“Ni Hao,” to our new friends in China.

By June 22nd, 2010 at 10:01 am | Comment

A few days ago, Bruce Lewenstein, Professor of Science Communication at Cornell University, sent this note to me:80R4KN03_0

I’ve just returned from several weeks in China, where I was giving lectures on science communication at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ graduate school and in other venues.  A story about the lectures ran in the science section of the Beijing News and was reposted on the news.163.com site – and the accompanying photo features the URL for scienceforcitizens.net!  Thought you might enjoy it.

We sure did! Thanks, Bruce.

We’re in good company pictured alongside Cornell’s site.

To our new friends in China and abroad: we invite you to add your citizen science projects to the ScienceForCitizens.net project finder.

My Chinese tutor, Mr. Brian, was kind enough to provide a  translation of the Beijing News article:
An interview with an American science communication expert.
Science is often branded “popular science.”  The original top-down style communicating gradually has been replaced by lively expressions and interactive dialogue. As a professor of science communication at Cornell University, Bruce is an expert in this field. However, even in the United States, there are very few scholars specialized in this area. Recently, he came to the Chinese Academy of Science Graduate School to give a series of lectures. Our newspaper reporters talked with him about science communication and science literacy.
Bruce Lewenstein (Professor of science communication,  Department of Communication Sciences, Cornell University) received his Ph.D. in history and sociology of science from the University of Pennsylvania. He has conducted case studies on  science communication of genetic engineering and nanotechnology. He’s now devoted to the study of “citizen science” projects and the ethics of genetic research etc.

Beijing News: What do you mean by “science communication?”

Bruce: For the past 100 years, the media has traditionally reported on scientific development, mainly new research, for example. These studies may not have an instant effect, but would be the basis for future scientific and technological development. In the early 80s of the last century, America had a short period of a boom of scientific reports in the media. The sudden emergence of a large number of scientific journals attracted a lot of people to this field. But there are also divergences in the concept of science communication. Some think that science is only used to explain phenomena, and some think that science is a kind of public issue, such as academic misconduct, conflict of controversial technology, etc., and we when started talking about environmental protection, stem cells, biological energy, and other topics, this involved not only the policy but also personal decisions. In addition to explaining the science, science communicators also should explain to the public, who benefits, and who benefits more, from emerging technologies.

Beijing News: You mentioned  “scientific literacy.”  Can I refer to that concept as “must-have scientific knowledge?”

Bruce: Traditionally, people thought that some scientific knowledge must be understood by the general public. For example, that the earth revolves around the sun; that antibiotics kill bacteria  but not viruses,  and so on. Scientists conducted a survey to ask these questions in different countries. Meanwhile they also asked about people’s attitudes toward, and interest in science:  does science make the world better or worse? what risks are acceptable considering the benefits of research, etc.  All survey results were  combined to form a  comprehensive finding: only 6% of Americans were “science literate.” Ten years later, this number rises to 12%.

Beijing News: Sometimes, when people do not understand a technology, it will not encounter any resistance; once people begin to understand it, resistance also begins?

Bruce: I agree. Genetic engineering is just like this. With the increase of information, people who did not care have turned against it. One national survey discovered, generally speaking, that as people better understand the science (coupled with their level of education), their support for science grows but there are some twists we should consider when it comes to the most highly educated people: they may actually retreat, and support emerging developments out of concern for unknown risks. This is the final small turn at the highest intelligence level, but the trend for the general public is very clear:  the better informed one is, the more likely he or she will support science.

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