too rates its (few) errors, while taking for had to abandon the safe port of a Even if every metaphor has its limits, granted its (immense) benefits. 18 - CHAPTER ISociety does not take it into consi- not to the interests of the common As in a true marriage, the first step to deration often enough and cuts off person whose taxes pay for solve a crisis is to understand the othe- its life supplies; in short, society research. It does not want to explain r’s reasons, whether they are right or shows little or no gratitude. what it does to anyone, even if it wrong, because dialogue begins with If, on the other hand we listen to seems clear that it is pursuing the these. Understanding the other’s point society, it tells us that science cau- most futile curiosities. It is a world in of view and explaining your own means ses problems that it does not know the shadows, out of control. It does knowing how to communicate. Until how to solve. It caters to govern- not explain itself (perhaps even today, however, a different approach ments, the military or multinationals, intentionally). has been used. The rise and fall of the Public Understanding of Science Our most urgent and direct message must be to the scientists themselves: learn to communicate with the public, be willing to do so and consider it your duty to do so. The Royal Society Report on the Public Understanding of Science, 1985 To simplify (but not too much), the (books, articles, exhibitions, society. According to its basic premi- scientific community’s reaction to this museums, events) launched by the se, known in the specialist literature as crisis gave birth to the idea that it scientific community for the general the “deficit model”, the root of public was society that had to understand public, and an explicit objective for controversies on science or techno- science and that everything would be programmes, committees, founda- logy is the fact that citizens lack an fine if only citizens had greater scien- tions, agencies, scientific associa- understanding of scientific knowled- tific knowledge. tions and institutions in every develo- ge, theories and methods. Thus, if The idea behind the vast majority of ped country. these were translated from specialist communication activities was the so The Public Understanding of Science terminology into more popular lan- called Public Understanding of has been a kind of “standard model” guage, the controversies would Science. This expression became a of the interpretation of relationships automatically resolve themselves. In label for every type of initiative between science, technology and this model, science and society are CHAPTER I - 19considered “two social bodies sepa- much more complicated. education? What incentives would rated by a sort of semi-permeable In truth, it would be enough to consi- they need? To get an idea, just think membrane which allows the flow of der the nature itself of communication what it would be like to ask a scientist information (dissemination) and processes to understand that a one “to become literate” in another sub- actions (technological innovation) way relationship could not work. This ject of great social relevance, such as from science into society, but it does does not mean downplaying the law. not permit flows in the opposite value of specialized knowledge, but Would (s)he be really willing to delve direction”. simply that it is necessary to be rea- into the technicalities of criminal pro- As far as communication is concer- listic. Choices and opinions, no mat- cedure or administrative justice that ned, the public is considered a basi- ter how right, cannot be imposed in a are essential for a really informed opi- cally homogeneous and passive democratic society: no one would nion? Outside of our professional audience for the “pure” knowledge accept them and the attempt to do it niche, we are all “public”. produced by scientists, who are the would almost surely backfire. In some cases, then, the most fre- source of the flow of information, and A consensus must be created about quently discussed science is the one to some degree the censor as well. the choices to be made, just as in a with fewer certainties. Just think, for The choice of what knowledge ought marriage. But there are also more example, of climate change. If the to be given is therefore based on the specific reasons. First of all, what scientific community itself has not yet presumed cultural and cognitive gaps does it mean to understand or know reached a consensus on the subject, in the public, rather than on their science? Does it mean knowing what sense does the Public questions, interests and skills. many scientific facts? Many theories? Understanding of Science make? The Public Understanding of Science Scientific methods? Or how science The idea of changing citizens into litt- model recognises, of course, one functions as an institution? And in le scientists could also turn out to be important part of the problem. With each field, what is the acceptable useless. If we look at survey results, it rare exceptions, a vast number of level of knowledge, and for which is clear that there is not a clear corre- surveys in almost all developed coun- types of audiences? No one has lation between the level of scientific tries have actually found low levels of