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More dialogue is needed between nations — and more Southern voices must be heard within such dialogue — if greater progress is to be achieved in raising the level of communication about science in developing countries.

That was one of the key messages to emerge from an international conference on science communication in Cape Town, South Africa, which ended on Saturday (7 December).

The seventh conference of the International Network on Public Communication of Science and Technology (PCST) Conference was intended to provide an opportunity to allow individuals from developing nations to share experiences in science communication with others from both the North and the South.

“It was great to see that we are not alone in our countries, and that we share questions, interests and worries with the rest of the world”, says Jesús Mendoza, a science communicator from the National Politechnic Institute in Mexico City.

But others were less convinced of the value of merely exchanging experiences through presentations and networking, without recognition that requirements in this field can vary widely in different parts of the world.

“People from the west side of the world want to design one model and one method of science communication, and that is not universal," says Li Daguang from the China Association of Science and Technology. "Even in Asia we have very different cultures and we have to improve international communication so that the West will be more comprehensive.”

It was the first time that a PCST conference had been held in a developing country. More than half of the participants came from such countries: 200 South Africans, 14 individuals from the rest of Africa, 24 from Asia, and seven from Latin America.

Marina Joubert from South Africa's Foundation for Education, Science and Technology, who chaired the meeting, said she had hoped that more people from Africa would attend.

But she said that she was pleased with both the large South African turnout, and the level of interest shown by the South African government in the three-day meeting.

“They [the government] expressed their own inspirations and intentions to give more support to these activities in the future”, says Joubert. “On the whole we were tremendously grateful for the positive feedback and many plans for North-South collaboration that came from the conference.”

According to the organisers, the meeting, called Science Communication in a Diverse World, met its goal of showing individuals from the developing world that, even though there are countries with a longer tradition of science communication and scientific research, it is also possible for poorer nations to make progress in this area.

But some participants were critical that most keynote speakers came from the United Kingdom and the United States. “We need more examples from Asian countries”, says Seema Singh, a science journalist from India, referring not only to the plenary sessions, but also to the programme in general.

Biomedical and biotechnology issues were the hot topics. Sessions on indigenous science communication and science communication to rural communities were also very successful and well attended.

The next PCST conference will be held in Barcelona, Spain from 3-5 June 2004. This meeting, for which the theme will be 'Scientific Knowledge and Cultural Diversity', hopes to encourage significant participation from Latin America.

© SciDev.Net 2002
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