Last month, I chaired an event on science communication and political divides at the Biochemical Society.
As taster, here’s a bit from about half way though, from panelist Steve Cross:
Within all kinds of science communication, not just the stuff you think is controversial [e.g. climate change, GMOs] there is a big political divide and that political divide is between the people who cheer-lead for science and the people who attempt to open up scientific institutions, open up scientific processes, open up scientists to listen rather than just to speak up on behalf of themselves. The reason we have this tension is that the money is mostly in cheerleading, the money is mostly in pushing science forward and saying isn’t science wonderful. The money is mostly in encouraging children to become scientists, it’s mostly on PR for science. There isn’t a lot of money in challenging science.
Steve finished his piece by stressing he had no problem with cheerleading existing, he just wanted other work to happen too, and added a warning “just be careful who you are cheerleading for”. Steve had started by arguing against the idea that everyone in science communication necessarily shares the same values: BAE systems sponsor the Big Bang Fair, so does everyone involved in Big Bang share the values of BAE?
There was a lot more debate about cheerleading throughout the debate, from panelists and audience members. We also explored ‘balance’ at the BBC, whether scientists should be open about their values, whether scientists are good at talking about politics* and much, much more. We got mentions on the Guardian and Bishop Hill. Not sure what that says for political divides, if anything. You can listen to the podcast for yourself. Here it is, complete with lovely headshot of co-organiser Beck Smith:
(*or if they, and science communication professionals were even that aware of the politics of their work. E.g. I’d love to know how many people involved in the Big Bang Fair have even looked at the sponsors, let alone thought about the issue. Same goes for other areas of sponsored science communication. No reason to just pick on that event, even if it does have a rather unfortunate name…)
I am from the US, so I had to look up BAE. I do STEM outreach and I would like to think that since I am being paid by a government grant, I can say what I like about Defense Contractors, Chemical Companies with no moral compass, etc. But some of these young people will be working for large Agro Business someday whether I like it or not. I just hope they remember the radical lady they met one summer when they are the ones making the decisions.