managed to give a convincing ans- literacy and attitudes and opinions on scientific literacy in the population. wer to these questions yet. science. In the United States, for But is this really the most important Moreover, the idea of transforming example, there is a generally more statistic? If citizens knew more about citizens into little molecular biologists positive attitude than in Europe, molecular biology, would they really or little statisticians is much more dif- despite the lower level of scientific lite- be less diffident about genetically ficult than can be imagined. For at racy. Generally speaking, more infor- modified foods? least three reasons. med people tend to have stronger At the end of the Nineties, this rather The first is that they would need to opinions for or against a particular simplistic approach to relationships know too much. To get a real idea of innovation: this is the result, for exam- between science and society, and the possible risks of electromagnetic ple, of two important enquiries therefore, to the communication of fields, for example, it would be neces- conducted in Great Britain and Italy science, began to show clear signs of sary to be familiar with the nature of on transgenic foods. its shortcomings. The strongest electromagnetic radiation, its interac- It is difficult to make forecasts. signals were felt in Great Britain, the tions with living cells, and the epide- Attitudes and opinions are in fact the very country that in 1985 launched miological research on them. Yet how product of complex processes that the “movement” with the famous many areas of expertise should our depend on individual mental models, Bodmer Report and that had inves- poor citizens have to master? which in addition to factual elements ted more than others, even through a The second is the so called paradox include emotions, ethical considera- special financial organization, the of specialization: as the quantity of tions, prior knowledge and value jud- CoPUS (Committee for the Public knowledge produced increases, or is gements. These are all things which Understanding of Science). In 2000 at the least revised (two things which cannot be modified with a simple the important report “Science and are happening at a terrifying speed), addition of a little more information. To Society” prepared by the Chamber of the possibility for a single individual to begin with then, an effective commu- Lords, with the help of important fact- master it is reduced. nication requires a Scientific finding surveys, recognised that In society the basis of shared kno- Understanding of the Public. despite the efforts made the British wledge can only diminish: if, on the Communicating Science is, then, population not only continued to be whole knowledge is growing, then something a bit more sophisticated, scientifically illiterate, but the much contemporarily the individual expe- in which psychological, and especial- hoped for appreciation had changed rience of ignorance can also grow. ly emotional concerns play an impor- into an aversion to research. And if The third reason is the lack of suffi- tant part. Could this be where the Great Britain is crying, the other cient motivation. How many people problem lies? Has the flame of love nations are not laughing. are willing to invest the time and effort gone out in this marriage, at least in Unfortunately (or luckily) things are necessary to get a good scientific the heart of society? 20 - CHAPTER IDo people care about science and scientists? The end of our foundation is the knowledge of causes, and secret motions of things; and the enlarging of the bounds of human Empire, to the effecting of all things possible. Francis Bacon There is something profoundly disturbing, something desired but also feared, something that has always been implicit in Bacon’s project but that, the closer it comes to being achieved, the less attractive it is. Jon Turney The idea of not being loved in the Feelings toward science reveal a with something new, rather than risk outside world is fairly widespread in fundamental ambivalence between not seeing potential danger. the scientific community. And just fascination and fear. And where According to a study conducted in like in real marriages, it is usually there is ambivalence, not much is Germany, people are four times as taken out on a third party, that in this needed for a positive perception to more likely to react negatively than case is not another person, and not become negative. positively to a new scientific deve- even a mother-in-law, but typically lopment. This type of “instinctive journalists, envied for their unjustly This ambivalence is a more general rationality” is responsible for the earned power over the public’s problem of modern society, an era greater attention given to negative mind, and thus, community-made- of continual changes, which present information, and may explain our decisions. promises as well as threats. As the propensity to take the benefits of Scientists are actually top on the list cultural historian Marshal Bearman science for granted and exaggerate in the results of surveys on social wrote, “Modernity is refreshing and its errors or the fears it stirs. consensus and the credibility of the exhausting, full of energy and terri- Another psychological mechanism