Science popularization is ”the” tool to bridge the gap between society at large and the world of science. Compared to formal science communication – science taught in schools – informal science communication, made by the TV, the press, ”science centres” and visits to scientific laboratories, has an important advantage: it makes the public meet science in a direct, informal way and at its own terms. The public is given an opportunity to develop a personal relationship with science, according to the needs, interests and abilities of the individual.
     

But selling science is a tough job. The object of the sale is not a consumer good, but rather ideas and concepts that are sometimes so complex and distant from common sense that translating them into a comprehensible language and creating interest in the public without betraying the scientific truth is almost impossible. From my experience in the Communication and Public Education Group at CERN, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics in Geneva, I learned that any science communication action, like any marketing initiative, cannot ignore the perceptions, the needs and the previous knowledge of its target public. As obvious as it may appear, this essential starting point has been completely neglected in the popularization of basic science, and in the world of particle physics in particular.
     

The present research work analyses the public perception of science through two surveys conducted in 1997 on the visitors to two similar particle physics exhibitions, ”Quark und Higgs” in Vienna and ”Quark 2000” in Rome. The failure to convey the message of basic science at both exhibitions is highlighted. Based on the surveys’ results and on the analysis of more succesful science products science on TV and in the European press, proposals to ”package” science more attractively in order to increase its ”sales” are made.
     

By underlining the importance of adopting a marketing approach in science communication, the present research work hopes to be a modest contribution to an effective public oriented science communication strategy.
 

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Selling science to the public

Paola Catapano   CERN - European Laboratory for Particle Physics

Science popularization is ”the” tool to bridge the gap between society at large and the world of science. Compared to formal science communication – science taught in schools – informal science communication, made by the TV, the press, ”science centres” and visits to scientific laboratories, has an important advantage: it makes the public meet science in a direct, informal way and at its own terms. The public is given an opportunity to develop a personal relationship with science, according to the needs, interests and abilities of the individual.
     

But selling science is a tough job. The object of the sale is not a consumer good, but rather ideas and concepts that are sometimes so complex and distant from common sense that translating them into a comprehensible language and creating interest in the public without betraying the scientific truth is almost impossible. From my experience in the Communication and Public Education Group at CERN, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics in Geneva, I learned that any science communication action, like any marketing initiative, cannot ignore the perceptions, the needs and the previous knowledge of its target public. As obvious as it may appear, this essential starting point has been completely neglected in the popularization of basic science, and in the world of particle physics in particular.
     

The present research work analyses the public perception of science through two surveys conducted in 1997 on the visitors to two similar particle physics exhibitions, ”Quark und Higgs” in Vienna and ”Quark 2000” in Rome. The failure to convey the message of basic science at both exhibitions is highlighted. Based on the surveys’ results and on the analysis of more succesful science products science on TV and in the European press, proposals to ”package” science more attractively in order to increase its ”sales” are made.
     

By underlining the importance of adopting a marketing approach in science communication, the present research work hopes to be a modest contribution to an effective public oriented science communication strategy.
 

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.

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