There is no use denying it: whenever a scientist gets a piece of news in a newspaper or on television concerning his own field of research, eight times out of ten he feels irritated. The reason does not solely depend on the fact that, in his opinion, the news given to the public is often rather inaccurate or centred on secondary aspects, sometimes even distorted. There is actually something more? Something deeper that the scientist can hardly grasp.
"I consider Leopardi's poetry and pessimism to be the best expression of what a scientist's credo should be". This quotation is from Bertrand Russell, no less. With these very emblematic words, the greatest man of letters, the supreme icon of the Italian Parnasse, the author of such collections of poems as Canti (Poems) and Operette Morali (The Moral Essays) and philosophical thoughts as Zibaldone (Miscellany) has been associated to the world of science. This relationship, very intense and to a certain extent new, was greatly emphasised on the occasion of the poet's birth bicentenary. During the celebration in 1996, an exhibition with the name of Giacomo and Science was organized in his birthplace to underline the close connection between the poet and the scientific culture of his epoch. This point has also been stressed recently.
According to Einstein's renowned declaration, for those who believe in physics or, more precisely, in its capability to offer a "scientific" representation of the world the distinction between present, past and future is just "an illusion, though obstinate". If we consider an effective analogy by Mauro Dorato, we can state that those who agree with the famous German scientist will recognize in the present, past and future a relationship very similar to that between "here" and "somewhere else" in other words, the present is just a located moment and has no privileged status.
Popularising mathematics requires a preliminary reflection on language and terms, the choice of which results from underlying dynamics. The aim of this article is to start an overall analysis of the conditions influencing this linguistic choice.
What may be defined as the "standard model" of the public communication of science began to develop in the second half of the nineteenth century, gained a clear structure (especially in an Anglo-Saxon context) in the first three decades of the twentieth century and dominated until the nineties. Roughly speaking, the model tends to describe science as a compact social (and epistemic) corpus, largely separated from the rest of society by a type of semipermeable membrane. That is, information and actions can flow freely from science to the rest of society (through the application of technologies and the spread of scientific culture, for instance), but much more limitedly in the opposite direction (through science politics or the influence of sociocultural events on science itself).
"We can only appeal to society, considering that governments and parties have fallen constantly short of expectations since the late eighties. The public must know that without research there is no innovation, and without innovation there is no state-of-theart. The lack of research is a handicap for the development of the country". The words of Silvio Garattini, director of Milan's Mario Negri Institute, reveal rage and passion. This is how he explained the reasons why more than one year ago 1,500 Italian scientists made an unprecedented, resolute and unmediated appeal to the general public to back research in Italy.