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Dr. Ankuran Dutta and Dr. Anamika Ray
‘In a world dominated by science and technology, science communication and popularisation is of utmost importance especially for our country where a large population needs to be told about the impact of science and technology in their daily lives’, Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, the former President of India (Science Communication, 2010).
Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam’s conviction is in the power of science which can have a solution to the problems of our society. He focuses attention on science and technology as ideology-free areas and emphasizes the inculcation of scientific temperament and spirit of entrepreneurship among the common masses.
Nowadays, science and technology have all but become an obsession. They permeate all facets of our contemporary political, economic and cultural life (Schiele, 1994). But, the reality is that science is beyond the reach of the common people and has failed in its basic purpose to inculcate the spirit of rationality in the common people. Science remains an unfamiliar terrain for them. The presentation of science by the experts to the non experts in an attractive, lucid and popular manner has still not taken place.
In this context Michel Serres, a philosopher and member of the French Academy has emphasized the creation of a democracy of science (Democracy of Science, 2010). To increase societal knowledge on the role of science and to bridge the gap between science and society is extremely necessary. The calls of media itself the vox populi, deciding on what to report or not to report but skips science broadcasts in the interest of attracting higher audiences. Science does not figure much in the current media rat race targeted for large audiences.
Scientific and technical information is central to public policy, industry, media and academia on a global scale. We cannot deny that science and technology invention and innovations are the engines to drive the economic growth of a country. Understanding science by common man promotes and constrains development which has been able to propel effective science communication. Science communicator has the opportunity to work in different areas, different media and with different priorities. But all need to illuminate science in the context of a changing and challenging world. Science communicator includes writer, journalist, television-radio news presenter, anchor, film maker, the engaged workers in science centres, museums, the district and state level public relations officers, communication officers in different science and technology industry, workers in different associations, related to science, exhibition designers besides all types of media persons (Dutta, Ray, 2011).
Science Communication: An emerging area of study: Science communication can be considered a good career option for the youngsters, in such fields as consultancy in business and corporate (science and technology fields) sectors, science centres, in science education, and research organizations with the specific task to communicate with the community and the media houses. Here we will have a brief knowledge on the style and different requirements of this field (Dutta, Ray, 2011).
For working in science centre we generally may not need any formal science background, but need a good communication skill. Education officers in science centres also require a teaching qualification along with experience.
On the other hand, there are jobs for communications intern, development associate, curatorial researcher, executive director, marketing coordinator, etc. In science museum strong written and oral communications skills, project management and organizational capacity, photography expertise and the ability to work independently or along with a team are required. For junior posts, advanced undergraduate and graduate students with a background in conservation, museum studies, textiles or other related fields are eligible to apply.
For the posts in Director’s rank, the requirement is a bit different. Bachelor’s degree in engineering/ technology or mechanical/electronics or M.Sc in physics/ zoology/ bio-technology/ environmental science with one-year experience in research/design /workshop/teaching or degree in fine/commercial art with at least 5 years experience in exhibition display and visualization is preferable. He should have ‘the expertise on design and development of exhibits, audio-visual demonstrations, teaching aids, etc. development of museums section on various subjects of science and technology, organization of educational programmes for different categories, research on history of science and technology, museum techniques and evaluation of exhibits all pertaining to the developmental activities of the museum/centre and assisting in day-to-day work and administration of the museum/centre’.
As we know, science communication is the art of communicating science to a lay person in a language that he understands. Some employers look for science and technology graduates who will be eligible to hold a specialized position or will be trained as a specialist. But in most of the cases multi skilled, flexible, potential, responsible, dedicated people are preferred.
Practicing science communication is not only exciting but challenging too. Almost all of the newspapers and audio and audio-visual channels have desks devoted to science. So after doing courses on science communication or science journalism, joining national and regional newspapers as well as magazines could be one of the best options. In science communication field, new development can be described for the common people. Therefore, there is a huge scope for science writer in this field. For example, we can mention the freelance writers. They must have the correct sense of what ideas and findings are appropriate for publication. Next, we can mention the writers of science books. They need to have an extensive understanding of and expertise in current issues in science. Science writers have to spread science information to the common masses. They may also write for popular specialized science magazines or video magazines in different channels.
Students may opt for the job of a producer of science programmes in radio, television or that of a documentary or feature film maker.
