donderdag 7 april 2011

Educating science communication?

My week was governed by pushing EthiekZaak (of course!) and for MK5060 by science and technology education or communication (is there a fundamental difference?). It is a week that left me wondering how and when we are going to science e&c 2.0. From a meeting on Monday in NEMO where science professionals from mainly universities and a few science centers representatives discussed how to better position science in society to newspaper articles on wrong science and emotions governing the discussion on nuclear energy ( sorry Dutch only!). A Kohnstamm lecture delivered by Louise Fresco who wonders how we get past the era in which emotions have become a source of konwledge and signals that society suffers from an overkill of non information. 

Facts versus emotions. Science versus society. Scientists and communicators who wonder how to redevelop the message they are sending. Because the public does not understand. Because the public chooses to rely on peer information from internet fora rather than trust the experts. And happily lets their emotions rule. So the experts say.

I wonder: why are we still stuck in this polarising line of thought? And in this sender-message-receiver line of working? 

In philosophical tradition the relation between rationality and emotions is one of the most difficult subjects and after a good 2500 years we have a rich tradition but no definite answers (hey, we are philosophers:-)). One of the finest works written on this subject in my opinion is Upheavels of thought by Martha Nussbaum. Elaborating on and working on the basis of philosophical tradition and the arts she comes to the conclusion that the tangle of human emotions is an aid and fundamental to our existence rather than a handicap, an impediment. She positions emotions as intelligent responses to the perception of value. This is a nearly cosmis shift in philosophical thinking which has long evaded matters of the heart and placed great value on detachment from these matters and opted for values like "coolness", "pure rationality" and the likes.

Science communication would do well to take this perspective into account I feel as it would help to shift the dynamics of the debate. Rather then alsmost verbally beating up "the public" (whoever that may be) by more facts, more facts, still more facts, labelling articulated emotions as "hysteria" and basically telling the public off for not knowing better, the emotions could be taken seriously and be addressed as such. In other words: make the debate inclusive and consciously accept that emotions are part of science and in effect help shape science. It would mean a move away from th sender-message-receiver line of working and a move towards a participatory way of thinking about science and science c&e. Anybody fancies elaborating this line of thought and experimenting with it?

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