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Science as Media Event

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					One need not make any extensive surveys of different media to provide evidence for
this failure. It is enough to see how sports has managed to gain more coverage in
various media over the last few decades vis-a-vis science. One may argue that this is
so because there are always some sports events occurring all over the world which
naturally draw the attention of media. But contention here is that scientific activity,
scientific community and laboratories all over the world can also be turned into what
are called 'media events' if enough pains are taken by science communicators to
achieve this status for science. First and foremost it will require the maximum
cooperation of scientists.

For instance, anniversaries of scientists, institutes, organisations and societies,
including the World Health Day, etc., can be celebrated; discussions and debates with
the concerned scientists organised; and doors of concerned laboratories and
organisations thrown open to masses and media.

Be that as it may, intention through this paper is to highlight the essentials and
limitations of science popularisation so that there appears a fundamental change in the
way of looking at this subject. Hopefully, it will lead to more effective strategies to
popularise science among the masses.

Science writing is an art

Science popularisation is mostly done by science- trained persons and professional
scientists. It is therefore looked upon more as a scientific activity rather than anything
else. But science writing is more of an art rather than a science. It is scientific only in
the sense one should have scientific knowledge but all the writing abilities are
required to make a good presentation of science. It is due to the present lack of
emphasis on the art aspect of science popularisation that this field of activity has
suffered to date. Those few scientists or science-trained persons who have consciously
or unconsciously known the art of science writing and have practised it, have only
been successful in popularising science.

Science is a human activity

The second reason why popular science does not tick with the masses is because it is
not projected as a human activity but an activity of scientists who simply believe in
the search for truth - and nothing but truth! The human side of science is totally
neglected in all popular science presentations. The follies and prejudices of scientists,
the emotional life of scientists, the irrational circumstances in which scientific work is
often undertaken and discoveries and inventions made, etc., are quite often
deliberately not highlighted fearing that it would give bad name to science and
scientific research. In short, the human face of science or scientific research is often
neglected in popular science presentations. There is therefore a strong need to give
science a human face. It would not only mean adding human stories to popular
science presentations but also talking about realities in scientific research.

Tip of the iceberg presentation

The third reason why popular science presentations often go wide off the mark and
make the audience yawn and go for something else is the inability of science
communicators to distinguish between technical report writing and popular science
writing, thanks to their scientific training or background. They try to cram into a
popular science presentation as much as they know or find out about a subject.

Actually, popular science presentation should be like the tip of the iceberg. It should
however make one not only familiar with the tip of the iceberg but also aware of the
unseen larger part of the iceberg floating under the water. In other words, it should
reveal little about science but enough to make one realise the existence of that science
with its entire ramification. It should excite one's curiosity enough so that one would
like to probe further into that science. It should not necessarily tell everything about a
science but at the same time it should not miss science.

Some important observations

The author's experience with popularising science over the years has forced him to
arrive at some postulates. They are merely based on experience and intuition. Any
research has not been conducted to back them up with facts and figures. In fact, much
research is required to prove or disprove them. If in case they are proved, they can
easily be called the 'Laws of Science Popularisation' because despite the best of our
efforts we have not been able to popularise science the way we want among the
masses. There must be some hidden laws governing our efforts to popularise science.
These postulates are stated as follows:

Postulates of science popularisation

1st: Only those elements of science receive attention in a society, which suit its goals
or which inspire awe.

2nd: A science communicator tends to impose his or her limited ideas of science,
scientists and scientific research upon the audience.

3rd: The amount of space allotted to science in different media of a country is the
index of the quality of life of its average citizen.

4th: The quality of science communication or presentation in a country is directly
proportional to the quality of science produced in it.

5th: To popularise science is to humanise science.

One can deduce certain things from these postulates. The first postulate indicates that
people at large read science because it serves their purpose or because the subject is
topical, sensational or controversial or simply excites their curiosity. A handful only
read science for the sake of knowledge per se. Much research is required to identify
those subjects so that science could be more effectively popularised. For instance,
health science and environment interest people at large, astronomy and space
fascinate them, Nobel Laureates, UFOs, etc., are held in awe by them.

The Second postulate is dangerous for science itself. Consciously or unconsciously,
the layman imbibes the limited or narrow image of science, scientists and culture of
science from the communicator, whether he be Jacob Bronowski or Peter Medawar.
Notions such as scientists are mad individuals or scientific research is yet another
profession are creations of science communicators. That makes science communicator
a very responsible person.

The third and fourth postulates are intuitive relationships between two unrelated
things or activities. Further research is needed to prove or disprove these two laws by
taking data from different countries. However, one must add here that in India we
raise a hullabaloo to increase science coverage in our media at the first available
opportunity but it often comes to nothing. Also, while writing a popular science
article on a subject one often needs the assistance of a scientist doing research in that
very subject. But in India the scientist of the concerned subject is often not available
for consultation and as a result our writings lack the necessary quality, verve and
colour.

The fifth, the last but not the least important postulate, though obvious, reminds us
that we must give science a human face so that masses are not afraid of it. It is the
basic aim of science popularisation.

Christmas tree of science popularisation

The aim of drawing the 'Christmas tree of science popularisation' is to illustrate the
importance of various media that take science to the masses, though every medium
has its own significance and a vital role to play in communication. But unless a person
climbs up the tree, as his or her interest in science is aroused or increased - in other
words, unless one begins to read newspapers, magazines and then books - he or she
would not have become fully science literate.

Necessarily, the percentage of people reading books would be very small as the top of
a Christmas tree indicates. But it is a must to know this tree because the role of any
medium should not be underestimated and every medium should be given equal
importance simultaneously. For instance, if a student's interest in science is aroused
by science fair or 'Jatha' held in the town, it has to be sustained and maintained by
wallpapers, newspapers and even books; otherwise, one's interest would flag and
eventually die. Other supplementing media should be made available to the student in
form of public libraries, for instance. So, the Christmas tree of science popularisation
needs to be watered and tended carefully to produce a science literate society.

Conclusion

According to the postulates forwarded here there are (as yet unknown) limits to the
extent science can be popularised among the masses. It is not possible to have a fully
science literate society. Moreover, science communicators need to take into account
aforementioned aspects about science popularisation for more effective
communication of science to the masses.

				
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