Another option is to be a science communication officer in national and regional based science research centres, laboratories, NGOs, public administration, cultural institutes.
Similarly one can opt for the job of the web master of internet portals, public relations officer or member of companies that produce modules, editors, presenters of popularization programmes, copywriter of scientific advertising, etc.
Many scientific institutions like Indian Institute of Science and agricultural universities seek science communication officers to look after the institute’s science communication needs and keep relations with their target audience.
Origin of this discipline: Science communication as a discipline was emerged in the mid 20th century. This discipline was started in the United States and in Europe as Sociology of Science. In his book ‘Science in Society: an introduction to Social Studies of Science’ Prof. Massimiano Bucchi (2004) says regarding the origin of sociology of science. He states ‘ It has been often noted that sociology discovered science as a specific object of enquiry somewhat belatedly. Although the first studies were produced in the late 1940s, it was only in 1978 that, for instance, the association of American Sociologists created sections devoted to the sociology of science. In 1976, the journal ‘Science Studies’ changed its name to ‘Social Studies of Science’ and thus became the first specialised journal in this disciplinary area.’
Prof. Robert K Merton, a distinguished American sociologist is unanimously regarded as the founder of this special section of sociology. In 1994, Merton won the National Medal of Science for his contributions to the field and for having founded the sociology of science. Merton was interested in the interactions and importance between social and cultural structures and science. Merton carried out extensive research into the sociology of science, developing the Merton Thesis explaining some of the causes of the Scientific Revolution, and the Mertonian norms of science, often referred to by the acronym "Cudos" (Wiki, 2011).
Science Communication as academic discipline in India: As science communication in India is a new and emerging subject, the students after completing their masters in science communication can go for doctoral programme and can choose college and university teaching jobs or jobs in various research institutes.
Technical writing is another area for placements. Technical writers prepare communication write ups taking inputs from product developers for the users of the products. They must write in a concise and easy-to-read manner for consumer publications or in highly specialized language for experts. With the increasing use of desktop publishing, Technical writers are responsible for the publication process including graphics, layout, and document design. On the other hand there is the option for them to create product instructions, reference and maintenance manuals, articles, project proposals, training materials, technical reports, catalogues, brochures, online documentation and to help systems, web pages, multimedia presentations, parts lists, assembly instructions, and sales promotion materials. A technical writer, who works with an engineer, writes engineering and designing information for common people. Usually he or she has to help a user to understand a product and how to use it. For that, one should know the product and understand its technology well, although he or she may not be an expert. But whatever he writes or says about the field is termed as technical communication. To choose technical writing as a career an interest in science and technology is needed along with the researching skill to collect information through books, internet and sometimes to interview people who are the technological experts in the field. The technical writer should also possess good command over English as well as other job required language. He should know how to present a matter in an easily understandable manner. A technical writer can find work in various firms such as advertising agencies, IT companies, newspapers and magazines, etc. There is no need of formal education in the field of technical communication. Degree (preferably post graduation) or diploma holders preferably in Journalism and mass communication, English literature, science or IT with good language skills can become a technical writer (Dutta, Ray, 2011).
The trained personnel in science communication fields are in great demand. Considering this scenario National Council for Science and Technology Communication (NCSTC), which is a part of DST, Ministry of Science and Technology, Govt. of India has taken some remarkable initiatives. To train the youngsters as skilled science communicators and to equip them to present science and technology information intelligibly and effectively to common people, NCSTC promotes, sponsors and gives financial helps for different courses (short and long term) and programmes to various institutes all over India. Here we will have information on a few institutions where students are offered Science Communication courses at different levels (DST, 2011).
Science Communication courses abroad: Now science communication or science journalism has become one of the emerging mainstream disciplines around the globe. In Australia, there are so many universities that offer science communication courses. For example, University of Western Australia offers Bachelor of Science Communication (www.uwa.edu.au); Australian National University offers Bachelor of Science in Science Communication, graduate level certificate or diploma in Science Communication and Master of Science Communication; Central Queensland University has Master of Science Communication and graduate level certificate /diploma in Science Communication (www.cqu.edu.au).
