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Science Communication: Where Jane Austen Brushes Shoulders with Albert Einstein.

The coincidental relativity between renowned theoretical physicist Albert Einstein and the famed fictional novelist Jane Austen.

Science communication is a singularly directed form of interaction where the flow of information is from researchers to audiences intending to connect science to society. The main intention of science communication is to effectively disseminate information, especially on breakthrough scientific research to the larger public who are most likely non-experts. Science communication on day-to-day life basis is used to increase awareness, cultivate interest in science, promote good practices, inform public policies, and engage multicultural societies to address common issues.

"Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us."- Jane Austen, Pride & Prejudice.

Researchers in essence are technical experts with deep passion and pride in their work. However, with pride, the “prejudice” unconsciously tags along. The prejudice here could be described as a preconceived vanity that expects the public to communicate within the same wavelength. The public here could be any targeted audience from family members to targeted stakeholders. Science communication thus becomes the tactile art of delivering the “pride” minus the “prejudice” to the audience via public engagement.

The sentiment was echoed by Albert Einstein himself when he commented, "You don’t really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother."

Public engagement methods are the tools through which a science communicator effectively engages the larger public community or stakeholders. In order to choose the most effective method(s), one has to determine two important parameters, (i) the purpose of the engagement and (ii) the targeted audience community. A communicator must identify the purpose of their engagement and their targeted community to determine the right methods of interaction. For instance, if the targeted groups are youths the use of social media is a valid method whilst, in the case of experts, engaging presentation skills will be coveted.

Kappel, K., & Holmen, S. J. (2019) reports on the two paradigms of science communication as the (i) dissemination paradigm and (ii) public participation paradigm. The dissemination paradigm proposes a one-way form of interaction model where the transmission of scientific information comes from experts and goes to the public. This widely practised educational setting is a good example where teachers (experts) pass down knowledge to the students (public). This practice however stifles growth as it displays an autocratic approach and a tendency to ignore societal, cultural, and psychological viewpoints. Paving the way for prejudice in the engagement of the public audience and their ability to understand the conveyed information.

The public participation paradigm on the other hand proposes a two-way information flow model where dialogue and deliberation between the public, experts and decision-makers are considered.

The approach is more holistic as it promotes the inclusion of experts and stakeholders. The paradigm is further sub-modelled into two categories, namely (i) citizen science and (ii) consensus conference. Citizen science is a series of step-based processes which begins with the gathering of large amounts of input from the public and culminates in the dissemination of completed reports.

A consensus conference involves the appointment of a group of participants from selected backgrounds with a neutral standing. The participants will go through a preparatory stage to be educated on the topic and will be allotted a specific timeline to complete their report. This method favours relatable information delivery to ensure the participation and understanding of stakeholders echoing the wise advice of the famed and knowledgeable physicist, Albert Einstein.

Digesting the information, could science communication be an important tool to address the current lack of interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) among school children? Could perhaps the archaic dissemination method create prejudice among students and a subsequent lack of interest? It is possible that employing science communication might be a way forward to address this troubling scenario. Science communication as a tool for relatable delivery of information to revive the waning passion among future generations.

Science Communication and the coincidental relativity.
(Image sourced from Google and Microsoft Office 365 Stock Image)


Ts. ChM. Dr. Kumuthini Chandrasekaram, Research Officer, Universiti Malaya.

Ts. ChM. Dr. Kumuthini Chandrasekaram is a Science Communicator with a deep passion towards chemical sciences and a profound love for science communication. She believes that the love of science is cultivated from the roots and the nourishing ray of nature is the most influential aspiration that communicates the art.

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