Royal Society Science Essay Samples

On a damp weeknight in late November in 1660, a dozen men gathered in rooms at Gresham College in London to listen to a lecture, on astronomy, by a 28-year-old whizz kid called Christopher Wren. The talk clearly went well, for the group decided to formalise future meetings and to continue to pursue common interests – in experiments, in natural philosophy and in the gathering of "useful knowledge". Thus the Royal Society – "the most venerable learned society in the world and its finest club," according to Bryson – was born, mainly out of the desire of a few affluent dilettantes to hobnob with one another.

The idea of the society met with the approval of Charles II, who granted it a royal charter, though the society might still have ended in obscurity had not its first members insisted on some strikingly rigorous and far-sighted rules. They made English, not Latin, their primary language; they insisted on carrying out careful, systemised experiments; and – most important of all – they checked out one another's work, thus inventing peer review, the keystone of modern scientific endeavour.

The long-term impact of these guidelines, which brought clarity and transparency to science, has been extraordinary. Over its 350-year history, a total of 8,200 individuals have been members of the society; they include Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, James Watt, Alexander Fleming and John Locke. If you want proof that Britain's got talent, the Royal Society is truly the place to look. At present, it has 1,400 fellows, selected from the best scientists and engineers in the UK and Commonwealth. Of these, 69 are Nobel prize winners. When the society utters, we should listen.

Yet this was not always the case. For much of its history, the Royal Society was concerned less with the impact of science than it was with the minutiae of academic procedure. Indeed, only in the past few decades has it demonstrated real political clout, particularly with the election of Bob May as president in 2000. An Australian-born mathematician, his robust pronouncements on GM crops, climate change and natural selection helped bring rationality to debates that could otherwise have become lost scientific causes. Today, the Royal Society is as influential an organisation as it has ever been. Hence the anniversary celebrations planned for 2010, Bryson's book being a foretaste.

Made up of 21 essays, plus a Bryson introduction, the book contains a glittering array of scientific writing talent. These include an analysis by Margaret Atwood of the myth of the mad scientist; geologist Richard Fortey on the virtues of good specimen collecting; Richard Dawkins outlining Darwin's precise contribution to the development of the theory of natural selection; and Steve Jones expounding on the mysteries of biodiversity.

So why does Seeing Further turn out to be a bit of a disappointment? It has certainly been put together with care. It should be a page-turner. Yet it is hobbled by major flaws. For a start, there is no discernible pace or structure to the assembling of its essays. The book is also low, to the point of non-appearance, in human interest and is just a little bit too smug for its own good.

Then there is the creeping feeling of worthiness that slowly envelops the reader, as you encounter, again and again, noble minds revealing the wonders of nature. It is like reading a piece of upmarket vanity publishing. I wanted to like it more but couldn't. It is not that Seeing Further is bad. It is just that it is not good enough. The Royal Society, in keeping with its remarkable origins, needs something more special than this.

"Public understanding of science" redirects here. For the journal, see Public Understanding of Science.

Public awareness of science (PAwS), public understanding of science (PUS), or more recently, Public Engagement with Science and Technology (PEST) are terms relating to the attitudes, behaviours, opinions, and activities that comprise the relations between the general public or lay society as a whole to scientific knowledge and organisation. It is a comparatively new approach to the task of exploring the multitude of relations and linkages science, technology, and innovation have among the general public.[1] While earlier work in the discipline had focused on augmenting public knowledge of scientific topics, in line with the information deficit model of science communication, the discrediting of the model has led to an increased emphasis on how the public chooses to use scientific knowledge and on the development of interfaces to mediate between expert and lay understandings of an issue.[example needed]

Major themes[edit]

The area integrates a series of fields and themes such as:

  • Science communication in the mass media, Internet, radio and television programmes
  • Science museums, aquaria, planetaria, zoological parks, botanical gardens, etc.
  • Public controversies over science and technology
  • Fixed and mobile science exhibits
  • Science festivals
  • Science fairs in schools and social groups
  • Science education for adults
  • Science and social movements
  • Media and science (medialisation of science)
  • Consumer education
  • Citizen science
  • Public tours of research and development (R&D) parks, manufacturing companies, etc.
  • Science in popular culture
  • Science in text books and classrooms
  • Science and art

How to raise public awareness and public understanding of science and technology, and how the public feels and knows about science in general, and specific subjects, such as genetic engineering, bioethics, etc., are important lines of research in this area.

The Bodmer report[edit]

The publication of the Royal Society's' report The Public Understanding of Science[2] (or Bodmer Report) in 1985 is widely held to be the birth of the Public Understanding of Science movement in Britain.[3] The report led to the foundation of the Committee on the Public Understanding of Science and a cultural change in the attitude of scientists to outreach activities.[4]

The contextualist model[edit]

In the 1990s, a new perspective emerged in the field with the classic study of Cumbrian Sheep Farmers' interaction with the Nuclear scientists in England, where Brian Wynne demonstrated how the experts were ignorant or disinterested in taking into account the lay knowledge of the sheep farmers while conducting field experiments on the impact of the Chernobyl Nuclear fall out on the sheep in the region.[5] Because of this shortcoming from the side of the scientists, local farmers lost their trust in them. The experts were unaware of the local environmental conditions and the behaviour of sheep and this has eventually led to the failure of their experimental models. Following this study, scholars have studies similar micro-sociological contexts of expert-lay interaction and proposed that the context of knowledge communication is important to understand public engagement with science. Instead of large scale public opinion surveys, researchers proposed studies informed by Sociology of Scientific Knowledge (SSK). The contextualist model focuses on the social impediments in the bidirectional flow of scientific knowledge between experts and laypersons/communities.

