Public perception of science and technology

14/12/2020

The pandemic now known as COVID-19 crisis, took humanity by surprise. The highly infectious virus designated as SARS-CoV-2, with it epicentre in Wuhan City, crossed international boundaries at an unprecedented pace. Scientific community rose to the occasion, investigated etiology and clinical features, RNA sequence , pathological attributes, prognostic factors, transmission law and preventive measures, etc. of the virus [Harapan, Naoya, Amanda et al., 2020]. Usually, the cycle of generation of scientific knowledge, its publication in specialised journals, validation by international community of experts and then dissemination among the public is a time consuming process [Raza, Singh and Shukla, 2009]. The intensity of pandemic and risk involved reduced the time lag between generation of knowledge and its percolation among the lay public. The scientific knowledge generated in laboratories, within a brief period, shaped perceptions and attitude of both the governments and the lay public. Emergent situations, especially life-threatening episodes also invoked myths, superstitions and conspiracy theories [Van Bavel, Baicker, Boggio et al., 2020]. Media channels publicised scientific information, myths, superstitions and conspiracy theories with equal zeal. However, the study conducted in India suggests that common citizens rejected myths, superstitions and conspiracy theories. In a short period of time common citizens gathered scientific information through multiple channels of media and used it to increase their health security. The authority of science was never so sharply delineated in a highly religious and traditional society. This article looks at the pandemic's disruptive nature, sudden changes in scientific knowledge, rapid crystallisation of perceptions and thereby attitudinal transformation and behavioural changes among the public in India.

14/12/2020

Stories are fundamental to human history, culture and development. Immersive theatre has created a landscape where participants have agency within stories, and within this landscape the concept of narrative transportation provides a framework where change within stories creates change in real life. “Space Plague” is a co-designed, fully immersive theatrical experience for young people and families about a fictional pandemic. It was developed using community-based participatory action research (CBPAR) employing a novel model for engaging underserved and under-represented audiences, “SCENE”. Results confirmed that indications of narrative transportation effects were achieved, demonstrating enhanced learning and understanding alongside changing attitudes and indicated positive change when negotiating the COVID-19 crisis.

09/12/2020

Widening participation in science is a long-held ambition of governments in the U.K. and elsewhere; however numbers of STEM entrants to university from low-socioeconomic status groups remain persistently low. The authors are conducting a long-term school-based space science intervention with a group of pupils from a very-low-participation area, and studied the science attitudes of the participants at the beginning of the programme. Key findings were that young people from the very-low-SES study cohort were just as interested in science study and science jobs as their peers nationally, and had a pre-existing interest in space science. Some participants, particularly boys, demonstrated a ‘concealed science identity’, in that they perceived themselves as a ‘science person’ but thought that other people did not. Boys tended to score higher on generalised ‘science identity’ measures, but the gender difference disappeared on more ‘realist’ measures. In addition, although participants agreed that it was useful to study science, they had little concrete idea as to why. These findings shed light on how science communicators can best address low-SES groups of young people with the aim of increasing their participation in science education and careers. We conclude that interventions with this group that focus on ‘aspiration raising’ are unlikely to be successful, and instead suggest that activities focus on how young people can see science as a realistic path for their future. It would be helpful for in-school programmes to allow young people an outlet to express their science identity, and to give information about the kinds of jobs that studying science may lead to. Further research into whether the gender split on idealist/realist measures of science identity persists over time would be of use.

24/11/2020

For many decades, NGOs and social movements have acted as “alternative” science communicators. They have made strategic use of science to promote their ideological stances, to influence political and/or economic decision-making and to motivate civic action. To date, however, our understanding of science communication in activism has received little critical attention. This set of commentaries acts as a starting point for further research and reflection. The different cases and perspectives urge readers to consider the impact, democratic legitimacy, and relevance of alternative science communication, and the challenges that alternative science communicators pose for science communication and society.

02/11/2020

U.S. and other publics perceive STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields as masculine and scientist as a male occupation, but Japanese public perception remains unstudied. Using an online survey, we identified keywords associated with physics, chemistry, mechanical engineering, information science, biology, and mathematics. A second online survey showed that the Japanese public perceived both keywords and fields as masculine. This trend was stronger in individuals with less egalitarian attitudes towards gender roles. We suggest that attitude towards gender roles contributes to the masculine image of science in Japan.

30/09/2020

The emergence of COVID-19 represented a critical problem for the legitimacy and prestige of the Chinese Communist Party. The Chinese authorities had to fight not only to contain the spread of the virus but also to create a favorable public opinion about how they managed the crisis. Based on Foucault's approach to the “Regime of Truth”, this article analyzes the narrative surrounding the origin of the virus and how science was employed to lend it legitimacy. The article concludes by reviewing how the idea of science as a truth knowledge is used to construct a particular viewpoint, one focused on legitimizing the outbreak containment measures taken by the Chinese government.

30/09/2020

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the criticality of science communication. Utilising a mixed-methods approach, this article takes an audience-focused perspective to analysing COVID-19 related social media posts on 23 popular South Pacific community Facebook pages over a four-month period across eight South Pacific countries. We analyse how audiences co-opt scientific terms, address information gaps and embed it in their lived experience. It is ascertained that online conversations around COVID-19 in the Pacific are intermeshed with both scientific fact and, personal accounts and rumours, referred to locally as ‘coconut wireless’, problematising established modes of empirical enquiry.

30/09/2020

Based on recent accounts of the sociology of expertise, we analyse the public contestation and expansion of expertise in the context of COVID-19. During the epidemic, the expertise of the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), became increasingly contested. By exploring Twitter discussions concerning the actions of THL during the first months of the epidemic from January to mid-June 2020, we analyse the main motivations and arguments in this public contestation as well as the alternative forms of expertise proposed by the critics. We focus particularly on two forms of criticism arguing for what we call networked expertise: liberal crowdsourcing supporters and data-solutionists presenting alternative epidemiological models.

30/09/2020

Understanding how individuals perceive the barriers and benefits of precautionary actions is key for effective communication about public health crises, such as the COVID-19 outbreak. This study used innovative computational methods to analyze 30,000 open-ended responses from a large-scale survey to track how Wisconsin (U.S.A.) residents' perceptions of the benefits of and barriers to performing social distancing evolved over a critical time period (March 19th to April 1st, 2020). Initially, the main barrier was practical related, however, individuals later perceived more multifaceted barriers to social distancing. Communication about COVID-19 should be dynamic and evolve to address people's experiences and needs overtime.

17/08/2020

Expert debates have become a popular form to inform the public about scientific issues. To deepen our knowledge about individuals who attend such formats and to investigate what they expect of the dissemination of science, this study analyzes the attendants of scientific expert debates and their expectations. Cluster analysis is applied to survey data (n=358) to explore whether distinct segments may be distinguishable within this supposedly homogeneous audience. Four different segments were identified and, overall, the findings indicate that attendants expect science communication to not only present scientific findings comprehensibly and from different perspectives, but also to create everyday life applicability, whereas interacting with scientists is of less interest.

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