The background of this chapter belongs to the scientific domain known as Science-Technology-Society studies (STS studies). Though its boundaries are still uncertain, this multidisciplinary research tradition has become significantly and progressively relevant over the last decade because of the increased stake citizens have in science, research and innovation, in a time of strong and still ongoing deep social changes in Europe [see Siune et al. 2009 as a reference for EU Framework Programme VII]. From a theoretical point of view, STS approach offers some useful critical tools to answer the controversial assumptions of Scientific Literacy and Public Understanding of Science research traditions, particularly the technocratic and paternalistic approaches somehow inspired to what Hilgartner [1990], among the first, critically discussed as «knowledge deficit» model. These works share the idea that citizens suffer from a severe lack of knowledge on scientific and technological issues, often this deficit having been emphasized by a misleading media coverage [Bucchi 2006]. Such a situation renders the so-called lay public open to concerns and fears, which are not based on reality, having been certified by experts as «excessive, unmotivated or irrational» [Hansen et al. 2003: 111]. To sum up, people look with aversion and suspicion upon many research fields, and technical and scientific products, because of ignorance or ethically based beliefs. Had they been adequately «educated», they could not help coming around to the position of the experts, leaving fear and hostility behind. Within this framework, the main effort of the scientific community is to analyse how lay versions of scientific theories (i.e. Moscovici’s Social Representations) blossom and grow, planning suitable strategies to possibly change negative attitudes towards technoscience: it is the field of «science popularization» [Farr 1993]. Over the last years, many works have questioned this approach, paving the way for at least three orders of problems: 1) the «right» place of technoscience in contemporary societies; 2) the role of scientists and citizens respectively in a new, turbulent and fragmented societal scenario; 3) the communication of science, from the old «transmission» model to new forms of «transactions» actively involving the scientific community as well as political institutions, industry players, lobbies and end-users, with the increased attention for debate and participation in technoscientific processes. First comes the question of what is the place of science in relation to society. The «deficit» model usually assumes scientific knowledge as a genuine, pure and superior form of knowledge, grown apart from the common sense, a lesser form of knowledge spread out among lay public. In contrast to this assumption, according to the long-lasting tradition of Sociology of Scientific Knowledge (SSK), authors such as Latour [1987] and Hilgartner [1990] have underlined the point that scientific and technical facts and artefacts are produced by collective socially-based processes. By saying this, they are drawing the image of science as a social construction, criticising the Polanyi’s independent Republic of Science [1962], where science appears as a «black box» removed from everyday life. In other words, the place of science in relation to society has been shifted from «apart» to «inside». So, while discarding the paternalistic approach, the public debate on STS becomes more focused on how technoscience and society influence each other, leading to challenges, tensions, conflicts and, hopefully, new forms of cooperation. As a consequence, the most relevant phenomenon affecting Science-Society relationship probably deals, on the one hand, with the uprising tension between a science still asking to look into society and, on the other hand, with a society increasingly interested in opening the «Pandora’s box» of technoscience. It is primarily a question of old roles changing profoundly and very rapidly, as well as of new roles that appear on the scene. This leads us to the second point of the above-mentioned list. As highlighted in some important studies, this means that science in general, and in particular its activities, products and community, have been subject to an unprecedented in-depth investigation by a wide number of social stakeholders. The main issues are addressed to a) ethics, values and social responsibility of science; b) politics and policy-making processes concerning or involving science and technology; c) economy and fund-raising strategies; d) education and young researchers training; e) social inequalities and differences (gender and generation); f) popularization and public relations (dissemination and mass media). The six dimensions briefly mentioned above focus the very heart of the discussion on the role of the producers of scientific knowledge. In such a changing social context, with public opinion asking for more engagement in science - though it is still not so clear what such an umbrella term really means [Siune et al. 2009: 37] - the right of the scientific community to support its own point of view, and to hope for a more educated public on scientific topics, can’t help accepting public debate dynamics [Bucchi 2006]. One of the more evident consequences of this change directly affects the way lay public relates to scientists and researchers, progressively less «treated as somehow removed from the common culture», as someone who has «some special insight into every problem», having attained the «pinnacle» of a «superior form of knowledge» [Einsiedel 1992: 90-91]. Recent studies [Hansen et al. 2003] have actually demonstrated that even in controversies or conflicts (such the ones about stem cells, GMO, unwanted energy and/or waste treatment plants, and so on) a sort of general trust in science as a whole - somehow not so far from what Giddens [1990] has called «ontological security» - is rarely lacking among lay public. On the contrary, a significant lack affects the perceived trustworthiness of some scientific representatives, not always seen as the independent