Popularization of Science

23 – 27 May 2005        Send to printer

Course directors

Reinhardt Brunner, University of Tübingen, Germany
Jasminka Lažnjak, University of Zagreb, Croatia
Darko Polšek, University of Zagreb, Croatia

Course description:

Course description:Many national and international forums, European Commission among them, have designed programs for popularization of science. The primary concern of such programs is the recognition of a growing gap between specialized science and uninformed public, which may inhibit both: science by withdrawing public funds from it, or by preventing informed political decisions concerning technological and economic development. There are many other causes for a growing concern: information about scientific developments are not distributed well enough; if the current trend of the growing gap continues, we may expect reduction of recruitment of the best endowed students to the socially most important scientific and technological disciplines.Even the scientists are aware that their business as usual may need popularization. First, in order to enhance their personal visibility, recognition, and to attract public funds to their projects. Second, popularization is needed in order to be heard and understood. Writing popular science books may also make additional money. But, are there any dangers involved? Does greed for recognition and instant public result generate fraud in science? What sorts of "fraud" or distortion does a popular scientist make?In the recent years the notion of the Third Culture has been widespread. It is an extension of C. P. Snow's idea of Two Cultures. In Two Cultures, written more than 40 years ago, Snow points that a traditional culture of literature and arts does not mix with the second culture of natural science easily. The notion of the Third Culture grows from the contention that the best scientists of today may communicate their ideas to the broader public, and that they are already doing it. Dawkins, Pinker, Mandelbaum, Hawking, Jay-Gould, Weinberg, Davis, and a host of others write popular scientific books which shape "abstract science" as well. They have recognized the need to communicate scientific results to the broader public. But what exactly does a Third Culture amount to? Are there any receipts how to do it? Further, we recently witnessed "culture wars", when several natural scientists accused cultural studies gurus for scientific ignorance and unscientific behavior. Are they over? Are "popularization of science" projects going to prevent them in the future? Is another model of cooperation between literary (postmodern) culture and hard sciences going to be designed? Perhaps, most importantly, how do these conflicts over methods reflect themselves in the political decision making? Is a request for making scientific results public and popular a natural extension of the claim for responsibility and accountability and the respect for the citizens as tax producers in contemporary democracies? A similar question concerns the public role in deciding which scientific projects should be sponsored. Should scientists be left alone from public scrutiny, and if so, why?These are just some questions this seminar would like to address.

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