Scientists’ beliefs about science and the public in different cultures

Scientists’ beliefs about science and the public in different cultures

Author: Yin-Yueh Lo – Shih Hsin University, Taiwan

Co-author: Hans Peter Peters – Research Center Juelich, Germany

Scientists were often criticized of assuming a one-way, educational approach in public science communication with superior scientific knowledge flowing from science to a passive lay public suffering from a knowledge “deficit”. However, recent conceptions of science communication emphasize active and diverse publics, discourses involving scientists and laypeople, co-construction of knowledge, and public participation in the governance of S&T – ideas often summarized under the label of “public engagement”. The question arises to what extent scientists have adopted these ideas, some of which may challenge traditional views of scientific autonomy.

This paper provides some answers to this question with a particular focus on cross-cultural differences. Such differences may result from a time lag caused by the diffusion of the public engagement ideas from the Anglo-Saxon world, where they originated, to other countries. Differences may also result because the adoption of public engagement is more or less compatible with different national science cultures, in particular the demand for scientific autonomy.

In an online survey of scientists in Taiwan, Germany and the USA (n=815) we asked about scientists’ beliefs and preferences regarding the public, the relationship of science and the public, and public communication of science.

The survey shows clear differences between Taiwanese and Western scientists. Taiwanese scientists have more skeptical views of the public than their Western colleagues, and more strongly want to guide public opinion. Western scientists distinguish more clearly between scholarly communication and public communication than Taiwanese scientists who, surprisingly, are more prepared to accept public participation in science. Professional autonomy may thus be less important for Taiwanese than Western scientists. In the Taiwanese case, accepting participatory public engagement is probably less an attempt to create a new kind of science-public relationship (as in the Anglo-Saxon approach) but rather the consequence of a science system traditionally prone to external demands.

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

Presentation type: Individual paper
Theme: Science
Area of interest: Comparing science communication across cultures