In the mass media, every new advance in scientific knowledge "the discovery of a new galaxy or a new particle, the solution of Fermat's Theorem tends to be presented as good in and of itself, as also occurs with all new technologies and products resulting from them" making it increasingly difficult to distinguish between new and advertising when we are told how, for example, a new plasma screen or a new molecule for a drug was conceived. The message is that only good things are to be expected from science, whether they have practical applications or not, whether their contribution to our understanding of the world is understood or not, whether their potential impact on society and their potential repercussions can be anticipated, etc. All science news is good news. However, when negative aspects of scientific endeavor are discussed, they are usually cast as abnormal cases, and accordingly are often reported in sensationalist tones. Thus, the fraud perpetrated by a Korean scientist is the product of his ambition, an Italian scientist's attempts to clone a person are pure folly, uranium enrichment in Iran is one more Islamic plot, and the harmful effects of a drug are the consequence of the mercantilism of the pharmaceutical industry, which is not like it was before, when the marvel of aspirin was invented. The common denominator is the abnormality of the events, the deviation from the pursuit of greater good for humanity which is science's true calling. Science communication, scientific divulgation, has largely taken a similar approach, extolling the positive side of scientific endeavor in an effort to convince society of the benefits and marvels of science and its importance for humanity, human progress, and the betterment of the world. Little is said about the anomalies of science “ "which prefers discretion to avoid blemishing its irreproachable image" and when it is, it tends to recur to its antithesis, an image of science similar to that used by its harshest critics, for whom all new technology, all new lines of research, invariably are the harbingers of multiple catastrophes and the products of plots and covert interests, and who, when confronted with something with which no fault can be found, are unwavering in their suspicion, taking the stance that it is a fasade concealing some form of deceit. The question, then, is how to break this dichotomy, how to account for both facets using the same processes, the same initial conditions, in short how to revert the asymmetry.

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Asymmetries and symmetries in science communication

César Carrillo-Trueba   Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México

In the mass media, every new advance in scientific knowledge "the discovery of a new galaxy or a new particle, the solution of Fermat's Theorem tends to be presented as good in and of itself, as also occurs with all new technologies and products resulting from them" making it increasingly difficult to distinguish between new and advertising when we are told how, for example, a new plasma screen or a new molecule for a drug was conceived. The message is that only good things are to be expected from science, whether they have practical applications or not, whether their contribution to our understanding of the world is understood or not, whether their potential impact on society and their potential repercussions can be anticipated, etc. All science news is good news. However, when negative aspects of scientific endeavor are discussed, they are usually cast as abnormal cases, and accordingly are often reported in sensationalist tones. Thus, the fraud perpetrated by a Korean scientist is the product of his ambition, an Italian scientist's attempts to clone a person are pure folly, uranium enrichment in Iran is one more Islamic plot, and the harmful effects of a drug are the consequence of the mercantilism of the pharmaceutical industry, which is not like it was before, when the marvel of aspirin was invented. The common denominator is the abnormality of the events, the deviation from the pursuit of greater good for humanity which is science's true calling. Science communication, scientific divulgation, has largely taken a similar approach, extolling the positive side of scientific endeavor in an effort to convince society of the benefits and marvels of science and its importance for humanity, human progress, and the betterment of the world. Little is said about the anomalies of science “ "which prefers discretion to avoid blemishing its irreproachable image" and when it is, it tends to recur to its antithesis, an image of science similar to that used by its harshest critics, for whom all new technology, all new lines of research, invariably are the harbingers of multiple catastrophes and the products of plots and covert interests, and who, when confronted with something with which no fault can be found, are unwavering in their suspicion, taking the stance that it is a fasade concealing some form of deceit. The question, then, is how to break this dichotomy, how to account for both facets using the same processes, the same initial conditions, in short how to revert the asymmetry.

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

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