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Public Communication of Science and Technology


I don´t call myself a scientist
Understanding why self-denomination as “scientist” is avoided by university professors.

Adlane Vilas-Boas  

One focus of surveys for public perception of science is the view about the profession of the scientist and how science is done. A recent survey in the US, for instance, has shown that under 40% of respondents know what scientists do. Several surveys in Brazil have also shown that only 12% of interviewees were able to point the name of a Brazilian scientist. The most cited names were of historically important scientists, such as Carlos Chagas and Oswaldo Cruz, revealing the public difficulty to recognize contemporary researchers. Since, in Brazil, science is conducted mostly in universities, we speculated to what extent the academic community, by not coming forward as scientists for society, collaborates for persistency of this lack of information. In an attempt to evaluate whether the name "scientist" was used by university professors to introduce themselves, we conducted a survey with 20 professors from a Biology research institute, exploring forms of self-denomination in formal and informal situations. The results indicated that most of them do not make use of the term "scientist" to professional self-denomination. In this work, we investigate the reasons why this occurs. In focal group discussions the use of 'university professor' instead of scientist was pointed as adequate since 1) that is the label of the position they were hired for; 2) 'scientist' is not a regulated job. As discussion progressed the impact of this attitude on the general public was recognized linking the lack of visibility of the scientist with low investments in science and technology in public communication of science. Other viewpoints and thoughts will be presented. Given that previous quality research in this subject is incipient, we believe that our study can shed light on the process of professionalization in science in emerging countries such as Brazil. Travel grant by Fapemig to A. Vilas-Boas

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