What pushed His Excellency Enrico Fermi, acclaimed Academician of Italy entitled to a state car and driver, to leave Italy all of a sudden in December 1938 in order to reach New York, after a short stop in Stockholm for the ceremony that celebrated him as a Nobel laureate for physics, and to accept a job as a simple physics lecturer at the Columbia University?


In last times scientific PR activities are increased by number and quality. Especially in United States and, more recently, in Europe all the most important research institutions and universities have been equipped with communication officers able to circulate their own information through mass media. This is undoubtedly a positive news for science. In spite of this, it’s necessary to think about which effects can be created by marketing activity on scientific communication. In this commentary we asked some scientific professionals to tackle these problems from different points of view.


The debate on Darwin’s theory of evolution is a unique case for observing some particular ways in which science is perceived and experienced in society. It is a dispute which is really not very scientific at all, since it ultimately derives from the attempt to discredit a corroborated scientific explanation (and to limit its teaching) by fundamentalist fringe groups of religious and political movements of various extraction. However, it is undeniable that the clash between creationists and evolutionists must also involve, in a critical and self-reflective way, the communicative weaknesses of science and its inability to assert itself as a widespread and fully shared culture, as was also stressed by the Nature magazine in April 2005. With an international viewpoint, ranging from the United States to Europe, from Australia to Italy, in this dossier we try to make a summary investigation of the current state of the debate, with a particularly attentive eye on the communicative strategies that contend in the two fields.


Do we have to drag in the thought of Michel Foucault to show the political (and not neutral), partial and local (and not universal and non-historic), active (and not merely transmissive) face of science communication? Do we need the work of the controversial French intellectual to dispute the anxious search – almost a quest like that for the Holy Grail – for the “best practices” in the dissemination of scientific culture? If we read over the pages that Foucault dedicated to words and things, to the archaeology and genealogy of knowledge, to biopolitics, we have few doubts. Two elements, on the one hand the central nature of discourse and “regimes of truth”, on the other the concept of biopower (a “power over bodies”), enable us to reflect both on the important specific features of modern science in comparison with other forms of production and organisation of knowledge, and on the central role of its communication.


During the last annual conference of ECSITE (European Collaborative for Science and Technology Exhibitions; Helsinki, June 2005), for the first time two discussion sessions were devoted to explainers, the innumerable people – young students mainly – who welcome visitors at exhibitions, museums and festivals, who animate laboratories and science shows, who guide, explain and lately also stimulate and manage discussions and participatory procedures. Thanks to the involvement of the speakers, who agreed to submit a broadened version of their papers, JCOM is glad to host the proceedings of these meetings. A great deal has to be done yet in order to analyse the complex European context and to fully understand the explainer’s professional profile.


How does knowledge sharing affect scientists' everyday work in developing countries? And how important is it for the development not only of new scientific research, but also for improving the living conditions of local inhabitants? These are the questions that a group of scientists met to discuss during an international workshop on Knowledge Sharing for Local Development in the South held in Trieste, Italy (4-6 July 2005). Based on their personal experiences, their thoughts and opinions create an interesting insight into new practices for the public communication of science, medicine and technology from a point of view that is often under-estimated: the one of the scientists themselves. The workshop, organized by the Third World Network of Scientific Organizations (TWNSO) and the United Nations Development Programme's Special Unit for South-South Cooperation (UNDP-SSC), showcased 15 case studies that utilized a variety of knowledge sharing methods, and, in doing so, highlighted the critical role that knowledge sharing plays in sustainable development. For more information:


While knowledge-society is developing all around the world, science seems to be loosing its historical prestige in public perception, scientific vocations are declining among young people, "limit" on science is common subject of daily politics, research freedom is questioned in front of public good, scientists are dragged in front of public opinion. As a consequence, scientists are to be skilled in science communication. But communicating science is no more matter of "translating" scholar knowledge into lay language (popularization); it is mainly matter of crossing barriers of fundamental attitudes, understanding daily-life ends, sharing future scenarios and cultural values, becoming responsible for the societal dimension of science. Moreover, while confronting the coming Big Convergence (among nanosciences, bio-medical sciences, information and communication-sciences, neuro-cognitive sciences), science itself is called to cross barriers among disciplines, distinctions between pure and applied science, academic and industrial research, science and technology, etc. However, such crossovers are challenging for present education of scientists. The governance of the democratic knowledge-society not only demands more scientific education among citizens, but also a general revision of highest scientific curricula. What are the goals for educating scientists to public responsibility and participation? What are conceivable ways for joining the "two cultures" and integrating curricula? What cross-fertilizations are conceivable between natural and social sciences, scientific and humanistic education, specialised and more general formation?


The international symposium Science on air: the role of radio in science communication was held in Trieste on 1 and 2 October, 2004. To our knowledge, it is the first conference ever specifically held on science in radio, and it is certainly the first time science radio journalists, researchers, and media experts from 16 different countries met to discuss their journalistic practice and the role of radio in science communication. The main results are presented in this section.


Natural parks are a place where science communicates with the public, involving dimensions ranging from the knowledge of living species to the relationship between man and nature, the environmental policy decisions and the anthropic impact assessments. Natural parks are therefore an important arena for scientific communication where the "shared participation" tools play a fundamental role. To this end, we report a few international experiences that illustrate the role of the interest holders and the importance of coordination of the parties involved in the management of parks.


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