Science communication evolving as an independent research field

Science communication evolving as an independent research field
Science communication entails breaking complex scientific information correctly into simple tidbits for the target audiences to assimilate and understand easily. With this goal in view, right from its time of birth, it has traveled a circuitous path. From being a small part of every branch of science, science communication slowly begin to spread its wings and fly as an independent field of research. Caught up on the trend, a group of researchers embarked on an interesting study to trace the path undertaken by Science communication so far. Here we bring you the trends and challenges instrumental in providing a tinge of individuality and independence to the field in its own right.

Trends in the growth of Science communication

Over the past few years, the volume of research papers published on science communication has increased. Additionally, a boom in the number of journals explicitly dedicated to the field also occurred. Apart from these, different universities worldwide also offer courses and degrees that majorly contribute to rooting science communication as a separate academic discipline. Consequently, with time, the number of multi-authored papers written by researchers from different institutions and geographies began globalizing this field. But several roadblocks like the under-representation of female researchers, slow growth in developing countries, and others remain at large. It also creates an imbalance in the overall development of this field.

The motive behind the study

The limited trends mentioned above remain inferred from studies and analyses, not done comprehensively and systematically. Also, few studies are elaborating on how such positive trends can help clear off the roadblocks in the path for communicating science. Thus to offer a more wholesome view of trends in science communication, a team of researchers analyzed the bibliographic data of research papers from prominent science communication journals.

The methodology of the study

The researchers specifically chose three journals – “Science Communication,” “Public Understanding of Science” (PUS), and “JCOM” for the bibliographic analysis of research papers. Science Communication and PUS belong to the group of leading journals in while JCOM is the first and only open-access journal. Having zeroed in on the journals, the researchers resorted to the herculean task of bibliographic analysis through the following steps:
  • The researchers accessed the research papers published in all three journals since their inception up to 2016.
  • The study focused only on peer-reviewed research papers published in “Science communication” and “Public understanding of science communication.”
  • From the bibliographic data, the researchers extracted information like- title of the journal and the paper, the year of its publication, names of authors, institutional affiliations of the authors, and finally, the gender of the authors.
  • The study collected these data points to analyze the research output in and keep track of factors like globalization, institutionalization, and gender scales in this field.
  • The researchers then subjected the data points obtained to statistical analysis by SPSS software.

Science communication and chronological trends

PUS topped the list with the highest number of publications. It also showed an increase in the number of research articles with time. Similarly, JCOM, too, showed an increase in research output over time, and Science Communication maintained stable work over the years. This overall increase in research output indicates that a more significant number of researchers are showing interest, paving the way for high-quality work in this field.

Science communication and global trends

Trends indicate a higher number of single-author contributions during the initial years. During the same timeline, multiple author contributions remained the lowest in number. That too, in multi-author papers, authors were from the same institution or country. But with time, multi-author papers witnessing contributions from authors belonging to different countries surged indicating globalization. Additionally, the authors from different institutions worked together in collaboration, thus showing traces of institutionalization. Although this is a good sign showing the global nature of the field, the scenario, in reality, is skewed due to lower levels of related activities and contributions from countries in Asia, Africa, and Middle East regions. Such imbalanced contributions globally are among the significant challenges and gaps that have to be addressed for balanced growth.

Science communication and institutional trends

In general, researchers from institutions in the USA dominate the research scenario. This prevalence was seen to increase and peak up from 2012 onwards. The UK occupied the second position in the list. Specifically, the journal PUS had maximum contributions from Australia, Canada, and Germany based researchers. “Science communication,” too, had maximum contributions from USA established researchers.  Brazilian and Italian researchers contributed the most to JCOM. Brazil, Singapore, and South Africa showed a recent increase in the number of authors contributing to research.

Science communication and gender-based trends

In the initial years, male authors dominated the field. But over the years, the analysis showed that the number of female authors had increased. Along with this fact, more female authors contributed to multi-author papers than their male counterparts. Looking into country-wise gender balance, Australia, Japan, and Switzerland showed a balanced ratio. In comparison, the scenario in Brazil showed a pleasing trend of a more significant number of female authors than males. On the other hand, in the USA and UK, male authors dominate research. Overall it can be inferred that the gender ratio is on the right track in becoming more balanced.

Science communication and prospects in developing countries

Besides presenting an eagle-eye view of trends in science communication, researchers also highlight ways to buck up the practice in developing nations like African countries. The possible reasons for the lack of such activities in a developing nation are:
  • Past historical happenings in the country like colonization and apartheid which suppress scientific temper among the native people.
  • Huge diversity and cultural aspects, economic, infrastructural, and social barriers are existing among rural populations, which impede the flow of scientific information.
  • Political scenario and frequent famines, droughts, and other unforeseen happenings can also dampen scientific engagement among people.

A ray of hope for Science Communication in India

Such problems are prevalent in developing Asian countries like India too. But on the bright side, the situation is changing for the better in India. This point can be supported by the fact that the Indian Government has established a lab of national importance dedicated to science communication called “National Institute of Science Communication and Information Resources” (NISCAIR). Above all, the icing on the cake is the fact that a woman scientist currently heads this institute. Also, NISCAIR offers Master’s program and Ph.D. program as well. Moreover, integrating science communication with society in developing countries becomes synonymous with their development. To achieve this, the researchers have proposed an excellent solution involving initiatives with funding agencies, incentives, and collaborations between researchers from developed countries and the developing world.

Research gaps to be filled – the way forward

Undoubtedly, the study in question provides a comprehensive view of the factors that have influenced science communication so far. From this, one can also infer the point that it indeed evolved into an independent research domain in its own right. But there are still some holes to be filled to offer a  complete view of the science communication scenario. They include the fact that this study analyzed papers only in the English language. Hence people must explore more aspects of science communication in other regional and vernacular languages. Apart from this, it is highly essential to determine research challenges and priorities in this field to propel its development as an independent research field.
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