opinion leaders that a naive idea of science still tends to suggest. The third and final point concerns to the key role of science communication to bridge the gap between scientific knowledge and common sense, heading towards a model of public engagement based on an open, lay and multidirectional communication process between Science and Society. Works adopting this new approach have stated that, in the Internet era, it is totally misleading to refer to the target of science communication processes in the singular «public», because of the multiple configurations public stakeholder can assume depending on the topic [Felt et al. 2007 ; Siune et al. 2009]. From the empirical perspective, social scientists have been increasingly looking into science communication, especially over the last decade. In 2006, the Royal Society carried out a survey study on the factors affecting researchers’ dissemination activities. In France, extensive studies on researchers’ annual reports have been conducted to analyse the popularization practices of French scientists [Jensen et al. 2008 ; Jensen 2011]. In Italy, the group of social scientists gathered at the Observa-Science in Society, a non-profit independent research centre based in Vicenza, Northeast of Italy, has been publishing since 2005, on a yearly basis, an interesting report, the Annuario Scienza e Società, probably the most complete and updated data and information source on the relationship between Italians, science and technology [Observa 2008-2012]. This is the most authoritative source for those who aim at reconstructing, also longitudinal-wise, the general context in Italy in respect of: the relationships between public opinion and the main technoscientific issues within the national public debate; the image and reputation of science and its producers; the media coverage of the most topical scientific issues. As to the potentialities of the above-mentioned studies, which represent just the tip of a wider and more heterogeneous whole, this work aims at complementing them by circumscribing the area of research to a local environment (the metropolitan area of the city of Turin, regional capital of Piedmont, in Northwest Italy). The reason underlying this choice, which will be discussed in detail in the following paragraph, is related to methodological and practical reasons: in short, this study points at focusing some of the most topical phenomena characterising the controversial relationship between Science and Society in a clearer way, compared to national or supranational generalist studies, using Turin as a case-study. The choice of this city is not a casual one, as Turin has often been at the forefront of the social, financial, political and technoscientific fields, as well as a forerunner of trends to be found on a large scale at a later stage.

Communicating science in turbulent times: focus on Turin, Italy

TIPALDO, Giuseppe
2013-01-01

Abstract

The background of this chapter belongs to the scientific domain known as Science-Technology-Society studies (STS studies). Though its boundaries are still uncertain, this multidisciplinary research tradition has become significantly and progressively relevant over the last decade because of the increased stake citizens have in science, research and innovation, in a time of strong and still ongoing deep social changes in Europe [see Siune et al. 2009 as a reference for EU Framework Programme VII]. From a theoretical point of view, STS approach offers some useful critical tools to answer the controversial assumptions of Scientific Literacy and Public Understanding of Science research traditions, particularly the technocratic and paternalistic approaches somehow inspired to what Hilgartner [1990], among the first, critically discussed as «knowledge deficit» model. These works share the idea that citizens suffer from a severe lack of knowledge on scientific and technological issues, often this deficit having been emphasized by a misleading media coverage [Bucchi 2006]. Such a situation renders the so-called lay public open to concerns and fears, which are not based on reality, having been certified by experts as «excessive, unmotivated or irrational» [Hansen et al. 2003: 111]. To sum up, people look with aversion and suspicion upon many research fields, and technical and scientific products, because of ignorance or ethically based beliefs. Had they been adequately «educated», they could not help coming around to the position of the experts, leaving fear and hostility behind. Within this framework, the main effort of the scientific community is to analyse how lay versions of scientific theories (i.e. Moscovici’s Social Representations) blossom and grow, planning suitable strategies to possibly change negative attitudes towards technoscience: it is the field of «science popularization» [Farr 1993]. Over the last years, many works have questioned this approach, paving the way for at least three orders of problems: 1) the «right» place of technoscience in contemporary societies; 2) the role of scientists and citizens respectively in a new, turbulent and fragmented societal scenario; 3) the communication of science, from the old «transmission» model to new forms of «transactions» actively involving the scientific community as well as political institutions, industry players, lobbies and end-users, with the increased attention for debate and participation in technoscientific processes. First comes the question of what is the place of science in relation to society. The «deficit» model usually assumes scientific knowledge as a genuine, pure and superior form of knowledge, grown apart from the common sense, a lesser form of knowledge spread out among lay public. In contrast to this assumption, according to the long-lasting tradition of Sociology of Scientific Knowledge (SSK), authors such as Latour [1987] and Hilgartner [1990] have underlined the point that scientific and technical facts and artefacts are produced by collective socially-based processes. By saying this, they are drawing the image of science as a social construction, criticising the Polanyi’s independent