Once upon a time… someone decided the public had the right, even the need, maybe even the duty, to know what was going on in science. Well, probably it has been “decided” upon multiple times, but a striking example was when the Royal Institute of London started Christmas lectures for the general public. In these lectures, starting in 1825, scientist like Michael Faraday gave demonstrations of scientific experiments in their respective fields. This was a time when scientific collections (aka: museums) were only for the eye of other scientists and organized education for the general public wasn’t really a thing. Apparently, it was a hit, the Christmas lectures continue to this day.
Science seems to have a very rigid, authoritative name and is often referred to as an ivory tower. I’d like to believe it was worse in history than it is now. Even the Urban Dictionary gives the following statement to exemplify the term: “Let those scholars criticize our beliefs from their ivory tower; we all know how the world really works”. Communication is essential to avoid or amend the divide between “those scholars” and “how the world really works”.
Luckily for us, museums are accessible by, and even made for, the general public nowadays, and there is so much more! Other classical forms of science communication are, of course, general teaching, various forms of arts and books, everything from dry accounts of knowledge to exciting, nearly science-fiction-ish works. The digital boom and rise of the internet have brought about a whole new world for science communication. Documentaries, podcasts, blogs, apps, games,… Whole YouTube channels are devoted to science communication nowadays!
The great thing about communicating science on the internet is that more people seem to have access to internet than means and time to study in universities around the world. This is reflected in these same universities offering online courses, often even free or, or in case you want an official diploma for a fraction of the price of face-to-face courses. It will have to be seen if online courses will ever reach the same social status classical education enjoys right now. Also non-official education, even leaving behind the classroom-like teaching methods spring up all around the internet. I’ve already mentioned YouTube video’s, often combining “did you know”-type of knowledge with the addictive format of the internet. Try saying “Just one more video and then I’ll go so sleep…” and you get what I mean.
The danger of disconnecting information from recognized, authoritative institutions is the opportunity for – dare I use the words? – alternative facts. But the bad-news-show will be for another day, in Part 2 of this post…
More on the Christmas lectures: http://www.rigb.org/christmas-lectures
Header picture: main entrance of Naturhistoriska riksmuseet in Stockholm, taken from inside the entrance hall.