Science communication, a quick definition

The definition on Wikipedia is wrong! And I challenge you after reading this blog to revise the Wikipedia definition. Science communication is more than the “media aiming to talk about science with non-scientist.” (I like the addition of the word aiming in there like the media plans to but does not seem to quite get there). Anyway this isn’t meant to be a dig at Wikipedia. According to Burns, O’Conner and Stocklmayer* science communication is

“ the use of appropriate skills, media, activities, and dialogue to produce one or more of the following personal responses to science (the AEIOU vowel analogy): Awareness, Enjoyment, Interest, Opinion-forming, and Understanding”.

Or in the more simpler words of my 12 year old niece its the marketing of science. Its often referred to as public engagement, public understanding of science, science awareness, and science popularization. And it is a growing field, gaining more recognition because science and technology as the Asian tiger economies have shown is the key to economic development and POWER!

Who does it involve?
Several players – the media, public, policymakers and of course the scientists. Science communicators facilitate the activities and dialogue between the stakeholders . Notice I have used the word dialogue – the process of science communication is an exchange, a bilateral flow of information and interaction, it is not I repeat, scientists talking down to non-scientist. The language admittedly must be non-technical and jargon free but in no way does it have to be dumbed down.

What type of activities?
Radio programs, television programs, posters, exhibitions, science centres, science museums, science cafes, debates, seminars, public talks, press releases, movies, songs, paintings, drawings, comics, films, podcasts, magazines, newsletters, websites, presentations, books, blogs….. All these mediums are amenable to channelling all kinds of scientific content – genetics, biotechnology, engineering, mathematics, physics, geology, tropical medicine, ethics, statistics…
If you really think about it, science is being communicated to you all the time, you just might not be noticing it. Think of the laundry soap advert on television or the malaria transmission billboard on the highway or the radio jingle on washing your hands or what about Hollywood films like The Day After Tomorrow. Yes it is all science and it is being communicated to you all the time.

Want to learn more?
Unfortunately as far as I know there are no formal courses for science education or science journalism in Africa. There are the occasional workshops and meetings but I hope with the increasing amount of scientific research on the continent that academic institutions will see the need to develop such courses.

* Burns, T. W., O’Connor, D. J., Stocklmayer, S. M. Science Communication: A Contemporary Definition Public Understanding of Science 2003 12: 183-202

1 thought on “Science communication, a quick definition

  1. Interesting post and well balanced between science and media aspects. Never completely trust wikipeadia. You can make adjustments to wiki definitions. Post more

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