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Science Communication: Introduction

Scientific information is crucial for a variety of different stakeholders.

Policymakers, such as politicians and government officials, need accessible and accurate information to make informed decisions. With many issues vying for their attention, however, information must be carefully presented.

A crucial group of stakeholders is the general public. The effect of pressure groups on governments can help determine whether or not a scientific technology — such as genetically modified food or stem-cell therapy — is implemented. This has significant implications for defining research agendas.

Scientists play a key role in disseminating their research. Indeed, communicating the results of scientific inquiry is almost as important as undertaking the research itself. Unless findings are conveyed to other researchers to build on, science would stagnate.

With increasing career pressures, such as high competition for funding, researchers must get published — and in reputable journals — for their work to have maximum impact. For scientists in developing countries, competing for publication with developed-country scientists can be challenging, especially when publishing in English-language journals.

In addition, lack of funding and weak research bases can mean that researchers in poor countries who want to develop a position at the cutting edge of science must follow scientific progress in richer countries. This is almost impossible when highly rated journals are costly to the point of being unaffordable.

Because of the absence of print and distribution costs, the development of the Internet meant that, in principle, scientific information could be provided at virtually no cost. This has spurred a movement towards 'open access' of all scientific knowledge, in which the authors, rather than the readers, take on the cost of publishing scientific information. There are complex issues surrounding the movement, however, since editorial and production costs remain.

Outside the scientific community, journalists play a key role in communicating scientific research to both policymakers and the public. In developing countries, where access to scientific research can be poor, science journalists have a particularly vital role to play. Trained journalists, who understand how science works, can process complex findings so they are more accessible. They can also stimulate crucial public debate over controversial issues. But as with any good journalism, science journalism is useful only if it is reliable and unbiased.

To encourage science journalism in the developing world, the majority of SciDev.Net's writers are from developing nations. SciDev.Net also hosts science communication workshops to train journalists from developing regions.

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