The twenty-first century will see an acceleration of existing trends toward globalisation. Science and technology are now crucial factors influencing future development. Not only is technology the key to economic competitiveness, it is also a vital influence on the more important questions of social stability and ecological sustainability. What science we do determines which questions we can answer. It would be impossible to argue that the balance of the current research effort takes serious account of our future needs.
     

There is no realistic prospect of these problems being solved by the sort of naive surrender to market forces that has been common recently in English-speaking countries. While markets are efficient at allocating limited resources, they take no account of social impacts or long-term effects. We need to involve the community in the difficult decisions about the allocation of limited research resources and the choice of technologies. We face difficult decisions if we are to meet the development aspirations of a growing world population without damaging the natural systems of the planet. Those decisions will need the whole hearted support of the community if they are to be implemented. That support will only be found if the community is involved in setting broad priorities and making the key decisions.
     

The imperative of finding a sustainable pattern of development imposes a new standard of professional responsibility on communicators of science and technology. We need to be moving beyond the traditional goal of enabling an understanding of the results of scientific investigation and the products of technological advance. We need to be developing a level of community understanding of the processes of science and technology that will enable a participatory process, by which the community as a whole will be involved in the setting of broad priorities for science and the general process of deciding which technologies to adopt.
     

The process of developing and communicating the first independent evaluation of the state of Australia’s environment will be discussed as a case study. About two hundred scientists were involved in the exercise which led to the production and public communication of the 1996 report. Like any serious evaluation of the environment, it exposed risks associated with the current pattern of economic activity. Discussion of those issues poses particular problems.
 

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Responsible communication of science and technology

Ian Lowe   Griffith University

The twenty-first century will see an acceleration of existing trends toward globalisation. Science and technology are now crucial factors influencing future development. Not only is technology the key to economic competitiveness, it is also a vital influence on the more important questions of social stability and ecological sustainability. What science we do determines which questions we can answer. It would be impossible to argue that the balance of the current research effort takes serious account of our future needs.
     

There is no realistic prospect of these problems being solved by the sort of naive surrender to market forces that has been common recently in English-speaking countries. While markets are efficient at allocating limited resources, they take no account of social impacts or long-term effects. We need to involve the community in the difficult decisions about the allocation of limited research resources and the choice of technologies. We face difficult decisions if we are to meet the development aspirations of a growing world population without damaging the natural systems of the planet. Those decisions will need the whole hearted support of the community if they are to be implemented. That support will only be found if the community is involved in setting broad priorities and making the key decisions.
     

The imperative of finding a sustainable pattern of development imposes a new standard of professional responsibility on communicators of science and technology. We need to be moving beyond the traditional goal of enabling an understanding of the results of scientific investigation and the products of technological advance. We need to be developing a level of community understanding of the processes of science and technology that will enable a participatory process, by which the community as a whole will be involved in the setting of broad priorities for science and the general process of deciding which technologies to adopt.
     

The process of developing and communicating the first independent evaluation of the state of Australia’s environment will be discussed as a case study. About two hundred scientists were involved in the exercise which led to the production and public communication of the 1996 report. Like any serious evaluation of the environment, it exposed risks associated with the current pattern of economic activity. Discussion of those issues poses particular problems.
 

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

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