Science communication is a discipline that has developed rapidly in theory and in practice since 1995. In Australia, in 1996, the formation of the Centre for the Public Awareness of Science (CPAS) at the Australian National University (ANU) heralded the start of the science communication movement. The new approach aimed to involve the public more in the processes and culture of science, to create an awareness of what science was attempting to achieve and to cultivate the ‘need to know’ that is the hallmark of good communication.
Science communication has become an important issue of public policy since 1990. It is, however, one of respectable antiquity, dating at least from the origins of the Royal Society in the seventeenth century. For examples of eighteenth and nineteenth century science communication see Further Reading on Wikipedia. Indeed, it has been argued that the purpose of the Royal Society was one of communication, to assist in the application of the ‘New Philosophy’ to the defence of the Realm, most particularly by way of the Royal Navy.
It is commonly accepted that there are five general categories for the arguments that can be made for the importance of communicating science:
- the economic argument (the contribution science can make to the national economy and individual wealth)
- the utilitarian argument (people owe much of their health and well-being to scientific invention)
- the democratic argument (to be fully informed enfranchises people)
- the cultural argument (the best science is, in company with the best of other areas endeavour, high art)
- the social argument (at every evolutionary stage – stone, bronze, iron, industrial, biological – science underpins the evolution of society).