various professional categories, fying. Above all it is open. To be is an instinctive distrust towards such as the Eurobarometer reports modern means living in an environ- those who hold knowledge that we and the Science Indicators from the ment which promises adventure, do not have; it tends to always crea- National Science Foundation. power, joy as well as the growth and te a barrier between the expert (and According to the 2001 transformation of ourselves and the more generally, those who have Eurobarometer report on science world. At the same time, it threatens received a scientific education) and and technology, the three most to destroy everything that we have, the others. highly esteemed professions in everything that we know.” From this point of view, the fact that Europe are medical doctors, scien- Ambivalence is more explicit for the new “objects” of science, from tists and engineers, while journa- technology, in which we recognise DNA to nanotechnologies, are invisi- lists, entrepreneurs and politicians the possible benefits, but also the ble and outside the reach of com- are at the bottom of the list. The ability to knock down age old limits mon knowledge and common balance between the benefits and and dissolve acquired categories. sense does not help. Consequently the negative consequences of Care must be given, then, to restrain they are more mysterious and may science and technology is also the temptation to magnify the arouse distrust or even simple dis- considered positive. “power” of science: moderation, in interest. Some problems, however, do exist. addition to being usually more cor- It is also for this reason that science Indeed, the same report reveals that rect, is, in any case, more advisable museums now have a limited 42.8% of Europeans agree with the than technocratic optimism which is impact and are visited almost exclu- statement “scientists are responsi- still, in part, in fashion. sively by children. If it was once easy ble for the bad use of their discove- Other psychological mechanisms to understand how a steam engine ries by others” while 80.3% agrees are also at work. They are as simple works, perhaps with the help of a with the idea that “the authorities as they are powerful. One of these is cutaway or a mechanical model, should formally oblige scientists to the tendency to become more alar- today we can open a cell phone and observe ethical norms”. med than necessary when faced observe it for hours without even CHAPTER I - 21beginning to understand how it Asia and the United States than in engagement, bi-directionality, invol- works. It is not surprising, then, that Europe, and much more than in the ving communication, debate, but the highly polluting coal had better Arab states. above all dialogue. press than high frequency electro- To return to our metaphor, the rela- If science and society want to get magnetic waves receive today. The tionships between science and along they must learn to communi- media magnify all these worries. society now resemble a modern cate more and better. No one says The ambivalent feelings towards marriage, in which there are more that it is easy, but it is the price to science and technology oscillate, arguments (and more separations) pay in a mature democratic society. then, between fascination and fear, because the partners are equal. Some examples, like Finland, but the crossover point in this emo- For this reason, The Public Under- California and some Asian nations, tional couple is different depending standing of Science has begun to let us hope that the price can be on the cultural milieu. Today, scien- be an “unadvisable” expression transformed into opportunity. For ce probably stirs more fascination in and it is now preferable to talk about both partners, of course. Dialogue with society Before talking, you must listen. To make yourself understood, you must first understand. Annamaria Testa Today society no longer signs blank only after two years of informing and Even if implicit, the new contract bet- checks for anyone, not even for scien- consulting all the main social players ween science and society increasingly ce. Exactly like a married person, citi- involved. more often determines what can or zens expect to be consulted (and infor- This new way of making decisions cannot be done in the laboratory. In med) before a decision is made. In fact about technology is really only one sign almost every field, scientists must now it should always be made together. of the wider crisis of the old contract explain the meaning and aims of the This is true for any decision; whether to between science and society. research they intend to carry out. And have a mammogram done, to build an Yesterday, society interpreted it more if they are unable to do so, or they incinerator or even a dump for nuclear or less this way: “I will support you and encounter other types of issues, for waste. you will provide the benefits; but you example bioethical, they may see the As events such as the controversial do it, I trust you completely”. necessary financing or the very permis- project for the Italian national disposal Today, however, society wants to know sion to continue certain types of site for radioactive waste at Scanzano at least who you are and what you do, research denied. In this new