Science communicators ‘must respect cultural context’

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[BARCELONA] An understanding of cultural values and respect for traditional knowledge are both vital to the successful communication of science.

This is one of the key conclusions to emerge from a meeting of science communicators from across the world who gathered in Barcelona, Spain, last week for the eighth international conference on the Public Communication of Science and Technology (PCST-8).

Several of the 650 delegates from 50 countries who attended the meeting urged scientists, journalists and others involved in the communication of science to take account of cultural factors and local knowledge in their work.

“We need to embrace knowledge from ‘local sources’,” said the chair of the conference, Vladimir de Semir, director of the Science Communication Observatory of the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona.

Yuwanuch Tinnaluck of the ASEAN Handicrafts Promotion and Development Association in Bangkok, Thailand, argued that scientists should work together with local people to ‘co-create’ knowledge.

“Science and local knowledge are not that far away from one another,” she said. “We need to share space and time between scientists and indigenous people.”

As an example, she pointed to the way that scientists from the Thai National Research Foundation are working with local people to codify tacit ‘local wisdom’ into explicit knowledge.

Patrick Luganda, chairman of the Network of Climate Journalists in the Greater Horn of Africa, said that many agricultural techniques touted as “magical” new interventions, such as sustainable agriculture and integrated pest management, have in fact been practised in Africa for centuries.

Luganda also argued that an appreciation of traditional knowledge is essential for science to be communicated successfully. “The message will be better understood and better appreciated if you have an understanding of local knowledge,” he said.

Another problem was how to communicate science in local languages. This was a major challenge in Uganda, where about 50 different languages are spoken, he said.

“The messages get diluted as the information gets passed on,” he said. But he added that his network is working with international organisations to see how climate forecasts can be translated into local languages for broadcast on radio.