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Jun 07, 2016 Essay
The necessary "GMO" denialism and scientific consensus

by Giovanni Tagliabue

"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.

Volume 15 • Issue 04 • 2016

Mar 17, 2016 Essay
Supporting emerging forms of citizen science: a plea for diversity, creativity and social innovation

by Teresa Schäfer and Barbara Kieslinger

In recent years, citizen science has gained popularity not only in the scientific community but also with the general public. The potential it projects in fostering an open and participatory approach to science, decreasing the distance between science and society, and contributing to the wider goal of an inclusive society is being explored by scientists, science communicators, educators, policy makers and related stakeholders. The public's participation in citizen science projects is still often reduced to data gathering and data manipulation such as classification of data. However, the citizen science landscape is much broader and diverse, inter alia due to the participation opportunities offered by latest ICT. The emergence of new forms of collaboration and grassroots initiatives is currently being experienced. In an open consultation process that led to the "White Paper on Citizen Science for Europe", the support of a wide range of project types and innovative forms of participation in science was requested. In this paper we argue for mechanisms that encourage a variety of approaches, promote emerging and creative concepts and widen the perspectives for social innovation.

Volume 15 • Issue 02 • 2016

Mar 17, 2016 Essay
Towards a taxonomy for public communication of science activities

by María del Carmen Sánchez-Mora

As a result of the large number of media used and a variety of objectives pursued by the various Public Communication of Science (PCS) activities, their evaluation turns into a daunting task. Therefore, a general taxonomy for all the approaches used by PCS could be helpful in order to differentiate their effects and to measure their results. A general format is proposed for a fast and easy evaluation of PCS efforts and to share a common language with all science communicators, who need to easily compare the results of this growing activity.

Volume 15 • Issue 02 • 2016

Jan 21, 2016 Essay
The Swedish mass experiments — a way of encouraging scientific citizenship?

by Dick Kasperowski and Fredrik Brounéus

Since 2009 Vetenskap & Allmänhet (Public & Science, VA) coordinates an annual mass experiment as part of ForskarFredag — the Swedish events on the European Researchers' Night. Through the experiments, thousands of Swedish students from preschool to upper secondary school have contributed to the development of scientific knowledge on, for example, the acoustic environment in classrooms, children's and adolescents' perception of hazardous environments and the development of autumn leaves in deciduous trees. The aim is to stimulate scientific literacy and an interest in science while generating scientific output. The essay discusses how the mass experiments can contribute to encouraging scientific citizenship.

Volume 15 • Issue 01 • 2016 • Special Issue: Citizen Science, Part I, 2016

Sep 29, 2015 Essay
RedPOP: 25 years of a Science Communication Network in Latin America

by Luisa Massarani, Claudia Aguirre Rios, Constanza Pedersoli, Elaine Reynoso-Haynes and Luz Marina Lindegaard

The Red de Popularización de la Ciencia y la Tecnología en América latina y el Caribe (RedPOP) (Latin American and Caribbean Network for the Popularization of Science and Technology) was created 25 years ago as an expression of a movement that started in the 1960s in favour of a scientific education. The purpose of this movement was to incorporate science into the general knowledge of the population by communicating science through different media, products and spaces such as museums and science centres. Since then, the movement has acquired considerable strength in Latin America and RedPOP has been a key factor to the development of this activity in the region, although several challenges still have to be addressed.

Volume 14 • Issue 03 • 2015

Sep 29, 2015 Essay
Highlighting the value of impact evaluation: enhancing informal science learning and public engagement theory and practice

by Eric A. Jensen

King et al. [2015] argue that ‘emphasis on impact is obfuscating the valuable role of evaluation’ in informal science learning and public engagement (p. 1). The article touches on a number of important issues pertaining to the role of evaluation, informal learning, science communication and public engagement practice. In this critical response essay, I highlight the article’s tendency to construct a straw man version of ‘impact evaluation’ that is impossible to achieve, while exaggerating the value of simple forms of feedback-based evaluation exemplified in the article. I also identify a problematic tendency, evident in the article, to view the role of ‘impact evaluation’ in advocacy terms rather than as a means of improving practice. I go through the evaluation example presented in the article to highlight alternative, impact-oriented evaluation strategies, which would have addressed the targeted outcomes more appropriately than the methods used by King et al. [2015]. I conclude that impact evaluation can be much more widely deployed to deliver essential practical insights for informal learning and public engagement practitioners.

Volume 14 • Issue 03 • 2015

Aug 25, 2015 Essay
What is the “science of science communication”?

by Dan Kahan

This essay seeks to explain what the “science of science communication” is by doing it. Surveying studies of cultural cognition and related dynamics, it demonstrates how the form of disciplined observation, measurement, and inference distinctive of scientific inquiry can be used to test rival hypotheses on the nature of persistent public conflict over societal risks; indeed, it argues that satisfactory insight into this phenomenon can be achieved only by these means, as opposed to the ad hoc story-telling dominant in popular and even some forms of scholarly discourse. Synthesizing the evidence, the essay proposes that conflict over what is known by science arises from the very conditions of individual freedom and cultural pluralism that make liberal democratic societies distinctively congenial to science. This tension, however, is not an “inherent contradiction”; it is a problem to be solved — by the science of science communication understood as a “new political science” for perfecting enlightened self-government.

Volume 14 • Issue 03 • 2015

Aug 19, 2015 Essay
How to do mass media publicity for a neglected disease. Lessons from Tsetse and Trypanosomiasis in Kenya

by Pamela Olet and Joseph Othieno

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. 

Volume 14 • Issue 03 • 2015

Jul 24, 2015 Essay
“Queue up, you stupid!”: communicating about technology problems. An exploratory study of warning messages posted on machines in public places

by Beatrice Arbulla and Massimiano Bucchi

Communication about technology has long been neglected within the field of science and technology communication. This visual exploratory study focuses on how users can communicate with and about technology in public places through warning signs posted on technological devices.
Three broad categories of messages have been identified: bad design, malfunctioning and disciplining users. By analyzing examples within each category, we suggest that studying these communicative situations can be a key to understanding how users are engaged in continuous, elaborate and sometimes even conflicting framing of technological devices (e.g. with regard to their purpose, appropriate uses, shifting boundaries between functioning/malfunctioning); how such framing, in turn, can be used to readjust/realign social behavior and organizational routines.

Volume 14 • Issue 03 • 2015

Jul 09, 2015 Essay
Science journalism: the standardisation of information from the press to the internet

by María Dolores Olvera-Lobo and Lourdes Lopez

The standardisation and selectivity of information were characteristics of science journalism in the printed medium that the digital editions of journals have inherited. This essay explores this fact from the international perspective, with a special focus on the Spanish case.

Volume 14 • Issue 03 • 2015