In the United Kingdom, Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine, London offers M.Sc in Science Communication and Science Media Production (www.imperial.ac.uk); University of the West of England offers MSc in Science Communication (www.uwe.ac.uk); Bristol University has also a course in Science Communication (www.bristol.ac.uk), Institute of Communication Studies of Leeds University offers MA in Science Communication (www.leeds.ac.uk); Bath University offers MSc and Diploma in Science Communication (www.bath.ac.uk); University of Glamorgun, Treftorst offers M.Sc in Communicating Science (www.glam.ac.uk); BirkBeck College, London offers diploma in Science Communication:, (www.bbk.ac.uk); the Open University, Milton Kynes offers MSc in Science (Communicating in Science / science and the public) in distance mode (www.open.ac.uk).
In the United States of America, around 51 universities have been offering various courses in science communication, of which 27 universities offer undergraduate courses in the discipline. In a project report, the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison says that different science communication courses have been offered by various universities, of which these are significant - University of Alaska Fairbanks, Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University, Humboldt State University, University of California, Colorado State University, Johns Hopkins University, University of Florida, University of Georgia, Indiana University, Iowa State University, University of Kansas Loyola, University New Orleans, Johns Hopkins University, Boston University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Michigan State University, University of Minnesota, University of Missouri-Columbia, University of New Mexico, Columbia University, New York University, Ohio State University, Texas A&M University etc (DSC, 2007).
Science Communication Observatory (SCO) of Journalism Study at Pompeu Fabra University, Barcelona offers the Masters in Scientific, Medical and Environment Communication. SCO is linked with public communication of science and technology (PCST) that are active in producing and studying through science journalism, science museum and other related to science in different society issues. (http://www.upf.edu/pcstacademy/PCST_Academy/comite.html).
A project on Directory of Science Communication Courses and Programs has been done by Sharon Dunwoody, School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Wisconsin-Madison. It provides a list on a few U.S. universities, which gives information about commercial or non-profit training options (undergraduate/graduate level) on science communication programs. It is available at http://dsc.journalism.wisc.edu/allEntries.php
Science Communication courses in India
Masters Programme: Bangalore University, Bengaluru offers Master of Science (communication), (www.bub.ernet.in/ [email protected]); Anna University, Chennai has MSc in Science & Technology Communication (www.annauniv.edu); Devi Ahiliya Viswavidyalaya, Indore has MSc in Science Communication (www.dauniv.ac.in); Lucknow University, Lucknow offers MSc in Science Communication (www.lkouniv.ac.in); the Birala Institute of Technology and Science (BITS) and the National Council of Science Museum, Kolkata jointly offer master of science programme in Science Communication ( www.ncsm.org.in).
Diploma/ Certificate programme: Devi Ahiliya Viswavidyalaya, Indore has started PG Diploma in Science Communication through Distance Learning from the academic session 2007-08. Makhanlal Chaturvedi National University of Journalism and Communication, Bhopal (www.mcu.ac.in), and Department of Journalism and Science Communication, Madurai Kamraj University, (www.mkuniversity.org) are offering PG Diploma in Science Communication.
The premier organization of science and technology communication in India, the Indian Science Communication Society (ISCOS) of Lucknow (www.iscos.org) has been offering a one year training programme in Science Journalism through correspondence, online and regular conventional method. Institute of Journalism and New Media, Bangaluru (www.iijnm.org) offers one year course in Science Journalism as an elective course. Centre for Development for Imaging Technology, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala (www.cdit.org) specializes in a course on science and technology communication in electronic media. Science Association of Bengal, Kolkata is conducting a part time course in science journalism during September 2001- January 2002 at Kolkata. A paper on `Science & Environment Communication' has been supported as part of a PG diploma course in `Journalism & Mass Communication' at Visva Bharati, Shantiniketan, West.Bengal A medium term training course in science journalism is being conducted during September-December 2001 at Vigyan Parishad, Allahabad. About 50 budding science writers are participating in the training course.
The National Institute of Science Communication and Information Resources (NISCAIR), New Delhi organizes short term science writing training/ workshop at a regular interval.
Science Communication as a part of Mass Communication Courses: Gadhigram Rural Institute (Deemed University), Gandhigram, Tamilnadu (http://www.ruraluniv.ac.in/Contacts.html), Hyderabad University (www.uohyd.ernet.in/), Purbanchal University, Jaunpur, (purbuniv.edu.np), Gauhati University (www.gauhati.ac.in), Cotton College, Assam are offering Science Journalism or Science Communication as a special paper in the Mass Communication course at post graduate degree or diploma level.
