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  • Cited by 1
  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: May 2013

Introduction - Public engagement in an evolving science policy landscape


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.

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