context, have taught us, you cannot simply and a web site which clearly and com- your own spaces need to be negotia- decide, announce and then defend prehensively explains this is the least to ted, and to negotiate you must com- your decision, because this will even- be expected. At the same time, it also municate, which means knowing each tually mean abandoning the project. wants you to explain it to children, per- other and exchanging ideas. What is needed today are clear pro- haps with exhibits or a television pro- grammes for public consultation, gramme, and to offer a useful service The communication of science is no during which the problem is not explai- for adults, for example practical health longer simple dissemination, but rather ned just from a technical point of view. information, just as the large American a process in which different players Citizens, on the contrary, need to be biomedical research centres do. produce knowledge, messages, attitu- heard and then given answers which Furthermore, if the research produces des and new practices accepted by all. take into consideration their requests, potentially risky technologies or raises Science plays a fundamental role, but uncertainties and the values at stake. It ethical questions, society wants to be in this process many may want to have is even possible that a different techni- able to have its say, but it especially a say, including the media, institutions, cal solution may be found. Just consi- wants to be reassured that the scien- environmentalists, associations of peo- der what happened before the appro- tists feel responsible towards society, ple with various diseases, as well as val of the law which regulates the expe- and not only towards science, and that citizens’ committees. And they are rimentation on embryonic cells in Great they are more concerned about the often right. In order to remain an autho- Britain: parliamentary debate began public than other groups, like industry. rative voice, science has to keep socie- 22 - CHAPTER Ity’s trust, which is obtained through The consequences of one person’s only “what do people need to reciprocal understanding and not negative behaviour, especially if the know”, we should ask “what do with simple statements of facts, no others do not strongly and publicly people think they need to know”, matter how incontrovertible they disassociate themselves from them, “what will be the effect on people of are, let alone statements of authori- have repercussions on the entire what I want to say ”, “What do they ty. As in a marriage, trust must be community. know, or think they already know”. earned with effort and is easily lost; In order to create a climate of faith Indeed, if communication is to be a one night stand, and it is over. and trust there must be channels of successful we need to deal with rea- Both science institutions and indivi- communication which are always lity, but also with the perception of dual scientists shoulder this respon- open and scientists must be willing this reality held by the people you sibility. to communicate. Instead of asking want to communicate with. How knowledge and opinions of science are shaped There is no great invention, from fire to flying, which has not been hailed as an insult to some god. John B.S. Haldane The photograph of a cow which is king for the most logical and rational Even if there is no model which des- being given a shot of hormones may explanation. Rather, we make a cribes the shaping of popular ver- arouse an animals’ rights activist’s pretty quick evaluation based on our sions of science, a few interesting indignation and worry about its pos- personal experience and opinions, mechanisms have been clarified. sible effects on a mother’s health. as well as the social and cultural The starting point of many analyses On the contrary, it may make a far- context we live in. In particular, we is that information, scientific or rela- mer happy because of the increa- tend to select those elements which ted to scientific facts, arrives piece- sed productivity it represents. confirm what we already think and meal, usually from very different They are not mental experiments, disregard or rationalize the others. sources and lacking an interpretati- but a test actually carried out by a Thus, the ground where our messa- ve framework, either because this German scientist on a group of citi- ge is going to be planted cannot be framework is not provided, or zens. Whatever is communicated ignored, since their interaction because it is too complex. Our never ends up on a tabula rasa, as determines whether a message is mind, however, literally abhors the more orthodox approach of the ignored, distorted, misunderstood scraps of information, the lack of Public Understanding of Science or otherwise understood and meaning and significance, and an holds, but interacts with everything accepted. In other words, you need image of the world is reconstructed people know or think they know on a realistic model of the public you using the scraps available, unifying the subject, with their convictions are addressing. them with ties which are often arbi- and feelings, their distrust, the way The public of science is still unfami- trary and irrational, filling in the blanks they are used to getting information liar. Despite the