The deliberative turn[edit]

The scholarly debate on public engagement with science developed further into analyzing the deliberations on science through various institutional forms, with the help of the theory of deliberative democracy. Public deliberation of and participation in science practiced through public spheres became a major emphasis. Scholars like Sheila Jasanoff argues for wider public deliberation on science in democratic societies which is a basic condition for decision making regarding science and technology.[6] There are also attempts to develop more inclusive participatory models of technological governance in the form of consensus conferences, citizen juries, extended peer reviews, and deliberative mapping.[7]

Measuring public understanding of science[edit]

Social scientists use various metrics to measure public understanding of science, including:

1. Factual knowledge[edit]

Examples of measurement:[edit]

  • Recognition: Answering a specific question by selecting the correct answer out a list[8]
  • Cued Recall: Answering a specific question without a list of choices [8]
  • Free Recall: After exposure to information, the study participant produces a list of as much of the information as they can remember [8]

Key assumptions:[edit]

  • The more individual pieces of information a person is able to retrieve, the more that person is considered to have learned [8]

2. Self-reported knowledge, perceived knowledge, or perceived familiarity[edit]

Examples of measurement:[edit]

  • Scaled survey responses to questions such as "How well informed you would say you are about this topic?"[9]

Key assumptions:[edit]

  • Emphasizes the value of knowledge of one’s knowledge [9]

3. Structural knowledge:[edit]

The nature of connections among different pieces of information in memory [8]

Examples of measurement:[edit]

  • Asking study participants to assess relationships among concepts. For example, participants free recall concepts onto the first row and column of a matrix, then indicate whether the concepts are related to each other by placing an “X” in the cell if they are not. Participants then rank the remaining open cells by their relatedness from 1 (only very weakly) to 7 (very strongly related) [8]
  • Study participants answer questions designed to measure elaboration involved in a task, such as “I tried to relate the ideas I read about to my own past experiences” [8]

Key Assumptions:[edit]

  • The use of elaboration increases the likelihood of remembering information [8]

Mixed use of the three measures[edit]

  • While some studies purport that factual and perceived knowledge can be viewed as the same construct, a 2012 study investigating public knowledge of nanotechnology supports separating their use in communications research, as they “do not reflect the same underlying knowledge structures." [9] Correlations between them were found to be low, and they were not predicted by the same factors. For example different types of science media use (television versus online) predicted different constructs [9]
  • Factual knowledge has been shown to be empirically distinct from structural knowledge [8]

Project examples[edit]

Government and private-led campaigns and events, such as Dana Foundation's "Brain Awareness Week," are becoming a strong focus of programmes which try to promote public awareness of science.

The UK PAWS Foundation dramatically went as far as establishing a Drama Fund with the BBC in 1994. The purpose was to encourage and support the creation of new drama for television, drawing on the world of science and technology.[10]

The Vega Science Trust[11] was set up in 1994 to promote science through the media of television and the internet with the aim of giving scientists a platform from which to communicate to the general public.

The Simonyi Professorship for the Public Understanding of Science chair at The University of Oxford was established in 1995 for the ethologistRichard Dawkins[12] by an endowment from Charles Simonyi. Mathematician Marcus du Sautoy has held the chair since Dawkins' retirement in 2008.[13] Similar professorships have since been created at other British universities. Professorships in the field have been held by well-known academics including Richard Fortey and Kathy Sykes at the University of Bristol, Brian Cox at Manchester University, Tanya Byron at Edge Hill University, Jim Al-Khalili at the University of Surrey and Alice Roberts at the University of Birmingham.

See also[edit]


Further reading[edit]

