Does astronomy really inspire and change perspectives? – A randomized controlled study of an astronomy outreach program

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