Scientists' understanding of public communication of science and technology

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    Abstract

    Background
    Research into the field of science communication has tended to focus on public understanding of science or on the processes of science communication itself, e.g. by looking at science in the media. Few studies have explored how scientists understand science communication. At present, there seems to be two competing ways of framing the role of scientists in the process of science communication. The linear model stresses onedirectional flow of knowledge from scientists to the general public whereas the interactional, reflective model emphasizes dialogue and upstream engagement. Recent British studies of scientists' opinions on science communication have shown that most scientists operate in the framework of the linear model. However, public and government pressure to increase scientists' exchange of knowledge and competencies with society may be changing this perception.

    Objective
    This paper reports on a Danish survey of scientists. The objective is to find out, in the context of the new 2003 Act on Universities, which introduces science communication and knowledge exchange as new obligations for the universities, how Danish university-based researchers within the natural and technical sciences see science communication. We wanted to map their general interest in using different media of science communication as well as their active participation in current science communication. Moreover, we wanted to find out what they think about future of science communication, and what they believe ought to be done in order to strengthen science communication in Denmark.

    Methods
    The survey used the webbased SurveyXact® system to handle questionnaire design,respondent lists, e-mail distribution, data collection and data analysis. We received a total of 1,038 answers with a response rate of 38.2 percent. Based on a comparison with the Danish research statistics, the data appears to be representative of the total population of researchers in the fields in mention. Still, we will assume that our data has s slight over-representation of scientists that already hold a positive attitude towards science communication.

    Results
    Our respondents indicated interest in doing science communication through media aimed at a broader public. In particular, news media surfaced as the most attractive media of public communication. The respondents preferred to be in charge of science communication themselves, perhaps in collaboration with university-based communication departments. They understood their own role as disseminators of new, research-based knowledge, less so as communicators of ethical, social and political implications of research. Finally, the respondents responded favorably to the recent suggestion of allocating 2 percent of the total research budget for public communication purposes, put forward by the Ministry of Science's think tank on science and research communication.

    Conclusions
    Scientists do take a keen interest in communicating their results and want to take (and share) responsibility for process of science communication. Specifically, they are very interested in appearing in the news media. We found a nuanced view on science in the mass media, which to us indicate that scientists are no longer "media shy", if they ever were. Scientists do seem to recognize the importance of the mass media in today's society. For their part, journalists are interested in using experts to legitimize their stories, and so, in the future, we might see a struggle between journalistic and scientific "spinning" of science in the media.

    Original languageEnglish
    Publication date2008
    Publication statusPublished - 2008
    EventPCST-10 Bridges to the future - Malmø, Sweden
    Duration: 25 Jun 200827 Jun 2008

    Conference

    ConferencePCST-10 Bridges to the future
    Country/TerritorySweden
    CityMalmø
    Period25/06/200827/06/2008

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