  • Bensaude-vincent, Bernadette (2001). "A Genealogy of the Increasing Gap between Science and the Public". Public Understanding of Science. 10 (1): 99–113. doi:10.1088/0963-6625/10/1/307. 
  • Bijker, Wiebe E., Bal, Roland and Hendriks, Ruud. 2009. The Paradox of Scientific Authority: The Role of Scientific Advice in Democracies. Cambridge and London: The MIT Press.
  • Bucchi, Massimiano (1996). "When Scientists Turn to the Public: Alternative Routes in Science Communication". Public Understanding of Science. 5 (4): 375–394. 
  • Dash, Biswanath (2014a). "Public Understanding of Cyclone Warning in India: Can Wind be Predicted?". Public Understanding of Science. 24 (8): 1–18. 
  • Davenport, Sally and Leitch, Shirley. 2005. “Agoras, Ancient and Modern, and a Framework for Science-Society Debate”, Science and Public Policy 32(2), April, pp. 137–153.
  • Dryzek, John S. 2000. Deliberative Democracy and Beyond: Liberals, Critics, Contestations. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Felt, Ulrike; Fochler, Maximilian (2010). "Machineries for Making Publics: Inscribing and De-scribing Publics in Public Engagement". Minerva. 48 (3): 219–239. doi:10.1007/s11024-010-9155-x. 
  • Fischer, Frank. 2005. Citizens, Experts, and the Environment. Durham: Duke University Press.
  • Gregory, Jane & Miller, Steve (1998); Science in Public: Communication, Culture & Credibility (Cambridge, Massachusetts USA: Perseus Publishing)
  • Hess, David J (2011). "To Tell the Truth: On Scientific Counter Publics". Public Understanding of Science. 20 (5): 627–641. doi:10.1177/0963662509359988. 
  • Hilgartner, Stephen (1990). "The Dominant View of Popularisation: Conceptual Problems, Political Uses". Social Studies of Science. 20 (3): 519–539. doi:10.1177/030631290020003006. 
  • Irwin, Alan and Wynne, Brian. (eds.) 1996. Misunderstanding Science? The Public Reconstruction of Science and Technology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Irwin, Alan. 1995. Citizen Science: A Study of People, Expertise and Sustainable Development. London and New York: Routledge.
  • Jasanoff, Sheila (2003c). "Technologies of Humility: Citizen Participation in Governing Science". Minerva. 41 (3): 223–244. 
  • Jasanoff, Sheila. 2005. Designs on Nature: Science and Democracy in Europe and the United States. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.
  • Leach, Melissa, Scoones, Ian and Wynne, Brian. (eds.) 2005. Science and Citizens: Globalisation and the Challenge of Engagement. London and New York: Zed Books.
  • Public Understanding of Science, specialist journal.
  • Shapin, Steven. 1990. ‘Science and the Public’ in R.C. Olby et al. (eds). Companion to the History of Modern Science. London and New York: Routledge. Pp. 990–1007.
  • The Royal Academy of Science's 2006 "Factors affecting science communication: a survey of scientists and engineers" report.
  • Southwell, Brian G. (2013). "Social Networks and Popular Understanding of Science and Health". Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Southwell, Brian G.; Torres, Alicia (2006). "Connecting interpersonal and mass communication: Science news exposure, perceived ability to understand science, and conversation". Communication Monographs. 73 (3): 334–350. doi:10.1080/03637750600889518. 
  • Varughese, Shiju Sam (2012). "Where are the missing masses? The Quasi-publics and Non-publics of Technoscience". Minerva. 50 (2): 239–254. doi:10.1007/s11024-012-9197-3. 
  • Varughese, Shiju Sam (2017). Contested Knowledge: Science, Media, and Democracy in Kerala. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199469123.001.0001. 

External links[edit]

Look up divulgation in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
  1. ^Savaget, Paulo; Acero, Liliana (2017). "Plurality in understandings of innovation, sociotechnical progress and sustainable development: An analysis of OECD expert narratives". Public Understanding of Science. doi:10.1177/0963662517695056. 
  2. ^The Royal Society. "The Public Understanding of Science". The Royal Society. Retrieved 11 October 2015. 
  3. ^[permanent dead link]
  4. ^"House of Lords - Science and Technology - Third Report". 
  5. ^Wynne, Brian (1996). "Misunderstood Misunderstandings: Social Identities and the Public Uptake of Science". In Alan Irwin and Brian Wynne. Misunderstanding Science? The Public Reconstruction of Science and Technology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 19–46. 
  6. ^Jasanoff, Sheila (2003). "Breaking the Waves in Science Studies: Comment on H.M. Collins and Robert Evans, 'The Third Wave of Science Studies'". Social Studies of Science. 33 (3): 389–400. doi:10.1177/03063127030333004. 
  7. ^Lövbrand, Eva, Roger Pielke, Jr. and Silke Beck (2011). "A Democracy Paradox in Studies of Science and Technology". Science, Technology and Human Values. 36 (4): 474–496. doi:10.1177/0162243910366154. 
  8. ^ abcdefghiEveland, William. "How Web Site Organization Influences Free Recall, Factual Knowledge, and Knowledge Structure Density". Human Communications Research. 30 (2): 208–233. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2958.2004.tb00731.x. 
  9. ^ abcdLadwig, Peter. "Perceived familiarity or factual knowledge? Comparing operationalizations of scientific understanding". Science and Public Policy. 39: 761–774. doi:10.1093/scipol/scs048. 
  10. ^"PAWS off science?". Physics Education. 33 (1). January 1998. doi:10.1088/0031-9120/33/1/011. 
  11. ^"The Vega Science Trust - Science Video - Homepage". 
  12. ^"Professor Richard Dawkins - The Simonyi Professorship". Archived from the original on 2011-05-14. 
  13. ^"Professor Marcus du Sautoy - The Simonyi Professorship". Archived from the original on 2010-05-31. 


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