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This letter reflects on how the role of science in society evolved in 2016. While there were plenty of groundbreaking scientific discoveries, the shifting political landscape cultivated a tempestuous relationship between science and society. We discuss these developments and the potential role of the science communication community in political activism.
Differences in viewpoints between science and society, like in for example the HPV-vaccination debate, should be considered from a socio-technical system perspective, and not solely from a boundary perspective between the lay public, medical doctors and scientists. Recent developments in the HPV-vaccination case show how the debate concerning uncertainty amongst scientists and the lay audience is mostly focussed on the improvement of understanding of lay people about why vaccination is important. This boundary thinking leads to the idea that once the boundary is crossed, the problem is solved. However, such ‘bug-fixing’ and technocentric boundary thinking is not leading to sustainable resolutions. We view science communication as a key aspect of the socio-technical system of scientific, technological and innovation development, in which the vaccine and its corresponding immunisation program are socially constructed. A process of construction that takes place all the way from the fuzzy front-end of their scientific conception until the marketing back-end. The authority, legitimacy and therefore the license to operate of scientists, engineers and policy makers are discussed, primarily at this boundary, but develops during the whole process of innovation. During upstream processes, professional roles and according behaviour are also defined.
In this commentary we state that the development of science communication strategies should also start upstream, and that the ‘bug-fixes’ of improved listening to (and not by) the lay audience, could be become a more sustainable solution to the HPV-debate if this process of listening by experts considers the socio-technical system of vaccination as a whole. One of the outcomes might be that the dialogue between scientists, policy makers and the lay audience is about the various possible scenarios that deal with inherent scientific and societal uncertainty in which the inevitable uncertainty of science becomes more explicit. It is not known according whether this will lead to more profound interactions, however we would like to explore this possibility a bit more from an uncertain innovation process point of view. This could clear the way for a process of co-inquiry into ideas concerning shared responsibility and accountability. The latter means that the focus in the debate is more balanced and concerns the social network, and is not purely focussed on the betterment ofunderstanding by the lay audience. Moreover, in this way we consider communication and interaction between actors not as a means of crossing any boundaries (since that may be impossible), but as a means to perturb a status quo or equilibrium within a network of actors. This makes apparent boundaries more explicit and discussable. Methods of interaction, e.g. based on concepts like midstream modulation, may lead to another discourse and give way to new dynamics in this social system.
Science communication, whether internally or to the general public depends on trust, both trust in the source and trust in the medium of communication. With the new 'ecology of communication' this trust is endangered. On the one hand the very term of science communication has been captured by many different actors (e.g., governments, PR experts, universities and research institutions, science journalists, and bloggers) apart from scientists themselves to whom science communication means different things and whose communication is tainted by special interests. Some of these actors are probably more trusted by the general public than others. On the other hand, the channels that are used to communicate science are also not trusted equally. Particularly the widespread use of social media raises doubts about the credibility of the communication spread through them.
Celebrating 15 years of success and growth, the STS Conference Graz on May 9 and 10, 2016, gathered nearly 200 delegates from all over the world who had the opportunity to discuss and share research and experiences on 6 main themes: Policy and Technology; Gender and Queer STS; Mobility, Energy and Sustainability; Responsible Research and Innovation Studies; Nutrition, Health and Biomedicine; and Information and Communication Technologies, Surveillance and Society.
"Genetically Modified Organisms" are not a consistent category: it is impossible to discuss such a miscellaneous bunch of products, deriving from various biotech methods, as if they had a common denominator. Critics are too often pre-emptively suspicious of peculiar risks for health or the environment linked to this ill-assorted ensemble of microorganisms, plants or animals: yet, even before being unscientific, the expression "GMO(s)" has very poor semantic value. Similarly, claims that recombinant DNA technology is always safe are a misjudgement: many unsatisfactory "GMOs" have been discarded, as has happened also for innumerable agri-food outcomes, obtained via more or less traditional field and lab methods. The scientific consensus, i.e. the widespread accord among geneticists, biologists and agriculturalists, maintains that every biotech invention has to be examined case by case, evaluating the unique profile of each new organism ("GMO" or otherwise): to assess its safety, the technique(s) used to produce it are irrelevant. Therefore, in considering "green" biotechnologies, a triple mantra should be kept in mind: 1. product, not process; 2. singular, not plural; 3. a posteriori, not a priori. Both people's and law-makers' attitude to agricultural biotechnologies should be reoriented, and this is an interesting task for science communicators: they should explain how meaningless and misleading the "GMO" frame is, debunking a historical, ongoing socio-political blunder, clarifying to the public what most life scientists have been recommending for several decades.
Despite the rapid expansion of citizen-based monitoring, data from these programs remain underutilized by natural resource managers, perhaps due to quality and comparability issues. We present the Bosque Ecosystem Monitoring Program as a case study of an initiative successfully meeting long-term monitoring needs of federal, state, tribal, and local natural resource managers, and informing public policy. To maximize potential for partnerships with managers, we recommend the creation of a five-year plan including scientific goals and financial solvency strategies prior to establishing a citizen science program, and offering multiple platforms for data-sharing and dialogue.
The prioritization of neglected diseases in the policy making framework requires heightened advocacy [WHO, 2006]. Mass media positive publicity is among approaches that can be used to achieve this. This paper discusses practical use of mass media to do publicity and advocacy for a neglected disease and its vector. It uniquely presents online links to the analyzed newspaper and television news and opinion articles on tsetse and Trypanosomiasis. The paper shares entry points into mass media advocacy from a lessons learned perspective and notes the importance of understanding how the mass media works in order to achieve advocacy of neglected diseases using sleeping sickness as a case study.