Scientists  are  often  criticized  for  being  poor  communicators.  Yet  frequent  exhortations  from leaders  of  the  scientific  community  encourage  scientists  to  engage  in  public  communication  of science  and  technology.  Moreover,  although  there  are  many  anecdotes  telling  stories  about scientists who refuse to participate in public communication or who denigrate it, most systematic investigations  suggest  that  the  vast  majority  of  working  scientists  are  willing  to  work  with  the media and to engage in public communication. One particular area of scientific activity in public communication is the writing of books.

The  most  prominent  authors,  such  as  Carl  Sagan,  Stephen  Jay  Gould,  or  Stephen  Hawking,  are sometimes held up as exceptions, suggesting that their book writing is separate from their science. But  a  historical  look  at  the  place  of  books  in  the  recent  history  of  science  shows  us  that  books place  a  central  role  in  modern  science.  In  this  talk,  I  will  argue  that  books  show  the  central importance  of  all  communication  in  science,  so  that  public  communication  is  just  one  part  of  an overall system in which scientists are defined primarily by their communication activity.

In the period after World War II, we can see at least four areas in which books that involve science are  important:  reference  books,  conference  proceedings,  and  other  "gray  literature"  publications; textbooks; best-sellers and prize-winners; and commonly "remembered" books that contemporary scientists  and  others  in  the  public  recall  as  especially  influential.  I  will  provide  general  statistics about books in these areas, focusing on the United States.

The  talk  will  also  argue  that  science  in  books  has  provided  and  will,  even  in  a  wired  world, continue  to  provide  a  location  for  communal  understanding  about  science  to  develop  --  both within science and in the broader public. That is, books are one of the crucial places for science to become a community with shared standards for what counts as "good science," with shared ideals about what is important in science. In this context, the works by prominent public scientists can be seen not as exceptions, but as part of an overall communication context in science.



 

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Scientists as communicators
The role of books

Bruce Lewenstein   Cornell University

Scientists  are  often  criticized  for  being  poor  communicators.  Yet  frequent  exhortations  from leaders  of  the  scientific  community  encourage  scientists  to  engage  in  public  communication  of science  and  technology.  Moreover,  although  there  are  many  anecdotes  telling  stories  about scientists who refuse to participate in public communication or who denigrate it, most systematic investigations  suggest  that  the  vast  majority  of  working  scientists  are  willing  to  work  with  the media and to engage in public communication. One particular area of scientific activity in public communication is the writing of books.

The  most  prominent  authors,  such  as  Carl  Sagan,  Stephen  Jay  Gould,  or  Stephen  Hawking,  are sometimes held up as exceptions, suggesting that their book writing is separate from their science. But  a  historical  look  at  the  place  of  books  in  the  recent  history  of  science  shows  us  that  books place  a  central  role  in  modern  science.  In  this  talk,  I  will  argue  that  books  show  the  central importance  of  all  communication  in  science,  so  that  public  communication  is  just  one  part  of  an overall system in which scientists are defined primarily by their communication activity.

In the period after World War II, we can see at least four areas in which books that involve science are  important:  reference  books,  conference  proceedings,  and  other  "gray  literature"  publications; textbooks; best-sellers and prize-winners; and commonly "remembered" books that contemporary scientists  and  others  in  the  public  recall  as  especially  influential.  I  will  provide  general  statistics about books in these areas, focusing on the United States.

The  talk  will  also  argue  that  science  in  books  has  provided  and  will,  even  in  a  wired  world, continue  to  provide  a  location  for  communal  understanding  about  science  to  develop  --  both within science and in the broader public. That is, books are one of the crucial places for science to become a community with shared standards for what counts as "good science," with shared ideals about what is important in science. In this context, the works by prominent public scientists can be seen not as exceptions, but as part of an overall communication context in science.



 

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