Last thoughts from PCST … and what next?

April 22, 2012

Luisa Massarani

Luisa Massarani
Latin America regional coordinator, SciDev.Net

Well, the conference is finished, and my luggage ready for the 6am morning flight. Before leaving, I asked Massimiano Bucchi, co-chair of PCST 2012, to give me his comments on this year’s conference.

“It was an intense programme. The sessions and discussions were of very good quality,” he said.

Bucchi said the meeting had strengthened “the interaction between research and practice” in science communication, and said for him one of the highlights this year was a meeting of PhD students, which attracted some 60 people from around the world who are engaged in science communication research.

“It was a good opportunity for networking and to make more visible what Italian institutions are doing in terms of public engagement,” Bucchi said.

There was also an announcement in the final session from Toss Gascoigne, about an important change to the PCST network, of which he is the president.

“The network has been working in an informal way for more than two decades, headed by a scientific committee,” he said.

“Now, we [have] decided to make a structural change toward a formal network, with legal status,” he said, adding that the constitution of the network and a membership scheme will be discussed in the coming months.

After the final session, the scientific committee — of which I am a member — met to take some decisions.  We approved two workshops to be held in 2013; one in New Zealand and other in Indonesia.

Then we had to decide where to hold the PCST 2016. We received two bids from two very exciting cities: Nairobi, in Kenya, and Istanbul, in Turkey. Very exciting, isn’t it? And the decision was… Istanbul!

But before the Istanbul conference there is, obviously, PCST 2014 which will be in another part of the globe: Brazil! I will be one of the chairs of that meeting, sharing the responsibility with Germana Barata.

Two strong institutions will host the conference: the Museum of Life/House of Oswaldo Cruz/Fiocruz, and Labjor/State University of Campinas.

It is very exciting, since it will be the first PCST conference to be held in the Americas. We want to show that Latin America is the stage of an increasingly vibrant science communication community, strong in both practical and academic approaches.

After having had beauty, honesty and quality as the theme of this year’s conference — so apt in such a wonderful city as Florence — we want to add social and political concern ingredients to the discussion on science communication.

So the 2014 meeting will have as its theme, “Science communication for social inclusion and political engagement”. It will be held in Salvador, another fantastic city, with an extremely diverse culture.

See you there!

This blog post is part of our Public Communication of Science & Technology (PCST2012) conference coverage.


Science centres and museums at PCST 2012

April 20, 2012

Luisa Massarani

Luisa Massarani
Latin America regional coordinator, SciDev.Net

Marzia Mazzonetto, Ecsite Project Coordinator and my good friend after years of working together in science communication, heard that I was writing a blog on PCST 2012 and got “jealous” — in the good sense, of course. She has attended several sessions on science centres and museums during the conference and has written a post for us. Cool, isn’t it? Here it is:

Science centres and museums all over the world are one of the places where public communication of science and technology is put into practice. They were also the focus of some of the several presentations that have been given during the two intense days of the PCST conference.

Different issues have been raised by the experts from the field, showing that science centres and museums face similar challenges and innovation needs as the rest of the wide science communication community.

One of the questions that was asked and discussed during these sessions was how science centres are and should be forums for communicating controversial scientific issues.

Underwear in a 2010 exhibition at the State History Museum in Moscow, Russia

Catherine Franche, director of Ecsite, the European Network of Science Centres and Museums, mentioned a controversial list recently published in the US about objects that should never be shown in museums, which even included such items as underwear or images of naked human bodies.

How can be science explained in museums without being able to show some of the basic elements of biology and the world around us?

Sharon Ament, director of public engagement at the Natural History Museum in London, United Kingdom, presented some interesting examples of how her museum managed recently to use objects from its own collections to present an exhibition and associated activities on controversial topics such as slavery, evolution and sex.

Homo Habilis skull from a 2009 exhibition at London's Natural History Museum

The environment was a key theme of several presentations.  It’s not just journalists who face the pressure of reporting on environmental issues; museum experts and researchers also fear a lack of real connection between what is being shown and told and the critical issues with which to engage the public.

