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A history of science communication through centuries

A history of science communication through centuries
Science has helped eliminate diseases, provide cures, support health, and propagate ecosystems. Praise science, humans have come a long way from believing that supernatural entities cause diseases. But, in the early times of the genesis of scientific disciplines, scientists thought of the everyday folks with minimal education. Ordinary people appeared as unable to understand the complex theories of science. Even the scholars from different fields were indifferent to each other, refraining from communications. Today, scientific disciplines are no longer solitary in their approach. Many research works and studies have become multi-disciplinary and require the expertise of individuals from diverse scientific fields. Accordingly, every innovation in communications slowly made science accessible to millions around the globe. But how all this happened? Who thought of communicating science, and why? Today we are taking you back in time to trace the steps of the science communication movement.

How it all began?

Current times allow easy and straightforward science communication. You can read about science on the internet, tweet your thoughts directly to a scientist, Instagram a cool science story, and do much more. But sci-comm owns its genesis and popularity to a less acknowledged discovery, the printing press. Today we might not imagine a world without print media; however, once knowledge was stored as perishable artifacts and items accessible only to the privileged.

Print media in science communication

Johannes Gutenberg, in the 15thcentury, gave the world the printing press and made knowledge accessible to the world. The printing press brought the thoughts of great minds onto paper. Knowledge made its way into the hand of enthusiasts and knowledge seekers. In the centuries to follow, books, journals, newspapers, magazines, among other forms of print media, bridged scientists with broader audiences. In 1665, the Royal Society of London published the world’s first scientific journal, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. It also published articles by great minds like Isaac Newton, Benjamin Franklin, Charles Darwin, Caroline Herschel, Alan Turning, and Stephen Hawking. The historical journal is still in print and publishes through different publications and sister journals.  Over time, journals continue to be the most reliable and professional mode of publishing scientific findings. Further, the journal’s content and screening standards remain a criterion for their credibility. The Royal Institute of Britain, founded in March 1799, was one of its kind. It organized public lectures for sharing scientific knowledge. It became famous through the Christmas lectures, which popularized the trend of sharing knowledge with people. About 15 Nobel laureates have delivered lectures at the premises, which are available to the public. In 1831, the British Association for the Advancement of Science was established. It held the vision to generate attention for science, accelerate its progress, and encourage collaboration among scientists and scholars. It also aimed to develop scientific literacy and promote science communication among scholars of different fields to direct aspiring students.  In 1951, the American Association for Advancement of Science envisioned to increase the understanding and appreciation of science among the public.

Popular scientific magazines

In a more accessible format of communication, National Geographic in 1888 first started publishing its magazines. However, these magazines were then reserved for the members of the National Geographic Society. Later they became open to all and since then has published many iconic stories from around the world. In 1915, India started the publication of its first science-based magazine Vigyan published in Hindi by Vigyan Parishad. Science Reporter, published by Publications and Information Directorate (now, NISCOM) in 1964, became the first English science magazine to be published in India. Later on, the Indian Journal of Science Communication, established in 2002, is the first science communication journal published in India.

Scientific establishments

Another oldest and omnipresent modes of science communication are museums. Museums embody the history of the universe, earth, and humankind through the priceless artifacts from the earliest of eras—the Natural History Museum, an iconic landmark established in 1881. The museum opened the doors to invaluable natural and cultural artifacts that were previously reserved for elites to the public. The museum stores some of the most significant pieces from around the world. In India, the first science museum, Birla Industrial and Technological Museum (BITM), Kolkata, opened in 1954. Further, a modification to museums came in the form of science centers. These science centers provided curious minds with an exciting dosage of scientific theories and principles. By recreating scientific experiments and phenomena, they continue to stimulate young minds even today. In 1956, several science media centers for expert opinion on journalists were established in India. Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR) started providing a specialist opinion to the press in 1956.  In the early centuries, increasing public interest in science encouraged scientists to share their work via public lectures. Moreover, zoo and conservation and rehabilitation centers for animals and plants also promote nature’s value amongst the public. They shed light on the plight and crisis on many of these resources by anthropogenic causes and otherwise.

How zoos and conservatories took science stories to people?

News coverage, awareness, and educational programs highlight the plight of endangered species losing their habitats and lives rapidly. Likewise, the widespread awareness about Panda’s endangered status and the need to augment the conservation efforts saved them. The species has come a long way since 1962, with the prohibition on their hunting to counter the population decline. Moreover, Indian Royal Bengal Tiger conservation makes another success story. The widespread discussions in the news and conservation organizations about poaching alerted the authorities and gathered international attention. As the efforts stepped up, the species got saved, eventually leading to an increase in the country’s tiger population.

Science communication & Television

The next significant innovation contributing to science communication was Television. The science-based programs aired on Television caught the eye of young viewers. Shows like Nova, launched in 1974, aired essential topics like global warming, the AIDS epidemic, the Chernobyl disaster, and bioterrorism. Additionally, many award-winning episodes brought public attention to these subjects. Later, television channels like National Geographic and Discovery became instrumental in popularizing science targeting different age groups through their diverse catalog. Doordarshan India started science communication for the people’s service with the Pulse Polio awareness campaign in the 1900s. With time, Doordarshan India, in collaboration with Vigyan Parisar and Prasar Bharti, began airing science programs in 2007. Programs were broadcasted in different regional languages to cater to a diverse national audience. Such initiatives helped promote scientific aptitude and simplify scientific concepts by science communication through Television.

Modernization of science communication

Science communication in India developed through many initiatives established by the government. In 1982, the government initiated the National Council for Science & Technology Communication (NCSTC) to promote science communication as part of India’s sixth Five Year Plan to promote the discipline. The Indian Science Writers’ Association” (ISWA) was established in 1985 for science communicators. The Science Writers’ Association of India (SWAI), later renamed ISWA established in 1960 for journalists covering science topics. In 2019, in collaboration with the Department of Science and Technology, the channel launched two science channels, DD Science and India Science, to establish a scientific insight. As the medium of digital media grew, science communication found its way into streaming services, such as Youtube and podcasts. Science-based documentaries like Our Planet, Chasing Coral, Explained among others, began streaming on many popular services like Netflix. Youtube channels started creating engaging scientific content about conventional theories, innovations and debunking myths about the discipline. Popular channels like Kurzgesagt, Science Magazine, Crash Course have developed a unique and innovative method of communicating science. Podcasts are the latest addition to the popular form of media and generate a large amount of science-based content. The channels like Radiolab, nature podcast, and 60-second science focused on effective science communication.

And it is just the beginning.

Science communication has a lot of potential in the current times and the future ahead. It has modified itself through various modes to reach the public, making stories of science heard and appreciated. In the present time, it has to fight against bias in science, false information, myths. It also has to help a growing population of curious minds with a supply of knowledge and resources to move the field further and allow science to innovate and grow. The area needs to improve its information sharing, involve more people, and create a circulation of credible information in the media. Science has a lot of unexplored potentials, and involving more people with it would help make better and much-needed innovations.
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