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RTD info logoMagazine on European Research N° 42 - August 2004   
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 EDITORIAL
 What on earth …?
 The war on mycotoxins
 Small country, high standards
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 The journey of a flying Dutchman
 Rogue waves
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COMMUNICATING SCIENCE Printable version

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  Good practices

Praise where praise is due: the Research DG’s Information and Communication Unit   (ICU) releases all kinds of information intended for the press and a wider public. The central platform is the Research home page on the Europa server. ...
 
  Links

Organised by the Friends of the Earth, Ecologie sur la toile  (Ecology on the web) proposes links to the sites of associations, eco-companies, and institutions which ...
 

  TO FIND OUT MORE  
  Reports from the CER-2004 conference and presentations of the speakers can be consulted on the website

Participants also held numerous discussions on communication ...
 

Do you speak science?

Over recent years, an awareness of the need for ‘good’ communication has grown steadily within Union research circles. First of all, citizens must be informed of the aims of the Research Framework Programme and the results obtained. All participants in Union-backed projects are having to show an increasing readiness to participate in this drive to inform. 

Also, through the thematic programme ‘Citizens and governance in the knowledge society’, the Framework Programme is seeking to encourage an in-depth study of the increased interaction between science, technology and a changing society. This research will be supplemented by concrete projects launched under the Science and Society Action Plan.  

It was thus against this background that the Commission’s Research DG decided to organise, in May, a first ‘Communicating European Research Forum – CER 2004’. More than 500 participants attended this two-day event which was the occasion for a very rich and intensive dialogue between science journalists – from all types of media – communication specialists, researchers (especially those working on Integrated Projects and European Networks of Excellence) and representatives from various research institutions. The debates covered the specific philosophy of knowledge dissemination, the tools and good practices which can underlie it, and an evaluation of communication examples.  

The media’s view
‘It is important to remember that science is a culture – awakening the interest, desire and satisfaction which comes with knowledge is therefore essential,’ declared Pierre Oscar Levy, producer of science documentaries for television. This consensual message seemed to be generally supported by around 120 media representatives (printed press, TV, radio and web) who attended the forum. 

‘Scientists must also be patient with journalists and be interested in the specific nature of the media they are working for,’ declared Sean Duke, of the Irish magazine Science SPIN . Radio, for example, can be ‘a marvellous means of capturing the attention through very lively stories and conversations, but it must have “sound scapes”, too.’ (Deborah Cohen, BBC Radio Four).

A recurring demand from journalists is for concrete scientific data to be formulated in a way which a non-specialised public can readily assimilate. ‘Rather than explaining electricity production in terms of a specific number of megawatts, it is much more illuminating to say that it is enough to supply a town of, say, 5 million inhabitants. It is also important to stress what is fundamentally innovative in a research result, to identify applications in different sectors and explain honestly the environmental impact and inherent risks.’  (Lara Ricci, from the Italian daily Il Sole 24 Ore).

Of course, there is also ‘the revolution of web distribution’ coupled with the new demands for speed and flexibility. ‘As a print weekly, the New Scientist has a readership of 800 000, but its website attracts 2 million visitors a year from all over the world. Many scientists think that after  putting out a press release they can go away on holiday. But the journalists who have to use this release to write a news item for the internet to a very tight deadline want to know more and would like to be able to contact them.’ (Damian Carrington, NS Digital – UK).

Training researchers
‘It is important to train scientists in the techniques of dialogue and debate with citizens, in the knowledge that some of them will sometimes be very hostile to them. Yet organisations and the learned societies that federate them launch very few initiatives of this kind,’ stressed Steve Miller, of University College London, coordinator of the European Network of Science Communication Teachers (ENSCOT). ENSCOT set up a communication training workshop which trains researchers in the areas of public speaking, giving interviews and writing articles for the layman. 

The Association Science & Télévision is pursuing a similar approach. ‘We want to teach researchers something about the rules of film-making and how to accept them so as to tell interesting science stories rather than producing teaching films.’ (Emmanuel Laurent, ASR – FR).

Science centres and museums are also doing an impressive job in the field of co-operation between scientists and science communicators. The exhibitions and thematic events they organise have been attracting an ever-wider public over recent years. ‘The possibilities in terms of mise en scene are very rich and diverse,’ stresses Walter Staveloz, coordinator of the European Collaborative for Science, Industry and Technology Exhibitions (ECSITE) network, whose projects regularly receive Union backing. 

