“The Public Understanding of Science” – a generation on

“The Public Understanding of Science” – a generation on

Author: Steve Miller – University College London, United Kingdom


  • Martin Bauer – LSE, United Kingdom
  • Luisa Massarani – House of Oswaldo Cruz, Brazil
  • Bernard Schiele – UQAM, Canada
  • Melanie Smallman – UCL, United Kingdom

It is now 35 years since the Royal Society – the UK’s premier science organisation – published its report “The Public Understanding of Science”. 1985 in Britain was the middle of the “Thatcher years”, a time when science – particularly “blue skies” science – felt itself to be under attack. The Royal Society deemed that public ignorance of and indifference to science had to be addressed.

The report – also known as the Bodmer Report after its chair Sir Walter Bodmer – ushered in a flurry of initiatives: scientists were told they had a duty to communicate with their fellow citizens, media outlets were urged to carry more science in their pages or on the airwaves, prizes for good science communication were set up, university students and researchers were provided with courses, and Members of Parliament and Ministers were advised / lobbied on behalf of the scientific enterprise in general and individual projects in particular.

A lot of this activity was criticised as adopting a “deficit model” agenda of citizen ignorance as against more nuanced “contextual approach” involving the science people needed to live their daily lives. “Science and/in/with/etc Society” became the rallying cry.

But what has really been achieved and changed a generation on from Bodmer? Is it a case of “every attempt is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure” (TS Eliot The Four Quartets, East Coker, 1941). And was Bodmer’s influence restricted to the UK and/or the English-speaking world? This round-table will discuss “The Public Understanding of Science – a generation on” with a UK and international panel.

This Roundtable Discussion will be linked to the new PCST book, “The Emerging of Modern Science Communication”.

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

Presentation type: Roundtable discussion
Theme: Transformation