Square Kilometre Array’s Meerkat struggles with anti-science advocacy groups

Square Kilometre Array’s Meerkat struggles with anti-science advocacy groups

Author: Anton Binneman – Square Kilometre Array, South Africa

South Africa and Australia has been selected to host the Square Kilometre Array Project (SKA). Currently, South Africa is completing MeerKAT, a 64-dish array that will be integrated into SKA Phase One. Once complete, Phase One will consist of 197 dishes that will enable revolutionary astronomical observations.

However, as with most advances there are likely to be societal impact. Within the local communities in South Africa, there is a definitive socio-economic impact evident that could be perceived as both positive and negative. The documented negative impact is centred on communication, specifically radio communication near the core and along the spiral arms; as well as the estimated loss of 130 000 hectares of agricultural land. On the other hand, positive impact includes direct investment by government and other institutions into affected towns, development of local businesses and educational institutions, and various other indirect benefits. Since commencement, the project has spent more than R250 000 000 in the Karoo area.

The focus of this paper will be on public perception. It will briefly highlight South African media content related to the SKA project, which will include a succinct analysis of associated social media. This will establish a base for a more in depth analysis of the qualitative content of two particular Facebook pages that are administrated by advocacy groups that are explicitly opposed to the SKA project. The analysis will include coding of the qualitative content of these two publically accessible Facebook pages. Then, common misconceptions and critique on the project will be clustered, which will then be compared to the facts as published by SKA South Africa. The paper will then conclude with a conceptual communications strategy that could address misconceptions that are propagated by anti-science alliance groups, using SKA and the development of MeerKAT as an example.

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

Presentation type: Individual paper
Theme: Society
Area of interest: Building a theoretical basis for science communication