January 24, 2013, by Tara de Cozar
Making Science Public
So, here’s an event that I’m already registered to attend – ‘Making Science Public: Challenges and Opportunities‘ on Feb 11 up at the Trent Building. Unusually for me I’ll be going to the whole thing – often I only get time to dip in and out of conferences and launches. But as well as looking ridiculously interesting, this event — and the research programme it’s launching — is directly relevant to my everyday work. I’m based in the University’s Communications office, and a big part of my job is promoting the research that takes place across the institution. I’m a cog in the who process that is ‘making science public’ so, in my very small way, I impact on this debate.
The Making Science Public programme examines the way that science is used, debated and, well, shredded in the public sphere. This isn’t just in newspaper articles and social media, but in the way that government ministers – who are rarely scientists, let’s face it – translate and use science to develop and justify public policy. You might think that the science used in projects like the large hadron collider at CERN has little to do with our daily lives, but it really does. I’m probably preaching to the converted here, but the perceived successes and failures of massive projects, however ‘otherwordly’ they seem, affect the funding climate and drip down of cash to smaller projects. Yes, I’m being simplistic, but it also affects public appetite for research, and when you’re essentially funding projects with tax payers cash – like the UK research councils are – this stuff matters.
Then there’s obviously science that DOES directly impact on the average person’s everyday life. Climate change. Vaccines. Epidemics. GM crops. Drug policy. Research projects are carried out, results and evidence are published — and then they’re taken by media and government and charities and other public institutions and a thousand different takes on what these results actually MEAN appear. And that’s before we even introduce Twitter and the news site comments into the equation. Because, you know, you ALWAYS get balanced, evidence-based, well-thought-out comments there…
Making Science Public: Challenges and Opportunities will bring academic experts like Prof Brigitte Nerlich (Director of the Making Science Public research programme) video journalist Brady Haran, Research Fortnight reporter Adam Smith and the Rt Rev Dr Lee Rayfield (Bishop of Swindon and Member of the Society of Ordained Scientists) to present and debate on subjects like the politics and philosophy of ‘Making Science Public’ and whether the privatisation of science is in the public interest. The keynote speaker is Prof Ulrike Felt from the University of Vienna. She’s not your usual social scientist – Prof Felt has got a PhD in physics. She’s also advised on science policy at a European level, first in as expert in the Advisory Group of the European Commission for the Science and Society priority of the 6th framework programme (2003-2006); as member of the European Research Advisory Board (EURAB; 2006/07); as rapporteur of the expert group Science and Governance and most recently for the European Science Foundation (Policy briefing on The Future of Science in Society). Her talk promises to be a good one – Science as a ‘public good’ in search of a ‘good public’.