What does the landscape of public science communication look like across Europe today? What are the pathologies and opportunities of public engagement with research, and what dynamics are shaping how laypeople access and use scientific knowledge?
These questions have been driving recent QUEST research. Within the project, Work Package 1 has sought to describe the landscape of European science communication today. This has resulted in a soon-to-be published report, European Science Communication Today, which assesses the landscape of science communication research, science journalism, science on social media, and science in museums. (Once approved, the report will be published on our Outputs page.)
One key finding has been that this is a landscape in transition. Science in social media is on the rise; science journalism is undergoing seismic structural shifts relating to the demise of print media and new funding pressures; and science museums are responding to criticism regarding the lack of diversity of their audiences. It is currently unclear where these domains of science communication practice will end up, and whether they will settle and stabilise over the coming years.
Another finding is a repeated emphasis on the need for science communication – and communicators – to embrace a critical, dialogic approach. While science communication scholarship is fragmented, one of the rather few widely referenced central concepts is a move from a ‘deficit model’ of public audiences towards models of engagement and multi-way communication. Similarly, journalists and museums practitioners emphasise the need to go beyond science journalism as translation or promotion to incorporate critical views, investigate scientific practice, or challenge ‘bad science’.
A third theme is that format matters. There are important differences between science communication practice on different platforms. Work on social media demonstrated that social media platforms are used in different ways. Perhaps most strikingly, we can observe that there are many more science-based topics discussed on Twitter than on YouTube, and that scientists and other experts are particularly active (and gain high engagement levels) on Twitter. If we are concerned with good quality science communication, then, it seems likely that we will have to pay attention to the format of that science communication: best practice for Twitter may not be the same as for Facebook, while the norms of good science journalism may not be the same as for those in the museum world.
This complex and shifting landscape deserves more study – not least to understand what ‘quality’ should look like in science communication. It currently seems that European science communication is in a transitional phase. More research is needed into the shifts within science journalism, the rise of PR and more promotional forms of science communication, and the uses and possiblities of social media.