enormous cultural, with what we have. It is a bit like the and their personal experiences. social and economic impact of way vision works. In other words, our For scientists to base themselves on science, there is nothing similar to mind actively tries to build meaningful their own attitudes, shaped by the sophisticated surveys made for structures where there are none, scientific facts and their own field of the advertising market to draw from. making use of the knowledge, studies, is particularly misleading. Understanding what happens when concepts and devices we already Their attitudes are the result of the a scientific theory or facts become possess. special mental training provided by common knowledge and opinion is, The appropriation of a scientific theo- their scientific education. Each one however, a task some sociologists, ry or facts is not at all passive, but of us, in real life, almost never social psychologists, anthropolo- rather it is an active process guided weighs the pros and cons of a posi- gists, cultural historians, and cogni- by our common sense which tries to tion with the utmost impartiality, loo- tive scientists have ventured upon. respond to specific demands. CHAPTER I - 23In its most popularised version, for transformed into social representa- what every scientist tries not to do in example, an old theory on the cere- tions, that are not limited to reassu- his work. Yet, the scientist who dis- bral hemispheres often divides the ring, restoring a sense of continuity regards the importance of this in the brain into a “warm” right hemisphe- to one’s own representation of the field of public communications re, tied to emotions and sociality, world, but concretely guide actions. makes a big mistake. and a “cold” left hemisphere, ratio- Like filters, different representations nal and “evil”, though it is just one lead to different interpretations of Not knowing what the social repre- way to respond to the very human the same scientific facts, news or sentations in play are or ignoring need to classify individuals using discoveries, channelling the reac- them can lead to misunderstan- typologies, like “artists” or “engi- tions into the same number of direc- dings, and therefore, to ineffective neers”. tions. To every effect, the represen- communication at best, and a The most frequent aim of these tations act as pre-judgements. damaging message at worst. reconstructions, however, is to build A very popular social representation The social representation “resists”, a bridge between a new develop- is the “naturalness” (which equals in fact, the expert’s mindset becau- ment and what is already known or genuineness and safety) of traditio- se it is based on other elements and believed, or rather, to make the nal foods compared to those produ- other ways of thinking that can also unfamiliar familiar by reducing it to a ced industrially. This representation be very strong. more ordinary image. The “laziness” was established at the end of the of the mind also plays a role in this, Sixties in a specific cultural context Communicating risk is perhaps the since it usually looks for shortcuts and after various episodes of bad field in which social representations that allow us to economise on our business by the food industry, count the most. In this context the own cognitive energy. Every scien- because of the legitimate desire to scientist’s voice easily loses its privi- tist knows how much effort and know what ends up on our plates. It leged role and becomes just one of determination is needed to pay has ended up influencing our rela- the various points of view on the attention to the facts themselves tionship with all foods, leaving little issue. This is not a value judgement, and resist the temptation to read room to examine each case specifi- but simply an observation. something into them that (s)he cally. Unfortunately, this is what often would like to see. Basing his ideas on prejudices (pre- happens: therefore, it is necessary A scientific theory or a fact is thus judgements), of course, is exactly to be aware of it and keep it in mind. The perception of risks It happens, that for a common vice of nature, that we conceive greater trust or stronger terror for the things we have not seen and that are hidden and unknown. Julius Caesar There are very few technologies that “electromagnetic pollution” than the the general public’s lack of techni- do not present any risk, however damage caused by smoking. cal knowledge or the exaggerated small. Yet the acceptance of a tech- Psychologists’ studies have revea- alarm and distorted facts the media nology depends less on a statistical led that the degree of control indivi- have transmitted. In fact cultural, estimation of a risk, than on a per- duals feel they have over the pheno- moral and often even political com- sonal decision based on the risk menon highly influences their opi- ponents contribute to this factor. perceived and the advantages it nion of the expert’s probabilistic The issue of GMOs, from this point seems to offer. estimates. of view, is truly paradigmatic. The evaluation is never completely In the Anglo-Saxon world the risk Transgenic foods arouse, at least in objective, therefore a citizen’s eva- society perceives is often represen- Europe, extremely strong and luation may