Education, communication, and science in the public sphere

Noah Weeth Feinstein

In the 1920s, John Dewey and Walter Lippmann both wrote important books examining whether the public was capable of playing a constructive role in policy, particularly when specialized knowledge was involved. This essay uses the Lippmann–Dewey debate to identify new challenges for science education and to explore the relationship between science education and science communication. It argues that science education can help foster democracy in ways that embody Habermas’ ideal of the public sphere, but only if we as a field pay more attention to (1) the non-scientific frames and narratives that people use to interpret news about science, (2) the “second shaping” of scientific facts by the media, and (3) emerging platforms for public engagement.



(Re)acting medicine: applying theatre in order to develop a whole-systems approach to understanding the healing response

S. Goldingay, P. Dieppe, M. Mangan & D. Marsden

This critical reflection is based on the belief that creative practitioners should be using their own well-established approaches to trouble dominant paradigms in health and care provision to both form and inform the future of healing provision and well-being creation. It describes work by a transdisciplinary team (drama and medicine) that is developing a methodology which is rooted in productive difference; an evolving synergy between two cultural and intellectual traditions with significant divergences in their world-view perceptions, approaches and training methods. This commonality is underpinned by four assumptions that: (1) human-to-human interactions matter, (2) context matters, (3) the whole person and their community matters and (4) interpretation matters. In this paper, we reflect on the project’s early stages and uses of this methodology to investigate the fundamental human-to-human interaction of a person seeking healing (a healee) with a healer. We believe that this interaction enables the healing response – the intrinsic ability of the human organism to self-heal and regain homeostasis.


The changing rationale of science communication: a challenge to scientific autonomy

Frank Marcinkowski, Matthias Kohring

We argue that the institutionalized push communication of academic institutions has become the dominant form of public science communication and has tended to force other forms and functions of science communication into the background. Given the new schemes of public funding, public communication of science now primarily serves the purpose of enabling academic institutions to promote themselves in a competition that has been forced upon them by the political domain. What academics working under these conditions say about themselves and their work (and what they do not) will depend crucially on the strategic communication goals and concepts of the organizations to which they belong. We surmise that the inherent logic of this form of science communication represents a potential threat to the autonomy of scientific research.


Tree Investigators: Supporting families’ scientific talk in an arboretum with mobile computers

Heather Toomey Zimmerman, Susan M. Land, Lucy R. McClain, Michael R. Mohney, Gi Woong Choi & Fariha H. Salman

This research examines the Tree Investigators project to support science learning with mobile devices during family public programmes in an arboretum. Using a case study methodology, researchers analysed video records of 10 families (25 people) using mobile technologies with naturalists at an arboretum to understand how mobile devices supported science talk related to tree biodiversity. The conceptual framework brings together research on technological supports for science learning and research on strategies that encourage families to engage in conversations that support observation and explanation practices. Findings suggested that families engaged in high levels of perceptual talk (describing and identifying) while using mobile computers. Commonly, families articulated scientific observations when supported by prompts, visuals, and scaffolds delivered by the mobile computers. Families struggled to make explanations about the biological importance of what they saw in relation to ecological principles; however, families made connections to their everyday life within explanations they developed at the arboretum. Our research showed the importance of mobile supports that provided on-demand, localised sense-making resources for explanation building while limiting observational complexity.