Why public engagement with science matters
Many scientists think what they do is more important than anything else in the world. Science, in their view, is a system that provides an unrivalled way of thinking about the universe. They see the last five hundred years as a story of a world improved, indeed transformed, through science, and they look forward to a future defined by science's further advances. When we talk about the importance of communicating science, this enthusiasm of scientists for the intellectual, historical and practical importance of their subject is a good place to start. So, for many, it is with conveying the passion for science that science communication should begin. The Triple Helix, an undergraduate-run worldwide forum for science in society, and the Open Research Laboratory at the Munich Deutsches Museum described in other chapters of this book are perfect examples of such enthusiasm-stimulated activities.
This entirely positive view of science is, of course, not universally shared. The perception of a popular antipathy to some aspects of science means that defensiveness, as well as enthusiasm, can be seen as a motivation for communicating science to the public. This aspect of science communication comes to the fore when controversial issues hit the headlines; this gives rise to a reactive mode of science communication, in which it is seen as a tool for coping with science policy crises. This reaction can even occur in anticipation of crises, as we have seen with nanotechnology and synthetic biology.