also be very different ted as the product of hazard (the widespread outrage despite the from the expert’s assessment risk as evaluated by scientists) and extensive scrutiny they have been expressed in probabilistic terms. For outrage (the degree to which the given and a decade of consumption example, people worry much less citizens react). Outrage cannot be without the minimal negative conse- about car accidents than plane explained, as the scientific commu- quence in a good part of the rest of crashes, more about the so called nity often tends to, exclusively by the world. The situation is the result 24 - CHAPTER Iof many different elements; for one the no risk guarantee for any new own world, in addition to the there is a pre-existing social repre- activity or technology, of the so cal- amount of trust (again) in the social sentation of foods. Then there is the led “precaution principle”, at least in players that are in charge of keeping so called “symbolic short circuit bet- its more restrictive interpretations. this risk under control. ween food traditions deposited in The role of the media in all this is Communication, then, must explain history, artificiality and transgression important, but different in part from the probabilistic size of the risk in of the natural order”, as well as poli- what is commonly believed. It is understandable terms, and if neces- tical and economic interests tied to true, in fact that the media love this sary reassure. But it should never be the protection of European agricul- subject because it is interesting and limited to giving the nude and crude ture from international competition. captures attention, even if nothing facts. On the contrary, the risk There are founded concerns for the has actually occurred yet. And it is needs to be placed in a context, regulation of intellectual ownership true that they sometimes distort the illustrating the causes, effects, impli- in the field of genetics, not to men- facts. Various studies have, howe- cations and interests in play, and if tion the story of Frankenstein, an ver, suggested that what actually there are any, the benefits which extremely powerful myth of contem- happens is that the media do not tell accompany the risk, answering any porary popular culture of science people what to think, but what to questions and expectations the and technology, where a creature, think about. In other words, they general public may have. fruit of an illicit interference in the decide what the public should be All these elements, in fact, come mechanisms of life, escapes his exposed to or not. And that is not together in the social representa- creator’s control. Because of these all. tions that are not necessarily a factors, any type of public debate It also seems as if people’s attitudes death warrant. on the topic must take place on this to scientific risks become more playing field, a strongly rooted fra- negative simply because they are mework which does not lend itself frequently discussed, regardless of to a rational and reasonable discus- whether the risk is emphasized or, sion of the subject. It is in this set- to the contrary, reassessed. ting that another social representa- The evaluation of the risk is a perso- tion has been able to grow, which is nal issue and eventually depends on less powerful but not less foolish: the acceptability of the risk in one’s Be part of the game In modern democratic conditions, science like any other player in the public arena ignores public attitudes and values at its peril. “Science and Society” Report Chamber of Lords, 2000 The perception of risks, just like the tion of the facts and arguments is tory of science in popular culture, shaping of other social representa- not sufficient, before making the first beginning with the culture today. tions of science and technology, is move it is necessary to clearly iden- And since most communication formed during public debate which tify: the participants, the points of takes place in the media, this needs can occur anywhere, but mainly in view, feelings and interests involved, to be studied carefully. the media. It is here that the boun- favourable influences as well as the daries are negotiated as to what is obstacles that need removing and In order to know the playing field it is accepted by society and what is those which can be sidestepped. not necessary to examine the work not, which risks to accept and As Jon Turney, one of the most per- of scientific journalists, who general- which to refuse. Moreover, it is here ceptive scholars in the social repre- ly reflect a vision of the world which that the credibility of science (its sentation of science and technolo- is not unlike that scientists themsel- knowledge, its methods, its objecti- gy, wrote: If we want to understand ves, but television, daily newspa- ves) must be won. the origins of the vocabulary used pers, movies illustrated women’s The first condition for effective parti- today to talk about science, we not magazines, interest groups’ web cipation is to know and understand only need to trace the internal deve- sites, science fiction: it is more the playing field. If a simple exposi- lopment of science, but also the his- important to look at what “lay” jour- CHAPTER I - 25nalists and other professionals are turned out to be unfounded, and