[ASC-list] Science communication in Ireland

Toss Gascoigne director at tossgascoigne.com.au
Fri Jan 12 03:02:16 UTC 2018

A new book documenting science communication was published last year.

This post is a review.

Little Country, Big Talk: Science communication in Ireland.

Editors Brian Trench, Padraig Murphy, Declan Fahy

Pantaneto Press, UK 2017

‘Little Country, Big Talk’ charts to rise of science communication in Ireland since the mid 1990s.  Its 19 chapters are divided between research-based essays and personal stories.  In the words of the editors, the Irish story is a reflection of what was happening in many other countries at the same time. 

The title of the opening chapter, ‘Rocky Road’, reflects 20 year’s stuttering progress in science communication familiar to many countries: government statements, lofty intentions, new bodies, funding and policy reversals. 

There have been successes and failures.  An Irish national science centre has been on the books for nearly 20 years but remains a dream.  While there is no national association of science communicators, recent meetings of communicators have attracted 250 delegates. 

On the success side, Science Gallery Dublin has been an international smash hit for a new approach to making art and science collide. (The Melbourne arm opened in August last year with Blood: Attract and Repel and is one of a dozen new centres.

There are similarities to Australia and Australian connections: Joan Leach and Fiona Barbagello are mentioned, and  Lesley Warner has cited the plans for a new Master’s program at Dublin City University and Queen’s University as one of her inspirations for establishing the first Australian Masters in science communication at USQ in 1992.  

Declan Fahy’s chapter is a lament documenting the sad state of science journalism.  The Irish Times alone carries the banner, and there are few specialist science journalists - the Irish S&T Journalists’ Association has about 20 members. 

Science is not seen as a natural part of Irish culture.  In the early years, literature, politics and performing arts held sway despite the historical achievements of Irish science. Trench’s chapter Science in Culture details the religious bias: science was for Protestants.  Even recent accounts of Irish cultural achievements make only scant mention of science.   

The Irish Government is trying to reverse this, adopting slogans like ‘Knowledge is in our nature” and 'Innovation is in our DNA’.  There’s limited success, which Trench documents in successive surveys on public attitudes to science. 

Apart from major chapters by the three editors, there are useful accounts of the reaction of scientists to social media; the genesis of Science Gallery; and the life of Mary Mulvihill, an inspirational figure in media coverage of science. 

The others are much shorter, anecdotal accounts of careers and initiatives, sitting rather oddly with the well-referenced major chapters.  They are not without interest, and can be refreshing, but it’s a curious juxtaposition. 

Little Country, Big Talk is available via Amazon at $28. 

Toss Gascoigne

Toss Gascoigne and Associates
56 Vasey Cres

Visiting Scholar, Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science

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E. director at tossgascoigne.com.au
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