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‘For the nation as a whole and for each individual in it’: The Royal Society’s public understanding of science report (1985) in historical context

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The Royal Society’s 1985 report on public understanding of science resulted from the work of an ad hoc group established in April 1983 under Walter F. Bodmer. The Society’s interest in public understanding of science grew out of continuing concerns over low recruitment into the science and engineering sectors and over failing public and political support of basic research since the introduction of market-based approaches to scientific governance in the 1970’s. The report argued that public understanding of science was fundamental to society. Better public understanding of science would boost national economy, improve the quality of public and private decision-making, and enrich the lives of individual citizens. Public understanding of science, Vice-President D.C. Smith concluded in the preface, is an issue ‘that is important not only, or even mainly, for the scientific community but also for the nation as a whole and for each individual within it.’ Based on published sources and archival material, this paper places the report’s broad understanding of public understanding of science as well as its various recommendations to the scientific community, the educational system, the mass media, industry, museums, and government in a historical context. Key contextual elements to be addressed include prior changes to British science policy and the deliberations of the members of the ad hoc group as they forged the Royal Society’s views on public understanding of science.
Original languageEnglish
Publication yearSep 2018
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2018
EventEuropean Society for the History of Science: Biennial Conference 2018 - London, United Kingdom
Duration: 14 Sep 201817 Sep 2018


ConferenceEuropean Society for the History of Science
CountryUnited Kingdom
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