The promotion of public understanding of science is now a primary concern for many scientific institutions. Although a number of diverse initiatives have been undertaken by various organisations, the advances in the biomedical sciences (such as molecular genetics) have emerged as a current focus of concern. A number of educational interventions have been made with the specific intention of disseminating knowledge and promoting the understanding of genetic research to various public groups. Previous studies have examined lay knowledge of genetics however there have been far fewer studies that follow scientific knowledge as it moves from ‘the laboratory’ to the lay arena.

This paper examines the processes involved in the transfer of expert biomedical knowledge into the lay environment. It examines the production, transmission and reception of educational packages of cystic fibrosis and sickle cell disease. These educational packages were produced by the UK’s Medical Research Council as part of its schools program and  are routinely distributed to school based science classes. This paper draws upon interviews with scientists and writers to explore the aims and challenges of developing materials that promote understandings of genetic research. Data collected in focus group sessions, with teachers and students who have used these educational packages, is also analysed. Such an approach enables an investigation of the social processes involved in the ‘translation’ of biomedical scientific knowledge and its reception by the lay public. I analyse the knowledge and beliefs about genetic research
held by scientists and writers and contrast this with the attitudes of teachers and students. In addition, this analysis identifies the tensions and conflicts which might arise as scientific materials move from the ‘laboratory’ to the ‘classroom’. For example, research scientists, in comparison to teachers, were aware of the contingencies and uncertainties involved in laboratory research but less familiar with the pressures and constraints of a tightly managed curriculum. Writers had to balance the preparation of materials that werefaithful to their source while also producing a narrative that would be of interest to teachers and students alike. Finally, students had to judge the information contained in the educational packages against existing knowledges gained both within and outside the classroom.

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

From ‘laboratory’ to 'classroom'
Public understanding of genetics research

Simon Carter   Medical Research Council (MRC), UK

The promotion of public understanding of science is now a primary concern for many scientific institutions. Although a number of diverse initiatives have been undertaken by various organisations, the advances in the biomedical sciences (such as molecular genetics) have emerged as a current focus of concern. A number of educational interventions have been made with the specific intention of disseminating knowledge and promoting the understanding of genetic research to various public groups. Previous studies have examined lay knowledge of genetics however there have been far fewer studies that follow scientific knowledge as it moves from ‘the laboratory’ to the lay arena.

This paper examines the processes involved in the transfer of expert biomedical knowledge into the lay environment. It examines the production, transmission and reception of educational packages of cystic fibrosis and sickle cell disease. These educational packages were produced by the UK’s Medical Research Council as part of its schools program and  are routinely distributed to school based science classes. This paper draws upon interviews with scientists and writers to explore the aims and challenges of developing materials that promote understandings of genetic research. Data collected in focus group sessions, with teachers and students who have used these educational packages, is also analysed. Such an approach enables an investigation of the social processes involved in the ‘translation’ of biomedical scientific knowledge and its reception by the lay public. I analyse the knowledge and beliefs about genetic research
held by scientists and writers and contrast this with the attitudes of teachers and students. In addition, this analysis identifies the tensions and conflicts which might arise as scientific materials move from the ‘laboratory’ to the ‘classroom’. For example, research scientists, in comparison to teachers, were aware of the contingencies and uncertainties involved in laboratory research but less familiar with the pressures and constraints of a tightly managed curriculum. Writers had to balance the preparation of materials that werefaithful to their source while also producing a narrative that would be of interest to teachers and students alike. Finally, students had to judge the information contained in the educational packages against existing knowledges gained both within and outside the classroom.

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

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