For the final word, let us turn to the German researcher Hans-Peter Peters from the Forschungszentrum Jülich, who has made a study of the concept of 'Infotainment’ – a combination of information and entertainment. This sociologist has been looking at the parameters which influence the reception of scientific messages for a number of years now.(1) ‘While the desire to please is necessary and desirable, care is needed to prevent images which distort, which distract or which fail to tackle the real implications of the subject. It is important never to lose sight of the quality requirement when communicating information.’ 

(1) See RTD info no 39, November 2003 .


Europe – festive science

The first Genoa Science Fair, 2003
The first Genoa Science Fair, 2003
Every year, many science weeks or days are organised throughout Europe. Every year, too, the European Commission makes its own contribution to this presentation of science and technology. Aimed at a non-specialised audience, and at young people in particular, eight trans-European projects will receive Union support during the 2004 events, which will be concentrated during the week of 8-14 November. 
  • The Superlife  project, coordinated by the Budapest University of Technology and Economy – thus in a new Member State – will be lifting the veil on the phenomenon of superconductivity. How does science explain this strange state of matter which enables electrical energy to be transported with close to zero loss of power and producing magnetic levitation effects? What are the current and potential applications? Demonstrations, debates, films, CD-ROMs, exhibitions and Internet explanations investigating the subject in ever greater depth will all be shedding light on this phenomenon which could well transform our everyday lives. Hungary will kick off the series of events which will be followed up by partner countries – Germany, France, Spain, United Kingdom – in 2005. Superlife is the fruit not just of transnational co-operation (Israel and Sweden will also be participating) but of co-operation between the public and private sectors too (three universities, three research institutes, one industry, and two SMEs). This complementarity is fundamental to the project’s approach.
  • Coordinated by the University of Parma (IT), the Wespa (A Web portal for Energy and Semiconductors Public Awareness) project aims to explain how, thanks to semiconductors, selective applications of energy transmission have revolutionised just about every technological facet of the contemporary world.
  • In Portugal, the University of Minho will be organising a science day entitled The Fascinating World of Science. This voyage of discovery through the world of chemistry, physics, mathematics, geology and biology will include hands-on experiments, laboratory visits and debates before continuing into the realms of the virtual, with video conferences and Internet forums and debates.
  • Eurobot competition
    Eurobot competition
    Companies can also be the instigators of initiatives. In Greece, the Q-Plan firm of consultants is coordinating two projects aimed at European students and implemented with scientific partners from a number of countries. The first, known as Shield, seeks to highlight the role of science and technology in preventing and responding to natural disasters. The second, School-Foresight, will be looking at the ‘intelligent’ school of the future (in particular, via e-learning). Experts will launch the analysis and students will follow up with their own contributions.
  • Students will also be put to the test during the Eurobot competition. Coordinator  Véronique Raoul of France explains that ‘they will be able to draw on their theoretical knowledge in implementing a team project’. Held since 1988, this competition traditionally adopts a sports theme. This year the challenge will be to create robots able to play rugby with coconuts!
  • The Italian event will be held in Genoa, 2004 cultural capital. This second Esciential festival will present science in the more general context of knowledge, with scientists, writers and journalists coming together to present and discuss it. 130 conferences and some 20 interactive exhibitions (in particular Le meraviglie della Scienza or Brain Waves devoted to the neurosciences) are on the programme at this ambitious international festival which also includes some live performances, including Facing Goya by Michael Nyman.
  • The entry by Rafaelos, aged 10 (Greece), to the drawing competition held by the ESA to mark the Venus Passage


    The entry by Rafaelos, aged 10 (Greece), in the drawing competition held by the ESA to mark the Venus Passage

    © ESA

    Science and creativity also join forces in connection with the Venus Transit phenomenon. On 8 June 2004, Venus was in front of the Sun when seen from the Earth. This phenomenon is only possible when the Sun, Venus and the Earth are aligned on the line of intersection (known as the line of knots) of the two orbiting planes of these two planets around the Sun. Each of them crosses this line twice a year, but only very rarely simultaneously – the last Venus Transit was in 1882. To celebrate this exceptional event, the ESO has provided a wealth of educational information on its website (www.eso.org). It is also organising a competition for amateur astronomers who, whether individually or in teams, make a video presentation related to this celestial event. The 12 winning entries will be shown during European Science Week, in Paris, at the VT-2004 final. First prize is an exciting trip to the Paranal European Observatory in Chile.
Bullet To find out more

Flies everywhere

Yes, flies, those uninvited guests at summer picnics, can be a gripping subject for study. The Natural History Museum in Neuchâtel (CH) is presenting an original exhibition combining scientific information, works of art and even a dramatisation of scenes from the life of this insect which both fascinates and repels. Visitors can peek into the study of an entomologist to view in close-up those huge eyes and delicate wings, admire the sculptures of Mathieu Rapp in the BZZ gallery to the accompaniment of sound effects, and enter a hospital ward to witness some of the diseases these dipterans can carry (malaria, river blindness, yellow fever, elephantiasis, breakbone, sleeping sickness). At the end of the visit, you find yourself in a courtroom where the case is being made either to pass the death sentence or grant clemency for his crimes to… the fly.  Both sides – the insect and man – argue their case and cause us to reflect on the usefulness of species, and even on the meaning of life and death itself. 