As a new initiative, the School of Journalism and New Media Studies of Indira Gandhi National Open University, New Delhi and the School of Professional Studies of Krishna Kanta Handiqui State Open University, Guwahati are planning to offer science communication courses through open and distance mode.
Technical Writing Courses: In India so many institutions are offering different type of courses on technical writing. Among them, Four-C Content Experts, Bengaluru offers certification in Technical Documentation; Documentation Research and Training Center (D.R.T.C.), Bengaluru offers Associateship in Documentation and Information Science (ADIS); Integrated Quality Training Institute (I.Q.T.I.), Bengaluru has a foundation course in technical writing with the duration of 2 week to 3 months; Stella Maris College, Chennai offers Technical Writing as Elective Subject, T.W.B. Institute of Technical Communication, Bengaluru offers Certification in Technical Documentation and Post Graduate Diploma in Technical Communication; Technowrites Academy, Pune offers fast track Certificate Course in Technical Writing of 3 Months duration; : University of Calicut, Kerala has Technical Writing as Elective Subject. The University of Calicut also offers an optional paper in Technical writing in their Mass Communication and Journalism Course. Xaviers Institute of Communication, Mumbai offers Certification in Technical Documentation. TWIN (Technical Writers of India) and Society for Technical Communication (STC), India have two online services that help Indian technical writers (Dutta,Ray, 2011).
Awards for Science Communicators: The National Council for Science and Technology (NCSTC), Govt. of India has been presenting a few fellowships for individuals/ research scholars and PhD researchers. The National Institute of Science Communication and Information Resources (NISCAIR) offers scholarships for the 2 year course i.e. Associateship in Information Science which is equivalent to Master’s degree in Library and Information Science. At least 50% marks in the aggregate in post graduation or B.E. or M.B.B.S or graduation in any other subject in addition to a graduation degree in Library Science and 1 year experience after successful completion of B. Lib.Sc.
Six categories of National Awards for Science Communication are given to outstanding individuals and institutions on the National Science Day 2008. Special National Award for Commendable Effort in Science & Technology Communication, National Award for Outstanding Effort in Science & Technology Communication through Books and Magazines, Science and Technology Popularization among Children, Translation of Popular Science and Technology Literature, Science and Technology Communication in the Print Medium, Science and Technology Communication in Electronic Media are the prestigious awards given by the Government of India (DST, 2011).
Conclusion: Science in itself is communication. Unless it is communicated, science does not subsist at all. Though it has a very old tradition and history in India but still it is felt as a constrained meadow. There is lack of understanding of how advances in science and technology affect our lives. Science communicators and the media should act as a responsible bridge between scientific development and society. But it does not happen every time. Science communication is such a process where the common message on common science to the common mass is conveyed. It is easy to say but hard to do. Today’s high-tech modern society has become the weapon of revenue generation and the field of journalism is no exception.
Generally, scientists and journalists are expected to write or communicate science to masses with the believe that the scientist knows science and journalist knows communication. But practically a scientist prefers to give more concentration to his research work. Similarly, a typical journalist prefers to report some scoop or sensational stories though there are very few exceptions among them who wish to write on science or any other development related issues. At this point, a trained science communicator appears into the picture to work between science and media. He or she may be a scientist conversant with communication or a journalist acquainted with science.
The Union Govt. of India is trying to develop the status of science communication through various agencies and create human resources for this task. With this objective the National Council for Science and Technology Communication came in to existence. This academic discipline is now popular not only in the developed nations but also in various developing countries. In India, it should be started in most of the institutions as an emerging discipline by the higher educational agencies such as University Grants Commissions, Distance Education Council etc. It should be kept in mind that in a country like India, it is rare to find common masses being imbued with a scientific temperament because science is not understood by them; even though they may be aware of or inquisitive about the latest scientific and technological development. Science still remains a subject of academic discourse confined to the class room and continues to maintain to a wide gulf from the common people.
(Previously published in the University News, AIU, New Delhi)
*Deputy Director, Multimedia at Krishna Kanta Handiqui State Open University, Guwahati, Assam.
** Assistant Professor in the Dept. of Communication and Journalism, Gauhati University, Guwahati, Assam.
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