Science news in the case of cognitive scientist Marc Hauser. He was accused last year with research misconduct about the ability of non-human primates, the rhesus monkeys. Today Science has published a partial replication of that study that appears to confirm the original findings. The results of this confirmed the original study. But, The Boston Global reported that Hauser will not be allowed to teach during the 2011-12 academic year.
If we look at scientists’ roles as institutionalized in the 19th and 20th centuries, communication with lay audiences has not been evaluated as a serious scientific activity. Naturally, there have always been star scientists, but apart from the small number of unquestionable professional authorities (like Einstein, the Curies or Richard Dawkins), they were at best ranked as exhibitionists, who leave the domain of science in order to popularize it. However, the past couple of decades have brought about a new phenomenon unfolding in the world of research workers in developed economies: it is increasingly inevitable for a scientific institution or a scientist involved in research to appear in the media. In order to finance their work, justify its social benefits, and gain social support, they have to confirm and demonstrate the value of their activity through the mass media – because it is mass media that exerts a monopolistic influence on decision makers.
An even more innovative interface for the communication of content on scientific themes is provided by a development of the past couple of years, the wave of community and video-sharing applications on the internet (a phenomenon also referred to as Web 2.0), which is capable of “democratizing” science beyond the value field of the scientific community. On the one hand, well-organized “alternative” scientific movements can exert their effects practically without obstacles in the world of blogs, forums, and community sites (they have a rather intolerant internet-based culture). This is possible thanks to the nature of the internet medium: the avant-garde impetus of the new medium supports the alternative players who act against petrified structures, institutions and authorities, and, moreover, there aren’t standardized systems that verify or monitor the accuracy and values of content. On the other hand, as a result of the increasingly popular video-sharing applications, images have returned to active media use, which increases the demand for the visualization of scientific content (about it see: Luc Pauwels (ed.), Visual Cultures of Science). There is even more at stake here compared to the effect of television, as the greater part of users is a primary target audience for scientific knowledge: members of young and highly qualified groups.
The authority has a central role in the reception of scientific media products and, more generally, in the position of science in society. In the world of the new media, this role is even more underlined, because content is built by the community, by the users. Here the credibility of science can be defended not by rules or power, but in two other ways.
On one hand, science has to take pride in its tradition and ambition to pursue truth. I know this runs against the postmodern, relativist and social constructivist mainstream of humanities and politics, but it characterizes the real working of science. Of course, the power of the media and politics (like it happened in the era of Nazism or Maoism) can force science to surrender the classic Humboldt–Vannevar Bush model of the autonomy of science. I am sure that science has theoretical and practical arguments to use in this fight.
On the other hand, the prestigious science and scientists have to become competitive in the new media. That means they have to communicate with laypeople and give answers to their reasonable questions, and have to be open for this discourse. In short, we need media-able science, not medialized science.
Shapin wrote: “The differentiation and specialization of science meant that scientific knowledge no longer enjoyed a matter of course place in general culture. Yet, that same differentiation created an opportunity for the explicit ‘popularization of science’” ( Shapin, Steven 1990. Science and the public In: R. C. Olby, G.N. Cantor, J.R.R Christie, J. Hodge (eds.) Companion to the History of Modern Science. London: Routledge p. 990-1007)
The current radical changes of media use are characterized by a number of technical facts: the increasing speed of data transfer, the flaring of mobility, increasing visualization capacity and rising levels of penetration. We also see the convergence of info communication tools: netbooks and smartphones represent the two directions of this, offering new solutions for science communication. Scientists operate virtual research networks and workshops, write science blogs and construct a virtual encyclopedia; scientific content can be watched on video sharing sites (like you tube etc.); so-called Web 2.0 knowledge bases are being built (e.g. Wikipedia). Increasingly advanced visualizations are used within and without scientific forums, including those about research and science policy. We see the rise of sciencetaintment, a new type of infotainment. Visual and digital effects are used in education with digital blackboards.
I think what these developments offer for science communication is a direct channel (first of all to youth), looping the conventional media structure. This is the new “programming” for science and a fortunate meeting of two processes. Scientific content is given less and less time and space in the conventional media, so it needs to look for other ways. Youth and intellectuals are increasingly leaving the broadcast media and the printed press and shift to mobile and networked media in Hungary. This creates an opportunity for science communication to build a meeting place with credible and high quality content and user-friendly solutions for science and these media-dissidents.