Communicating Science 101

06 October 2008

The worlds of science and the media need to be brought closer together to raise the profile of science in our society and ensure that important knowledge and research does not remain solely within the domain of scientific communities, said renowned science communicator Dr George Claassen.

Claassen, former head of the Department of Journalism at the University of Stellenbosch, will present a course on communicating science at UCT in October and November. It will be offered by the Centre for Open Learning and is aimed at scientists, but also welcomes journalists and other writers who have an interest in reporting science.

The course will be co-presented by Christina Scott, prize-winning radio and television journalist. Claassen said the importance of such a programme should not be underestimated.

"Science is the driver of development and technology, yet most lay people do not understand or appreciate the impact that it has on our daily lives. This is because research and scientific developments rarely make it into the public sphere - unless there is some sensational value attached to them.

"No country, however, can be considered developed until it has a thriving science and technology sector. The media is the vehicle through which science can be communicated to the wider public, and this needs to happen in the interests of our country's future development."

Both scientists and the media have a role to play in strengthening the link. "The lack of scientific information and research in the public sphere can be ascribed in some part to the way scientists view the media, which can sometimes be with an air of suspicion as the media has been not been great at communicating science in the past.

"In addition, there is not a single newspaper, radio or TV station in the country that has a dedicated science desk run by a trained science editor. Our media is more interested in reporting politics and sport and this needs to change if we are to have any hope of giving science more prominence in our society," Claassen said.

He added that because scientists are mostly publicly funded, they have a duty to share their research with the broader society.

Professor Alison Lewis, a specialist in industrial crystallisation in the Department of Chemical Engineering, who attended the course last year, said that there was still a lot of resistance within the scientific community. This would take some effort to break down.

"Unfortunately there is still a long way to go to bring science closer to the public. There is a perception among some scientists that wanting a public profile is somehow shallow or frivolous, and many would rather stick to the serious business of conducting research away from the public eye," she said.

The UCT course has helped her to present her research in a way that is engaging and interesting. For more information on the course call 021 650 2888 or visit the website. The classes take place on Mondays and Thursdays (20 October - 20 November 2008) from 17h30 to 19h00.

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Please view the republishing articles page for more information.