Relevance-distance as a model for evaluating the engagement potential for different fields of scientific research
Author: Achintya Rao – UWE Bristol, Switzerland
Erik Stengler – UWE Bristol
Christine Sutton – CERN
Emma Weitkamp – UWE Bristol
Clare Wilkinson – UWE Bristol
In the extensive study of the relationship between science and society, academia has often addressed fields of research that have the potential for having a direct or an immediate impact on day-to-day human life. Such a narrow perspective, despite the diversity of fields studied, has resulted in an orthodoxy within some science-communication discourse that sees two-way engagement as an ideal that must be upheld by all In this paper, we argue that fields of research that are farther away from affecting daily human life (areas of fundamental research or the so-called “basic sciences”) are not necessarily in a similar position vis-à-vis their relationship with wider society as fields such as climate science or biomedicine. We construct a concept known as “relevance-distance”, noting that most academic research into public engagement draws upon examples from fields that have a “Proximal” relevance to everyday human life. We explore, through empirical data collection, how particle physicists at CERN conceptualise their relationship with the so-called “outside world”. We further explore whether these scientists find their own research influenced through public engagement (the outcomes of two-way engagement) and whether they consider it possible for members of wider society (non-specialists) to participate in particle-physics research. We find that the community perceives a large distance between itself and the public. Our findings indicate that particle physicists largely feel that the public is not able to contribute to scientific research, and that they do not particularly benefit (scientifically) from engagement with the public.
The author has not yet submitted a copy of the full paper.
Presentation type: Show, tell and talk
Area of interest: Comparing science communication across cultures