Increasing Public Engagement with Science

“We in Ireland we are proud of our reputation for creativity, for originality and for our unique and imaginative view of the world.”(Higgins, 2012)

This summer Ireland hosted the Euroscience Open Forum. This science conference had speakers from all aspects of the scientific community. From those who study the basic structure of the Universe, like Rolf-Dieter Heuer, to food specialists such as Hervé This. It is this diverse nature of science we need to communicate to the public.

Ireland has a strong tradition in art and literature, which is championed both by citizens living at home and the diaspora living in many countries around the world. We have a number of theatres in Dublin dedicated to showing the works of Irish playwrights. The work of W.B. Yeats is taught to everyone from the age of twelve upwards, but, as President Michael D. Higgins said in the opening ceremony of ESOF 2012, not many people “would mention prominent parts of the Irish intellectual achievement such as Bell’s Theorem, or the development of fibre optics in communication, or the splitting of the atom, or the Beaufort Scale, or the effectiveness of the mariner’s compass or the many other inventive and forward thinking achievements which owe their success to the innovation, creativity and original thinking of talented Irish scientists”. (Higgins, 2012)

It is vitally important, to the future of Ireland, that our citizens equally understand the role and position of science within our society as they do the role of the arts.

Firstly, we should understand our place in the history of Science and its development. To this end I would put forward the following proposals:

–          Launch a Science Museum to showcase the inventions and discoveries of the Irish science communities: This may be initially set up within the environment of the National Museum and, if successful, spun out into its own location.

–          Commission radio, television and web series that detail the history of Irish science: RTE have stated in their latest Public Service Statement that it ”will reflect and nurture traditional and contemporary Irish cultural expression and seek to inform a greater understanding of the wider world.” (RTE, 2010). A series showing the history of Irish science would fall under this policy.

–          Create local points of historical scientific interest in each county: Recruit people to fully research and explain the history, geology and science of the county. This can be done by working in conjunction with companies already in operation, like Ingenious Ireland.

Following on from this, we should encourage the public to engage with science. I would propose the following:

–          Family-friendly astronomy nights:  Organize astronomy sessions around events like the Perseid meteor showers. Have science communicators available to explain the stars/meteors and planets that are visible in the sky. In order to appeal to families have the area well staked out, have hot drinks available and communicators that specialize in teaching children.

–          Expand the Science Gallery: I would propose that the gallery exhibitions tour the major cities. Gallery spaces can be located in each city and procured for a short time to showcase the exhibits. This would allow more people to see a more immediate, practical and artistic side of science.

–          Expand Science & Math week: I propose having two weeks a year dedicated to Science & Math. One in the spring and one in the autumn. In addition to the activities aimed at children, there should be adult science-based events, perhaps commissioning science-literate comedians/playwrights etc. to produce programming.

–          Lectures: A series of public lectures should be organized with the current top Irish scientists and held at each university. If possible, these should be recorded and made available as a web series.
 

This country contributed greatly to the progression of science, with many of the major theories coming from Irish people.  Our future lies in the technology and scientific field.    

It is important that we engage with all elements of the public, from the very young to the very old, in order to progress the understanding of science, and its place, in this country.

I believe the best way to do this is through the above policy of education and active engagement.

Works Cited:
Higgins, M. D. (2012, July 11). Opening Ceremony of the Euroscience Open Forum Conference. Euroscience Open Forum, 1. Dublin, Ireland.

RTE. (2010). Public Service Statement. Dublin: RTE.

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Increasing Public Engagement with Science