A interesting presentation on the topic was given by Joëlle Le Marec, from the Université Paris Diderot in France, during a highly multicultural session entitled “On the meaning of participation and democracy in different cultural and social contexts”.

Joëlle talked about how the theme of the environment “entered” science museums in France. She said that while in the 1970s and 80s environmental issues were presented as elements of reflection between inhabitants and their own territories, nowadays the environment is presented as a scientific object, more closely related to progress and international development and events rather than something connected to local issues.

Butterfly from Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil

Is this new narrative of environment in science centres contributing to making people feel like environmental issues are something very far away from them?

Several other sessions at PCST 2012 have offered interesting experiences and studies coming from activities in science museums on topics such as evolution, genetically modified organisms and climate change. One more session worth mentioning was “Science and governance in a knowledge society: Research and best practices on the role of science centres and museums”.

Organising activities and exhibitions in a museum means a lot of work but it’s also fun, interesting and sometimes very difficult and challenging. Paola Rodari, project manager at Sissa Medialab in Trieste, Italy — and an expert in museum studies — said something that museums should never stop doing is evaluation; reflecting and possibly researching the effectiveness of the exhibitions and activities that they offer.

Museums are places where people can get together to discuss, dialogue and share opinions on science issues, but also contribute directly to the museum’s growth by sharing their hopes and expectations. They are also places where, in some instances, visitors can interact directly with scientists who have labs and run research directly inside the museum complex (as is the case with the Nature Live Labs at the Natural History Museum in London).

A young visitor to the Houston Museum of Natural Science in the United States

How to evaluate and learn more about how these activities and issues are pushing science centres and museums to evolve, and how they are directly influencing science research and science policy is food for thought for future PCST conferences for sure!

This blog post is part of our Public Communication of Science & Technology (PCST2012) conference coverage.

Sustainable development through comics

April 20, 2012

Luisa Massarani

Luisa Massarani
Latin America regional coordinator, SciDev.Net

Communicating science in Mexico, as in any developing world country, can be a big challenge. Most of Mexico’s estimated 100 million inhabitants have only received eight years of basic education. For every 100 inhabitants over the age of 15 years, eleven females and seven males are illiterate.

On the other hand, comics are enormously popular in Mexico. Having this situation in mind, Aquiles Negrete, a researcher at the Autonomous National University of Mexico, has been describing his exploration of the use of comics to communicate science issues at PCST.

An image from the comic, "Sustainable Love"

His Sustento de amor (sustainable love) comic is a love story that uses visuals and a skilled narrative to disseminate information about sustainable development and natural resources  in Mexico and Central America.

Negrete has also developed what he calls the ‘RIRC’ method to evaluate the project, which uses four memory tasks, and  explores different levels of understanding.

“Our results show that comics can be an interesting tool for communicating science,” he says.

Also from Mexico, Rolando Riley from the Autonomous University of Chiapas, is using visual information to get science news and ideas to Chiapas, a state in which access to scientific information is poor.

“About 35 per cent of the population do not speak Spanish, the official language,” he explains.

One of the pilot projects is on nutrition, with a view to targeting women, because they “actually decide what the family will eat”.  Two other pilot projects will start soon, focusing on technology applied to agriculture, and the use of natural resources.

This blog post is part of our Public Communication of Science & Technology (PCST2012) conference coverage.

Exploring science theatre

April 20, 2012

Luisa Massarani

Luisa Massarani
Latin America regional coordinator, SciDev.Net

Two ‘classics’ of science communication — Baudouin Jurdant from the University of Paris 7 (pictured on the left) and Steve Miller of University College London, taking part in an exploration of science theatre at PCST 2012.

The pair participated in a play reading that aimed to encourage reflections on the challenges for communicating science to the public using drama.

The reading was also participated in by Jöelle Le Marec of the Université Paris Diderot and Yves Jeanneret of Paris Sorbonne Université — both in France —  and Ana Godinho from the Instituto de Filosofia da Linguagem in Portugal.

The play was written by Jurdant, who has no immediate plans to stage the play in a regular theatre.

