Practically everyone agrees on the need for public engagement with science. These days, it is taken as a given that scientists need to tell the world what they are doing, and that the more energy they put into doing so the better. With more opportunities and channels for communication available than ever before, the scientific research community is probably in closer contact with the public than at any other time. Scientists are also under increasing pressure to communicate; from funding agencies, from their own universities and companies, and indeed from the media. But all this communication takes time, potentially posing the practising scientist with a dilemma; whether to focus on research, or to take time out to talk about it? What is the appropriate balance between these activities?
And what, in fact, does all this communication seek to achieve? Is the goal to demonstrate why scientific research is beneficial to society, or to demonstrate why scientific understanding is important in itself? Do scientists expect the public to engage with not only the beneficial outcomes of scientific endeavour, but the practice of science too? What, fundamentally, do we want to convey when we communicate ‘science’?
This panel, featuring a mix of Nobel Laureates, scientists and ‘professional’ science communicators (in various combinations), seeks to take stock of the current science communication scene and reflect on what all this effort is for.