Science Popularization vs. Science Diplomacy

Science Communication is a sine qua non for present-day societies. This is so because the influence of no other creative activity can match the impact of modern science and technology on the lives and livelihoods of peoples across the world. This is seemingly a truism, but it carries a plethora of connotations having specific practical ramifications.

Science Popularization vs. Science Diplomacy

In this article it is argued that Science Communication entails at least three sets of activities as shown in the following figure.

Science Communication

The equilateral triangle symbolizes equal order of significance accorded to activities at three vertices; namely, science popularization, science advocacy and science diplomacy. At the centre of the triangle lies the wizardry of Science Communication (SC).

It is worthwhile reminding ourselves that the activity of seeking rational explanation about physical world has flourished in the past in different parts of the world at different epochs of history. The thought process that gave rise to ancient technologies may not be called ‘scientific’ in modern parlance, but it was, surely, a precursor of the methodology that evolved into systematic studies of nature.

In whatever form the human ingenuity manifested itself anywhere in the world, one of its consequences was inevitable; it led to great advantages in trade and war for its proprietors. Episodes of economic and/or military prowess have been witnessed in Middle East, Persia, North Africa, Indus Valley, Mediterranean region and China.

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The ascendancy of present-day Europe after industrial revolution of 18th century was a consequence of renaissance, which led to a burst of intellectual power and scientific discoveries. This made it possible for a small island state of Britain to subjugate more than half of the world. USA followed suit and became the greatest hegemonic force in the history of the world. So, while it a is a ‘feel good’ notion that science is a common heritage of mankind, but the fact is that science and the technologies based on it are coveted treasures that are acquired with fierce competition. A society that ignores science is destined to remain in a state of perpetual doom and gloom.

To make science the prime focus of national discourse in Pakistan, a major campaign is required at all three above-mentioned fronts. First and foremost, it is the future generation that is most susceptible to cerebral reprogramming and also most likely to face disastrous consequences of knowledge disparity. This target group needs to be engaged through science education and science popularization. It is to be remembered that science is not simply a set theories and formulas; it is a way of thinking – a way of rationalizing what is observable in nature through unbiased, systematic and logical analysis.

This kind of mental habit can best be inculcated in young students; the younger the better. The catch here is that their interest in understanding physical world through observation and experimentation has to be aroused before nature takes it course and enquiring minds are evolved; hence the need for making science an enjoyable experience for students at different levels of educational system, and popularizing science in the communities where the students live and learn.

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Going ahead with this mission needs planning, institutional coordination and resource mobilization. None of this is possible at large scale without state patronization. Sans a total commitment on the part of policy makers and ownership at the part of national political leadership, not much headway can be made with individuals-based isolated efforts. This leads us to another facet of Science communication; namely, science advocacy. The administrative and political leadership in Pakistan and most developing countries resides with people who are apparently not convinced at heart, in spite of their public utterances, that science and technology is the key to progress and prosperity.

How else can one explain the absence of Science Policy from manifestos of major political parties, and what message is conveyed when the Ministry of Science and Technology remains without a Minister for extended periods of time. A strong team of science communicators, with skills of lobbying and advocacy, can perhaps convey the worth of scientific knowledge to skeptical power brokers.

If such a team is not at hand, what about seeking help of articulate opinion makers from elsewhere in the world? Perhaps it is not a bad idea to learn from the best-practices of others. Certainly, it is desirable to create partnerships with successful ventures of science popularization and science advocacy across the world. Even better is the partnership with our great neighbor China, where China Research Institute for Science Popularization (CRISP) has made great strides in making scientific literacy a part of every day life.

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The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) offers great opportunity to do so. The creation of enabling environment for international cooperation requires diplomacy. The ‘Diplomacy for Science’ is, therefore, an integral part of a grand plan, in which SC plays a leading role. Needless to say that a communication channel between scientists and diplomats is a prerequisite for this exercise to be successful.

The triangular role of SC elaborated here is hopefully well understood. The really difficult questions arise when plans are put into actions, even under the most favourable circumstances. Who can communicate scientific knowledge in a way that is most effective for a particular target group? Is it sufficient to convey only what has been discovered through scientific research, or is it also necessary to convey the spirit of scientific discovery and the excitement that it generates? Is sufficient number of scientific workers able or willing to spare time for SC campaign?

Are there enough journalists with necessary capacity to create public awareness about what is happening in the world of science? Are social scientists willing to study and bring into lime light the implications of new technologies, which are cutting deeply into the social fabric of client nations? These and many other similar questions beg to be pondered upon and to be answered soon enough, before the process of natural selection in the form of “survival of the fittest” takes over.

Corresponding Author: Dr. Imtinan Elahi Qureshi , Ex-ED COMSATS

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