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.

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.

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.

India too big for a science straight jacket?

October 18, 2010

Prithviraj Chavan (TWAS)


“India’s too big to be straight-jacketed into a single framework for science and technology [S&T],” said India’s science minister Prithviraj Chavan, in an interview for TWAS, ahead of the 21st General Meeting of the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (TWAS), in Hyderabad, India.

Chavan said that “some areas of Indian S&T will continue to develop at a steady pace, while other areas will experience accelerated growth — at times leading to the discovery of ‘leapfrog’ technologies that will have a dramatic impact on the economy”. That would be welcome, but not quite everything.

I do not want to be a wet blanket, but somehow improvement in India’s economy has not translated into equitable growth. Chavan’s facts about seven per cent increase in India’s gross domestic product (GDP) is true. Equally true is that the country has slipped down the global hunger index (GHI), ranking 67 out of 88 nations in the 2010 report released by the International Food Policy Research Institute in October. Home to 42 per cent of underweight children under five years, the country still lags behind Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Sudan in the GHI. Maybe that is why the Indian jacket’s fit in general is not quite so good.

Even on the science front, there have been a couple of disquieting reports of late. One is about the country slipping down (and a nasty fall that too) in the technology index, though some experts did tell SciDev.Net that different methods of measuring science performance could yield a different result.

The latest Goldman Sachs report confirms India lagging on R&D intensity front. Chavan also noted the need to increase, rather double, India’s spending on research and development (R&D) from the present less than one per cent of the national wealth to two per cent. For some reason this “doubling” of India’s R&D spending, as a per cent of its GDP, has not occurred, although one has heard it often, from prime ministers, their scientific advisors and senior scientists.

On the other hand, the Research Councils of UK’s latest report, based on a survey from 1981 to 2008, says India’s scientific output is growing rapidly, and its science citation impact — a measure of how often its papers are cited by other scientists — has doubled. Although India’s share of the global output remains low, it has nevertheless, shot up fast.

That is possibly why the Indian science jacket is a bit tricky to judge at first glance.

What’s your view?

T V Padma, South Asia Regional Coordinator, SciDev.Net

Dragging health up the climate change agenda

November 19, 2009
Cracked Earth in Nature Reserve of Popenguine in Senegal

The realities of climate change. Photo credit: Flickr / UN Photo-Evan Schneider

Those in the know about the draft agenda for the Copenhagen climate change meeting next month have bad news: health does not seem to be high on the agenda.

This may well change as the meeting draws closer, but panellists at a session yesterday on climate change and health equity suggested that the poor links between health researchers and environment experts may explain part of this disconnect.

Look through the pages of the BMJ, The Lancet and Nature and you’ll find most papers on links between climate change and health written by researchers who study the social determinants of health.

Their input is vital for explaining how alterations in living conditions or air quality will affect health, but climate science is complex and the technologies developed to study it are continuously being updated. Environmental scientists, meanwhile, publish their own papers separately.

BMJ editor Fiona Godlee, who chaired yesterday’s session, wants to see an end to this “silo mode of operation”. Forging stronger links between the disciplines should ensure that climate agreements cannot ignore health impacts.

Kumanan Rasanathan, a WHO technical officer on ethics, equity, trade and human rights, summed it up well: “It’s time that the rhetoric around intersectoral collaboration be put into practice,” he said.

Priya Shetty,,

Are Western embargoes stifling developing world science journalism?

July 2, 2009
As journalists in developing countries strive to meet strict Western embargoes are they missing research in their own countries? (Flickr/Garrett Crawford)

Do strict Western embargoes overshadow developing country research? (Flickr/Garrett Crawford)

Are embargoes — and their accompanying press releases — an innocuous tool that give journalists time for the best coverage or are they a manipulation of the media by the publishing and scientific establishments?

In a lively debate, Vincent Kiernan — associate dean at the United States’s Georgetown University — argued that while journalists are constantly distracted by a stream of news releases we don’t have the time to seek out other, possibly more important, stories.

And he reminded us that this becomes all the more important in the developing world, where under-resourced journalists could come to rely on Western news sources rather than digging around in their own backyards.

“As we foster development of our craft in other parts of the world, is the embargo addiction really something that we want journalists in developing nations to take up?” he asked.

“Unwittingly the embargo system exerts a kind of Western hegemony on developing nations. It incentivises their journalists to cover embargoed research from developed nations rather than research and science related news from their own countries. How does that behaviour foster the public interest in those nations?”

Watts seemed bemused that the issue of embargoes was even being given airtime, so little of a problem does he see it. “I don’t really regard this as a controversial issue,” he said. “My feeling is that the arguments made against embargoes are made on false claims and false perspectives.”

But perhaps we should remember that developing countries often have to look to the West for resources. And as science journalism is promoted in developing countries, practices that have become standard in the West don’t necessarily have to be transplanted — particularly if we can’t decide whether they’re any good.

Katherine Nightingale, SciDev.Net

Journal access schemes need to change

July 21, 2008

An organiser of a world’s major programme to help developing countries’ researchers access international journals agrees there is a need to make adjustments.

At the third Euroscience Open Forum (ESOF-3) in Barcelona, a session on “Bridging the Digital Divide by 2015”, chaired by SciDev.Net director David Dickson on July 19, discussed how HINARI, AGORA and OARE, three unique public-private partnerships, are working in line with the UN’s millennium development goals to provide the developing world with access to critical research.

HINARI or Health Information Access to Research Initiative provides online access to one of the world’s largest collections of biomedical and health literature. Under the leadership of the World Health Organization (WHO), over 5,000 journals are available to health institutions in 108 countries, benefiting many thousands of health workers and researchers.

AGORA, or Access to Global Online Research in Agriculture (AGORA), enables developing countries to gain access to information in the fields of food, agriculture, environmental science and related social sciences. AGORA provides a collection of 1,275 core journals to institutions in 108 countries.

OARE, or Online Access to Research in the Environment (OARE), enables 108 low income countries to gain free access to over 2,000 environmental sciences journals.

Thousands of developing country researchers, such as Mohamed Jalloh from General Hospital of Grand Yoff in Senegal, a panel speaker, have benefitted from the programme.

However, there are problems. Read the rest of this entry »

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