Science Communication In 2017: A Meta Perspective

– by Lia Paola Zambetti, PhD | Senior Project Officer | Research Development and Collaboration | The University of Sydney –

Originally Published by the STEM Advocacy Group HERE

To use a famous quote attributed to both Woody Allen and Eugene Ionesco: “God is dead, Marx is dead and science communication does not feel too well either.” At first glance, science communication suffers a credibility problem in academia. This, it seems, is a symptom of a larger problem involving science itself. Do you remember Michael Gove saying that “people have had enough of experts1” in the UK? Such a quip echoes a widespread feeling worldwide: in the current era of alternative facts, where does science communication stand? Is there any space for an authoritative and unbiased reporting of science and, if so, what does it look like?

Let’s start with an overview of the landscape. Compared to 15 or 20 years ago, before the Internet became such a massive presence in our lives, the current scenario would have been unrecognizable. Scientific communication now takes place mainly online, rather than in libraries or through printed papers. This holds true for both academic and mainstream publishing. The outlets for any form of science communication have grown exponentially from a few journals, magazines, and TV programs to literally thousands of online websites2-5, blogs and podcasts. The traditional, “official” science mouthpieces, such as NatureScience, and perhaps the science pages of the main national newspapers now have to fight for attention in a more atomised, highly centrifugal landscape where thousands of voices clamour for attention. The exponential growth of online journals, including predatory ones (i.e., those charging for publication while providing poor or no peer review), together with a general sense of mistrust in experts, provides a perfect storm for an overall devaluation of science communication. This would in turn lead to the perception of science as a force for good being eroded.

In particular, there are three main issues that science communication, specifically academic publishing, is facing currently:

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