Tuesday, May 01, 2007

When science communication backfires

A top chemistry research group has dramatically left the UK's Royal Institution - and I read in a recent Education Guardian article that one of the reasons could be all the science outreach activities that are going on there.

This story emphasises how outreach activities need to be carefully managed to ensure that as many people as possible on the science side have "bought in" to the communications strategy and that they don't feel their research has been sidelined. This is true even for the Royal Institution whose outreach activities have been going on for centuries in the guise of its Christmas Lectures.

According to the article:
"...members of the RI have told Education Guardian there is concern within the organisation that research is playing second fiddle to "public outreach", meaning the communication of scientific issues to the public. The RI is seen as a model of excellence in this respect, opening its doors to more than 30,000 children each year. Its Christmas lectures, held annually since 1825, have introduced world-famous scientists - such as the father of electricity and magnetism, Michael Faraday, and Sir David Attenborough - to young audiences.

One member of the institution says: 'The direction in which the RI is heading is deeply troubling. It is playing down research...' "