This blog post is part of our Public Communication of Science & Technology (PCST2012) conference coverage.

Happy birthday, Public Understanding of Science!

April 20, 2012

Luisa Massarani

Luisa Massarani
Latin America regional coordinator, SciDev.Net

The commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the journal of Public Understanding of Science (PUS) has recevied its own plenary session at PCST 2012, with the participation of all four editors: John Durant (MIT, US), Bruce Lewenstein (Cornell University, US), Edna Einsiedel (University of Calgary, Canada) and Martin Bauer (London School of Economics, UK).

Public Understanding of Science

It was a good opportunity for thinking about the past, the present and the future. The history of the journal coincides with an important moment of consolidation of the academic field.

One of the main journals for researchers in this discipline, it has doubled its publication rate since 1992, moving from 4 issues a year to 8. The editors say they want to broaden the journal’s current “North Atlantic driven” focus.

“We need to increase the presence of other countries and push the internationalisation of the authorship,” said Bauer, the journal’s president editor.

This blog post is part of our Public Communication of Science & Technology (PCST2012) conference coverage.

Journalists under pressure

April 19, 2012

Luisa Massarani

Luisa Massarani
Latin America regional coordinator, SciDev.Net

The wide use of the internet has brought unquestionable new benefits to journalists. Discussing the challenges of science journalism at PCST today, Suzanne de Cheveigné, a researcher at the French National Centre for Scientific Research, highlighted that it also puts journalists increasingly under pressure.

“Editors are putting too much pressure on journalists in terms of reducing the time [it takes to write stories],” de Cheveigné said, referring to a qualitative study she has carried out with environment journalists.

I am not myself a environment journalist (and prefer to refer to myself as science journalist) but I can understand very well this feeling.  Actually, I can visualise the face of my editor in London, waiting for posts for this blog, while I attend several sessions, chair a few of them and do a couple of presentations myself. It’s very cool, but also feels like too much pressure sometimes.

According to de Cheveigné, the avalanche of emails journalists receive is another example of journalists being overwhelmed in the internet age.

“It is actually impossible to open all of them,” she said.

Another study among environment journalists carried out by Ana Claudia Nepote, at the Autonomous National University in Mexico, brought further information about the pressures on the profession.

The study is based on a questionnaire survey distributed electronically to journalists, 38 of whom responded.

Ana Claudia observed that respondents were concentrated in the capital, Mexico City, or in Veracruz, where there is a masters course on environment journalism.

“We had no answers from the northeast, [where there is] a lot of economical development activity, or southern areas such as Chiapas and Oaxaca, which are very rich cultural and biological regions,” she said regretfully.

“Our results indicate that there is a lack of projects such as community radio and other strategies to engage local communities.”

Nepote also called for greater efforts to strengthen press offices at universities, research centres and government agencies such as the National Council of Science and Technology.

“We need to push the press officers, since they are facilitator agents between science and the public,” she said.

This blog post is part of our Public Communication of Science & Technology (PCST2012) conference coverage.

Science communication in the world

April 19, 2012

Bothina Osama

Luisa Massarani
Latin America regional coordinator, SciDev.Net

In recent years, there is growing concern about the lack of science communication outside Europe and United States.

A 317 page book launched at PCST 2012 has the aim of engaging voices from other continents in communicating science.

Science Communication in the World – Practices, Theories and Trends explores the field of science communication over the past four decades in several countries.

It is edited by Canadian Bernard Schiele, Professor in the Communications Department at the University of Quebec at Montreal; French author Michel Claessens from the Communication Unit at the European Commission; and Shunke Shi, from the Chinese Research Institute for Science Popularization in Beijing.

According to the authors, while many countries have, at different times and to varying degrees, embarked on ambitious scientific, technical and cultural policies, the objectives they pursue must be understood and assessed within their specific national contexts.

The book, published by Springer, is comprised of 20 chapters written by authors all over the world. It is certainly worth a look. A pity that the price is so high, though – £117 ($US179).  But participants at PCST receive a 20 per cent discount.

This blog post is part of our Public Communication of Science & Technology (PCST2012) conference coverage.

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