the each of the many possible circums- saying (even unconsciously) about innovations, which affected daily life, tances. Scientists are the ones who social representations since they are were also invisible and did not offer must learn to communicate with the the most truthful interpreters of the obvious benefits to the consumer. public, each in their own context. common way of thinking. The initial demands for “strict” regu- Whatever the recipe chosen may lation of the nanotechnological sec- be, one ingredient is indispensable: This is how the negative social tor, if indeed it makes sense to talk trust, which compensate for the representations can be caught in about it in such a heterogeneous knowledge that is inaccessible to a time, and perhaps acted on imme- field, have already made themselves non peer audience. A case in point diately, before they solidify and heard. is the physician-patient relationship. cause damage. This is the case, for In these cases the situation can be This is the main path to a good rela- example, of the rising wave against averted and the playing field can be tionship between science and nanotechnologies, which really changed in time. We all tend, in fact, society. emerged from futurology sold as to prefer information that confirms In all cases - and there are many - in science by Eric Drexler, the author of the opinions we already have. which a true understanding of the Engines of Creation, by Michael Information on new topics, or topics science involved is illusionary, the Crichton in his novel Prey, and in the perceived as such, very strongly only choice available to the public is famous interview of Bill Joy, the late influence attitudes. Everything that between trusting or not trusting the scientific director of Sun is said thereafter will have to take experts. Microsystems for Wired magazine: the first impression into considera- Be careful, though. Even if the gene- is there anything better than swarms tion. Politicians are very familiar with ral public does trust the expert, its of undetectable androids about in this game: for this reason they trust is no longer a total authorization the world to reawaken the ghost of always try make themselves heard and does not substitute dialogue. Frankenstein? This might even on popular issues. Rather it is the objective, reached crack a smile, considering that There are no infallible recipes, howe- after time, of good communication, nanotechnologies is one of the most ver, for effective involvement in or rather reciprocal knowledge and matter-of-fact and useful sectors in public debates. Each case is diffe- respect as well as credibility won on material sciences, if the situation rent. As we will see in Chapter three, the field after continual availability. were not quite so similar to the the right recipe needs to be found When trust in science weakens, in GMO issue raised a few years back. case by case, by analysing the topic fact, the credibility of other players, At that time too the alarm was and context of the communication. from magicians to alternative forms sounded in good faith, although it There is not one valid recipe for of medicine grows stronger. Communicating is an indispensable Sisyphean task Now, here, I see. It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. Lewis Carrol In the Odyssey, Homer describes the also a never-ending “task”. Indeed, Communication of science helps, destiny that awaits Sisyphus, every discovery, every application then, to continually re-construct the Aeolus’s son, founder of the city of makes us review what we know or bridges between what we knew and Corinth, and an extremely shrewd think we know, or at least change our what has just been discovered, conti- man. When it is his turn to descend usual way of doing things. It forces us nually up-dating the social represen- into Tartarus, the gods condemn him to face new problems that we do not tations in circulation. to pushing an enormous boulder up a know how to solve, new choices to Yet, from our point of view there are hill, which then rolls down the hill as make, and new knowledge that we two ways to remain in the race. soon as he nears the top, making him do not how to classify and interpret. The first is routine communication, repeat this arduous task in eternity. Yet, no one likes changing, at times an ever-open channel with society Public communication of science is not even scientists themselves. to be used to construct, over time, 26 - CHAPTER Ithe indispensable basis of reciprocal knowledge and trust. This form of communication is carried out with updates, activities in schools, offering useful information and services for the media. We are tal- king about communicating through various social players, including the media, local institutions, interest groups or individuals. The second is, instead, crisis com- munication, which is used for expres- sing opinions on issues at hand. It should be very clear: without routi- ne communication, crisis communi- cation is of no use. If the public that you want to convince do not know you, do not think you have ever offe- red anything useful, or have never been able to test out their trust in you, they will not listen. Having said this, we can begin to address the basic concepts of the public communication of science. CHAPTER I - 27