Republic of Science [1962], where science appears as a «black box» removed from everyday life. In other words, the place of science in relation to society has been shifted from «apart» to «inside». So, while discarding the paternalistic approach, the public debate on STS becomes more focused on how technoscience and society influence each other, leading to challenges, tensions, conflicts and, hopefully, new forms of cooperation. As a consequence, the most relevant phenomenon affecting Science-Society relationship probably deals, on the one hand, with the uprising tension between a science still asking to look into society and, on the other hand, with a society increasingly interested in opening the «Pandora’s box» of technoscience. It is primarily a question of old roles changing profoundly and very rapidly, as well as of new roles that appear on the scene. This leads us to the second point of the above-mentioned list. As highlighted in some important studies, this means that science in general, and in particular its activities, products and community, have been subject to an unprecedented in-depth investigation by a wide number of social stakeholders. The main issues are addressed to a) ethics, values and social responsibility of science; b) politics and policy-making processes concerning or involving science and technology; c) economy and fund-raising strategies; d) education and young researchers training; e) social inequalities and differences (gender and generation); f) popularization and public relations (dissemination and mass media). The six dimensions briefly mentioned above focus the very heart of the discussion on the role of the producers of scientific knowledge. In such a changing social context, with public opinion asking for more engagement in science - though it is still not so clear what such an umbrella term really means [Siune et al. 2009: 37] - the right of the scientific community to support its own point of view, and to hope for a more educated public on scientific topics, can’t help accepting public debate dynamics [Bucchi 2006]. One of the more evident consequences of this change directly affects the way lay public relates to scientists and researchers, progressively less «treated as somehow removed from the common culture», as someone who has «some special insight into every problem», having attained the «pinnacle» of a «superior form of knowledge» [Einsiedel 1992: 90-91]. Recent studies [Hansen et al. 2003] have actually demonstrated that even in controversies or conflicts (such the ones about stem cells, GMO, unwanted energy and/or waste treatment plants, and so on) a sort of general trust in science as a whole - somehow not so far from what Giddens [1990] has called «ontological security» - is rarely lacking among lay public. On the contrary, a significant lack affects the perceived trustworthiness of some scientific representatives, not always seen as the independent opinion leaders that a naive idea of science still tends to suggest. The third and final point concerns to the key role of science communication to bridge the gap between scientific knowledge and common sense, heading towards a model of public engagement based on an open, lay and multidirectional communication process between Science and Society. Works adopting this new approach have stated that, in the Internet era, it is totally misleading to refer to the target of science communication processes in the singular «public», because of the multiple configurations public stakeholder can assume depending on the topic [Felt et al. 2007 ; Siune et al. 2009]. From the empirical perspective, social scientists have been increasingly looking into science communication, especially over the last decade. In 2006, the Royal Society carried out a survey study on the factors affecting researchers’ dissemination activities. In France, extensive studies on researchers’ annual reports have been conducted to analyse the popularization practices of French scientists [Jensen et al. 2008 ; Jensen 2011]. In Italy, the group of social scientists gathered at the Observa-Science in Society, a non-profit independent research centre based in Vicenza, Northeast of Italy, has been publishing since 2005, on a yearly basis, an interesting report, the Annuario Scienza e Società, probably the most complete and updated data and information source on the relationship between Italians, science and technology [Observa 2008-2012]. This is the most authoritative source for those who aim at reconstructing, also longitudinal-wise, the general context in Italy in respect of: the relationships between public opinion and the main technoscientific issues within the national public debate; the image and reputation of science and its producers; the media coverage of the most topical scientific issues. As to the potentialities of the above-mentioned studies, which represent just the tip of a wider and more heterogeneous whole, this work aims at complementing them by circumscribing the area of research to a local environment (the metropolitan area of the city of Turin, regional capital of Piedmont, in Northwest Italy). The reason underlying this choice, which will be discussed in detail in the following paragraph, is related to methodological and practical reasons: in short, this study points at focusing some of the most topical phenomena characterising the controversial relationship between Science and Society in a clearer way, compared to national or supranational generalist studies, using Turin as a case-study. The choice of this city is not a casual one, as Turin has often been at the forefront of the social, financial, political and technoscientific fields, as well as a forerunner of trends to be found on a large scale at a later stage.
Science, health & environmental communication: Local issues and global perspectives
Ibadan University Press
55
106
9789789329212
Science Communication; Science Technology Society; public engagement with science and technology; Turin; Case Study
G. Tipaldo
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/2318/141342
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