Publications included in this section.
Over the past decades there has been an increasing recognition of the need to promote dialogue between science and society. Often this takes the form of formal processes, such as citizen’s juries, that are designed to allow the public to contribute their views on particular scientific research areas. But there are also many less formal mechanisms that promote a dialogue between science and society. This editorial considers science festivals and citizen science in this context and argues that we need a greater understanding of the potential impacts of these projects on the individuals involved, both scientists and the public.
This issue of the Journal of Science Communication raises a number of questions about the ways that new scientific research emerges from research institutions and in particular the role played by scientists, press officers and journalists in this process. This is not to suggest that the public don't play an equally important role, and several articles in this issue raise questions about public engagement, but to explore the dynamics at play in one specific arena: that of news production. In this editorial I explore the increasing reliance of science journalists on public relations sources and consider what questions this raises for science communication.
As academic communities across the globe are increasingly encouraged to share their knowledge outside the ivory towers of academia, it becomes ever more important to create a bridge that crosses continents and disciplinary boundaries. Sitting, as it does, at the nexus between science communication practice and research, JCOM has a vital role to play as just such a knowledge sharing platform.
The demand for evaluation of science communication practices and the number and variety of such evaluations are all growing. But it is not clear what evaluation tells us - or even what it can tell us about the overall impacts of the now-global spread of science communication initiatives. On the other hand, well-designed evaluation of particular activities can support innovative and improved practices.
Many science communication activities identify children as their main target. There are several reasons for this, even if, quite often, they are not expressed explicitly, as if children were a somehow “natural” public for science. On the contrary, we can observe a high level of complexity in the children agenda to engage with science, and in the science institution agendas for targeting children. But this does not seem to be followed but the same level of complexity in devising science engagement activities for children. The profound transformation of the scope and understanding of science communication that we have observed in recent years, in which keywords as dialogue, participation and empowerment have become essential, has only partially touched the younger public, which remains in most cases considered as a spectator for science.
A new editorial board is guiding JCOM through a period of change and here opens out the discussion on what JCOM has become and what it could or should become in the future. The journal's readers are invited to make their contributions.
In the next few months, JCOM will undergo relevant changes. A new owner will take charge of its editorial management and define new development strategies. This important transition is a good opportunity to take stock of the past few years and to devise a new type of science communication research journal.
On 22 October 2012, six members of a technical-scientific consultancy agency of the Italian Civil Protection were found guilty of multiple manslaughter and sentenced to six years in prison by the court in L’Aquila. According to the prosecution, days before the earthquake that devastated the town of L’Aquila on 6 April 2009 killing 309 people, the experts failed to correctly alert the population on the actual seismic risk. The sentence was widely interpreted as an attack to science, penalised for not accurately predicting the quake. Actually, the defendants were accused of having deprived the citizens of information that may have saved their lives. This story does not hide any attack to science. On the contrary, this is the demonstration of the high regard the civil society has for the opinions of the experts. But in the so-called risk society, access to information is an inalienable right of the citizens. Beyond the legal aspects, the impression is that the lesson from L’Aquila can mark a point of no return in the relations between science and society.
The PCST (Public Communication of Science and Technology) conference, held every two years, offers an opportunity to chart the progress and direction of the international science communication community. The most recent conference, in Firenze, gave indications of a growing interest in science communication as cultural practice.
While several scientific communities have discussed the emergence of Open Access publishing in depth, in the science communication community this debate has never been central. Scholars in most scientific disciplines have at their disposal Open Access options such as journals, repositories, preprint archives and the like. Ironically enough, a community devoted to the study of science’s communication structures is witnessing this transformation without being directly involved. Both structural and cultural obstacles hamper the growth of an Open Access sector in science communication publishing. With this editorial I hope to start a debate on the need for a more open communication environment in our academic practice.