Museum of Neuchâtel – Switzerland – Until 6 March 2005

A thousand schools for Eduspace

The educational site launched by the European Space Agency (ESA) is proving quite a success. More than 1 000 schools in 67 countries have already registered at the site. As a result, their teachers are able to benefit from the latest resources available for introducing their pupils to the various lessons that can be learned from Earth observation. The site is structured around a number of major themes (disaster monitoring, global change, remote-sensing principles, etc.), each giving an overview before taking a closer look at the sub-topics. The latter have links to other resources and also include specific teaching suggestions. Satellite pictures can be downloaded for each subject and interpretation exercises are proposed. ‘Case studies’ provide material (texts, ‘traditional’ photographs) in connection with subjects which could interest pupils living in certain countries or regions. In studying their own town, for example, they can begin with a view of their school ‘seen from the sky’.

This is a multilingual site, already running in English, French, German, Italian and Spanish, with Danish being added soon. The ESA is working in close co-operation with teachers on this project, many of whom submitted a number of new proposals at the first Eduspace Council of Teachers, held in April.

Thinking global

When talking of globalisation, it is important to remember science. What are the responsibilities of science and technology in a world where suffering and poverty persist? While their discoveries and implications concern us all, what can be done to ensure that everyone can truly benefit from the advances? This ‘global thinking’ in the realms of R&D is one of the principles supported by the Association for Science Education (ASE) in the UK which publishes a document designed for teachers who want to make their pupils more aware of the importance of sharing knowledge. All those who share this concern and would like to be involved in this movement, or simply want to learn more about it, can contact the ASE. 

Deserts

The Sudanese desert.   © ESA
The Sudanese desert.
© ESA
Unesco is hosting an educational site on the threat of desertification. This worrying phenomenon now threatens one-third of the world’s total land surface area (4 billion hectares) and more than 100 countries. The causes include climate change and human activities such as intensive grazing, deforestation, ill-conceived irrigation practices, etc. It is true that poor populations over-exploit the earth to survive, and it is also true that desertification is both the cause and the effect of this poverty. 

Forests

Everybody can help protect the health of the planet by reducing their CO2 emissions. That is the message launched by Future Forest for a Carbon Neutral world, a US-British association calling on everyone to make those ‘small gestures’ which, when combined, can make a big impact on the planet’s future. The carbon calculator enables us to judge the pollution we create, by taking a particular plane trip, for example. It certainly makes you think. For the rest, it is perhaps time to start buying non-polluting products, to stop making unnecessary trips by car, plant trees, and send postcards – the profits going to the development of ‘soft’ energy in the developing world. 
Top
  Good practices

Praise where praise is due: the Research DG’s Information and Communication Unit   (ICU) releases all kinds of information intended for the press and a wider public. The central platform is the Research home page on the Europa server. Note also the regular News alerts, the various thematic briefings on significant projects supported by European programmes, written publications (RTD info, of course, but also a series of leaflets and various brochures on research subjects) and, finally, on-line at the Research site, daily Headlines and regular updates on developments in the Framework R&D Programme. 

Two other initiatives also warrant a mention.

  • The ICU has just published the Guide to successful communications. Available on-line or in a printed version, this manual presents a selection of good practices originating from a range of experiences of providing information on European research.
  • The pilot phase of a new tool, known as AthenaWeb, was launched in June 2004 in the audiovisual sector. This portal, whose content is supplied by sector professionals,  aims to exploit the large and interesting stock of available – but little-used – science and technology videos.


Bullet To find out more

  Links

Organised by the Friends of the Earth, Ecologie sur la toile  (Ecology on the web) proposes links to the sites of associations, eco-companies, and institutions which promote respect for the environment. There is also a glossary of terminology (in French).

TO FIND OUT MORE

Reports from the CER-2004 conference and presentations of the speakers can be consulted on the website

Participants also held numerous discussions on communication initiatives and examples implemented by the European projects in the most diverse fields and disciplines of science and technology. These presentations are also available on the above website. 

Other links:

CONTACTS