Improving science literacy: how to reach those not interested in science

Helen Mendes

Helen Mendes
Freelance journalist, SciDev.Net


The second day of the Global Network of Science Academies (IAP) conference was dedicated to the Challenge Labs. With a dynamic format, these sessions opened with each speaker briefly outlining a grand challenge related to the Lab theme, followed by small group discussions of each topic, then a final report and discussion with the whole group.

On the Challenge Lab ‘Improving science literacy’, the debate was about science communication to adults, and science education for children.

Group discusses solutions to the challenges of science literacy (Fabio Moraes/ Foccuss)

Group discusses solutions to the challenges of science literacy (Fabio Moraes/ Foccuss)

Maggie Koerth-Baker, columnist for The New York Times Magazine and the science editor at the popular blog BoingBoing.net, believes that the greater challenge in communicating science is how to reach the audiences that don’t come to the science news section. She said that people who come to BoingBoing or the NY Times are already interested in science, and the challenge is how to communicate with groups that are not interested, or don’t realise that they are interested, in science.

The journalist believes the internet can be part of the solution: “The internet can allow us to have conversations with groups that we might not meet in the real world, and it gives us the ability to present science in interesting ways”.

There was a group discussion on possible solutions to this challenge, and one of the conclusions was that scientists don’t necessarily need to create new channels to get their message across; they can use libraries, museums, internet and other media for that. The group agreed that researchers need to engage in science communication – for instance, organising events in libraries, speaking on television, and so on.

Participants on the discussion also mentioned that sometimes young scientists have an enthusiasm to communicate science, but have no support from the universities. They pointed that this should be a role for the academies – to encourage public communication of young scientists, and give them freedom to operate.

Petra Skiebe Correte, neurobiology researcher at the Freie Universität Berlin, talked about the need to prepare children to solve the problems they will inherit from our generation, and how science literacy can empower children to solve local problems, to be critical thinkers, and to work with the challenges of the future.

Shelley Peers, director of the Australian Academy of Science primary school program ‘Primary Connections: linking science with literacy’, pointed to the challenge of providing quality science education on primary schools worldwide.

This blog post is part of our coverage of 2013 Global Network of Science Academies (IAP) conference which takes place 24-26 February 2013, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. To read further news and analysis please visit our website.

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One Response to Improving science literacy: how to reach those not interested in science

  1. To adequately communicate research to a lay audience, it is necessary to adopt the audience’s language and appeal to its own interests. Just like what is done in marketing. Therefore, in parallel to using internet and social media, it is not a heresy to mix scientific content with languages that are either non-scientific or even non-verbal, including, for example, by communication through the means of theatre, dance, video-games, comics or music …

    This is all part of an approach I dubbed “A marketing strategy for the survival of fundamental science“ (http://arxiv.org/abs/1210.0082). Such an approach is critical in order to build a society that is both aware and appreciative of science.

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