Over the last 20 years, there has been a growing body of literature that can be subsumed under the subject title ‘public understanding of science’, but it is also found in work investigating ‘science communication’. I started researching this area around 2002, brought to it out of a desire for my own work to reach the public, knowing that academic journals are rarely read by people outside of universities.
While my own efforts to engage the public with my own academic research – which is sometimes seen as science – were complemented by researching the methods of this subject and in 2005, I wrote about how the language and expectations of this area of inquiry need to shift towards ‘public engagement with ethics’.
The UK is an exceptionally good place for research and debate in this subject with many research institutions funding work in this area. In lectures about science, I often find myself reciting the three models of public engagement – deficit, dialogue, upstream – but I think we’re still searching for the ideal route towards bringing society deeper into science. At the same time, public engagement needs to expand towards the softer sciences, to ensure that people engage with a broader range of knowledge forms than just those that are characterised as science by the popular press.
One of the ways I try to do this work is by giving public lectures at science festivals, which are a great opportunity to exchange ideas about the direction of science and some of the ethical issues society faces as a result of its pursuit.
The video below tells the story of one recent project I was involved with, which brought debates about human enhancement to a youth theatre group.