The history of science communication
By Toss Gascoigne
Jenni Metcalfe, Michelle Riedlinger and I discussed a new book at the conference. It’s the story of how modern science communication has changed and developed over the last 30–50 years, with interactive science centres, new courses and research at universities, and the birth and growth of associations, journals and conferences for science communicators.
Michelle was an author of the chapter on Canada, and Jenni and I wrote the Australian chapter.
Thirty-nine countries tell their stories, and they range across the world. All continents and many cultures are represented. Five are Muslim-majority countries: Nigeria, Iran, Pakistan, Turkey and Malaysia. Five are from Africa, seven from the Americas, 11 from Asia and the rest from Europe and Australasia.
They also range across the financial spectrum, with 11 outside the top 100 in per capita GDP, with Uganda, Ghana and Pakistan having the lowest incomes. The graph below shows the difference between the lowest income (Uganda) and the highest (Norway) is a factor of 127.
2018 per capita GDP (produced from World Bank data)
That suggests a huge difference between the science communication issues these countries would address: Uganda focussing on basic information on health and agriculture, while Norway has more concerns about the way citizens can get involved in science and help shape the research agenda.
The book is full of stories. One concerns Mongkut, king of Thailand from 1851 to 1868. He predicted a full solar eclipse two years before the event. 100 years later the date of the eclipse was chosen as National Science Day. King Mongkut built on his fame in the West as the subject of the Broadway show and film The King and I.
Then there’s an account of drumming for science in the villages of Uganda; a polio campaign in Nigeria which had to be put off because Muslims were concerned it was a plot to sterilise their children; and a Russian science magazine which made an appearance in the Guinness Book of Records.
The book, Communicating Science: A Global Perspective, is published by ANU Press and will be launched in May. It’s open access, so people can download individual chapters or the whole book free.