Author: Ramasamy Venugopal – International Astronomical Union’s Office of Astronomy for Development, Cape Town, South Africa

Astronomy is one of the most appealing topics in Science. From time immemorial, humans have been pondering questions about the origin of the universe, life outside Earth etc. As the field has progressed, bigger and bigger investments have been necessary for further breakthroughs. These investments have become harder to justify, especially for developing countries who are pouring money into the field in order to attract students to STEM as well as generate exciting science. (As one observer put it, “a blackhole somewhere in space is not going to put food on my table”). Even the various spin-off technologies produced by Astronomy research are insufficient justification.

The Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD) was setup in South Africa to mobilize the human and financial resources to use Astronomy as a tool to tackle the biggest challenges of the world. The OAD is working with experts from astronomy as well as a number of social science fields to contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

This poster will describe some of the methods employed by the OAD when communicating this (fairly new) idea of using Astronomy for Development. As we have discovered, people find it rather difficult to connect Astronomy with development issues. It is frequently confused with the development of the field of Astronomy, especially when communicating with non-native English speakers. In describing our work, we have found it quite useful to first inspire the public with the grandeur of the universe and to connect with them emotionally. Even when the details are not clear to them, people are excited by the big idea and the possibilities. We use examples and stories of communities and people whose lives have been changed by the OAD. Through this visual talk, I also want to engage with the scicomm community on their experiences.

The author has not yet submitted a copy of the full paper.

Presentation type: Visual talk
Theme: Stories
Area of interest: Applying science communication research to practice

Author: Ramasamy Venugopal – International Astronomical Union’s Office of Astronomy for Development, Cape Town, South Africa

Our modern, technological world owes much to science research and investment. But in the recent past, science has alienated itself from the public and public support for science is dwindling in several countries. The relevance of pure science research is being increasingly questioned. Curiosity about the natural world is no longer an accepted justification for science investments.

Recently, a handful of organizations from various disciplines (Physics for Development, Data for development, Astronomy for Development) have taken the lead on using and shaping scientific knowledge and expertise to contribute to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Using science to directly impact on the world’s biggest challenges could both bolster the public view of science and scientists as well as bring science closer to the people.

Since 2011, our team at the Office of Astronomy for Development has been operating in the above-mentioned space, coordinating projects that use astronomy to benefit society. Anecdotally, we have encountered public appreciation but also confusion (Astronomy FOR development is frequently confused with development of the field of Astronomy). Communicating ‘Astronomy for development’ also requires a balance between messages on its applications, skills, research etc. All fields of science can contribute to the SDGs. Thus, science communicators and their respective fields stand to benefit from appropriating the science for development angle. Adopting such a narrative and making it mainstream, in turn, influences and will be influenced by policy makers and the scientists.

I would like to discuss the challenges, risks and rewards of pushing the idea of science for development. How does it influence policy, research and perceptions of science? Communicating science for development also requires an understanding of development and requires interactions and collaborations with associated fields such as economics, behavioural sciences, human rights, health etc. thus potentially broadening the scope of science communication.

The author has not yet submitted a copy of the full paper.

Presentation type: Idea in progress
Theme: Society
Area of interest: Influencing policies through science communication

Author: Ramasamy Venugopal – International Astronomical Union’s Office of Astronomy for Development, Cape Town, South Africa

Kodai Fukushima – Hosei University, Tokyo, Japan

Astronomy and Space topics are perceived as holding universal fascination. It is widely considered that exposure to such topics inspires people, changes their perspective and leads to an uptake in science and STEM subjects. Stargazing parties, public astronomy talks and other astronomy/space events constitute some of the most common, public, scicomm events around the world. Astronomy communicators and astronomers frequently engage with children and the general public to teach, demonstrate, and talk about Astronomy. But very rarely is the impact of such communication evaluated rigorously and scientifically. There is a need for more rigorous evaluation methods which would reveal the successes and failures of current methods and tools of astronomy communication and whether they might lead to any inadvertent harm.

In this presentation, I will share our team’s implementation of a pilot Randomized Controlled Trial carried out in Cape Town, South Africa to test whether exposure to an astronomy intervention affects empathy and altruism in children (that is, whether astronomy induces a perspective of ‘One Global Humanity’, espoused by Carl Sagan and often quoted by astronomy communicators). The analysis of the data was carried out by an independent team based in USA. The pilot ‘s main objective was to demonstrate that it is possible to use such methods to evaluate the impact of science communication in an inexpensive manner. And encourage other projects funded by the office to carry out their own evaluations. We are also developing a Trial Handbook as a guide for others who can repeat this particular experiment.

Presentation type: Show, tell and talk
Theme: Science
Area of interest: Investigating science communication practices