Public engagement with science and technology


Even in the best-resourced science communication institutions, poor quality evaluation methods are routinely employed. This leads to questionable data, specious conclusions and stunted growth in the quality and effectiveness of science communication practice. Good impact evaluation requires upstream planning, clear objectives from practitioners, relevant research skills and a commitment to improving practice based on evaluation evidence.


Citizen Science (or “Public Participation in Scientific Research”), has attracted attention as a new way of engaging the public with science through recruiting them to participate in scientific research. It is often seen as a win-win solution to promoting public engagement to scientists as well as empowering the public and in the process enhancing science literacy. This paper presents a qualitative study of interviews with scientists and communicators who participated in the “OPAL” project, identifying three potential flashpoints where conflicts can (though not necessarily do) arise for those working on citizen science professionally. We find that although participation in the CS project was generally valued, it does not seem to overcome continuing (and widely reported) concerns about public engagement. We suggest that enthusiasm for win-win situations should be replaced with more realistic expectations about what scientists can expect to get out of CS-style public engagement.


Rapid and significant developments in the science of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) have provoked serious social and ethical concerns as well as positive influences worldwide. This study created a social agenda containing 21 important issues regarding the relationship between ASDs and society and the development of the science of ASDs. The agenda was constructed with the input of a variety of Japanese people who were provided with scientific ASD information and engaged in discussions regarding ASDs. First, opinions were sought via a questionnaire from the attendees of six science café sessions. Then, additional important issues were put forward by attendees of a larger dialogue session regarding the relationship between ASDs and society, again via a questionnaire. The agenda covered a wide range of issues, including information regarding ASDs, people’s understanding of ASDs, social support, education, the difference between ASD characteristics and individuality, ASD research, diagnosis, and social attitudes.


This paper explores the idea of the post-museum as an immersive knowledge experience facilitating conceptual and strategic directions in public engagement with science and technology. It considers the extent to which the museum has evolved from repository of cultural artefacts to experience-based process of knowledge acquisition and production. The post-museum is invoked as a model of participatory pedagogy that moves beyond traditional forms of learning, knowledge acquisition and knowledge interface, and conceptualisations of the learner in science. It is presented as an educational and recreational experience, which locates and translates knowledge to the novice or non-traditional patron using rich social narratives that ground scientific expertise in the practice of everyday life. The experience of science is thus made familiar and relevant and concurrently regulated and owned by the visitor. The learner is consequently recast from passive recipient of information-bites to choreographer, translator and innovator within a scientific knowledge continuum.


Currently, science is developing rapidly and its influence on society is more significant than ever. This is all the more reason for today’s scientists to interact with the general public. To design effective science communication activities, we must understand scientists’ motivations and barriers to publicly communicating science. In this study, we interviewed 19 early-career scientists who had participated in science cafes in Japan. From these interviews, we identified five factors leading to their reluctance to participate in science cafes: 1) troublesome or time-consuming; 2) pressure to be an appropriate science representative; 3) outside the scope of their work; 4) could not perceive any benefit; and 5) apprehension about dialogue with the public. Among these factors, apprehension about dialogue may be the clearest reflection of the scientists’ underlying feelings about this form of communication and an indicator of more intrinsic barriers to engaging in science cafes.


Comprehension of the nature and practice of science and its social context are important aspects of communicating and learning science. However there is still very little understanding amongt the non-scientific community of the need for debate in driving scientific knowledge forward and the role of critical scrutiny in quality control. Peer review is an essential part of this process. We initiated and developed a pilot project to provide an opportunity for students to explore the idea that science is a dynamic process rather than a static body of facts. Students from two different schools experienced the process of peer-review by producing and reviewing comics related to the science done at Rothamsted Research. As authors, students showed a large degree of creativity and understanding of the science while as referees they showed good critical skills. Students had at first hand an insight into how science works.


A survey we carried out in upper secondary schools showed that the majority of the students consider physics as an important resource, yet as essentially connected to technology in strict terms, and not contributing “culture”, being too difficult a subject. Its appreciation tends to fade as their education progresses through the grades. The search for physics communication methods to increase interest and motivation among students prompted the Department of Physics at the University of Milan to establish the Laboratory of ScienzATeatro (SAT) in 2004. Up to May 2010, SAT staged three shows and one lesson-show having physics as a main theme, for students attending any grades at school. Good indicators of the efficacy of those shows are: the number of repeats (256 of them up to May 2010), the reputation of the theatres in which they were performed, and the results of two surveys on the achievement of the goals, which saw the participation of over 50 classes each.


From contributions of astronomy data and DNA sequences to disease treatment research, scientific activity by non-scientists is a real and emergent phenomenon, and raising policy questions. This involvement in science can be understood as an issue of access to publications, code, and data that facilitates public engagement in the research process, thus appropriate policy to support the associated welfare enhancing benefits is essential. Current legal barriers to citizen participation can be alleviated by scientists’ use of the “Reproducible Research Standard,” thus making the literature, data, and code associated with scientific results accessible. The enterprise of science is undergoing deep and fundamental changes, particularly in how scientists obtain results and share their work: the promise of open research dissemination held by the Internet is gradually being fulfilled by scientists. Contributions to science from beyond the ivory tower are forcing a rethinking of traditional models of knowledge generation, evaluation, and communication. The notion of a scientific “peer” is blurred with the advent of lay contributions to science raising questions regarding the concepts of peer-review and recognition. New collaborative models are emerging around both open scientific software and the generation of scientific discoveries that bear a similarity to open innovation models in other settings. Public engagement in science can be understood as an issue of access to knowledge for public involvement in the research process, facilitated by appropriate policy to support the welfare enhancing benefits deriving from citizen-science.


In this essay, I argue that the rise of personal genomics is technologically, economically, and most importantly, discursively tied to the rise of network subjectivity, an imperative of which is an understanding of self as always already a subject in the network. I illustrate how personal genomics takes full advantage of social media technology and network subjectivity to advertise a new way of doing research that emphasizes collaboration between researchers and its members. Sharing one’s genetic information is considered to be an act of citizenship, precisely because it is good for the network. Here members are encouraged to think of themselves as dividuals, or nodes, in the network and their actions acquire value based on that imperative. Therefore, citizen bioscience is intricately tied, both in discourse and practices, to the growth of the network in the age of new media.


The online world constitutes an ever-expanding store and incubator for scientific information. It is also a social space where forms of creative interaction engender new ways of approaching science. Critically, the web is not only a repository of knowledge but a means with which to experience, interact and even supplement this bank. Social Network Sites are a key feature of such activity. This paper explores the potential for Social Network Sites (SNS) as an innovative pedagogical tool that precipitate the ‘incidental learner’. I suggest that these online spaces, characterised by informality, open-access, user input and widespread popularity, offer a potentially indispensable means of furthering the public understanding of science; and significantly one that is rooted in dialogue.


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