Talking with Barmaids: The Importance of Science Communication in Today’s Changing World

By Jean S. Fleming.

Published by The International Journal of Science in Society

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The importance of science communication has been recognised for many years. Indeed New Zealand’s most famous scientist, Sir Ernest Rutherford, has been cited as saying that all scientists should be able to explain their discoveries to a barmaid. Awareness and understanding of scientific ideas and issues by those without scientific training is vital, if the world is to regulate carbon emissions, control over-population or make the best use of nano-technology. Today’s scientific endeavours are often so large and so complicated the scientists doing the research do not have the time or skills to talk about their work with the public. Furthermore, controversial issues such as human cloning or genetically modified food crops have led to what has become known as the “polarised argument” and often a spiritual, cultural or religious rejection of the new technologies. New processes are developing in New Zealand, at both governmental and institutional levels, to help enfranchise the public over scientific issues and reduce mistrust of scientists. In particular, the establishment of Toi te Taiao: New Zealand’s Bioethics Council has led to public discussion on topics including pre-birth genetic testing and xenotransplantation. These measures have led to the green light for New Zealand’s first xenotransplantation trial and the release of the first genetically modified organism, an equine influenza vaccine. New moves to teach science communication skills at the tertiary level will also improve public awareness of global science issues. Everyone has an opinion: we should all be talking with barmaids, rather than to them.

Keywords: Science Communication, Public Understanding of Science, Bioethics, Mistrust of Scientists, New Zealand

The International Journal of Science in Society, Volume 1, Issue 1, pp.31-38. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.552MB).

Prof. Jean S. Fleming

Professor of Science Communication, The Centre for Science Communication, Division of Sciences, The University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand

Jean S Fleming ONZM is a Professor of Science Communication in the University of Otago’s new Centre for Science Communication. She has 35 years of research experience as a biochemist, cell biologist and reproductive biologist and has taught Anatomy and Physiology at all tertiary levels since 1994. She was a Commissioner with the NZ Royal Commission on Genetic Modification in 2000-2001, convened Otago’s Hands-On Science secondary school programme for five years and has helped run Dunedin’s International Science Festival since 1998. Her commitment to taking her science to the community led to the award of a Suffrage Medal in 1993, a Royal Society of NZ Silver Science & Technology Medal in 1998 and an ONZM for services to science in 2002.