Hope for Latin America’s science communication degrees

Indigenous Latin American Child_Flickr_UN Photo_Mark Garten
Copyright: Flickr/UN Photo/Mark Garten

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[SALVADOR, BRAZIL] I am one of a lot of Latin American people who, eager to take a postgraduate course in science communication, decide to go abroad. Australia, Spain or United Kingdom are some of the top destinations for people like me to go and study for a master’s degree or a PhD in the field.

It is common to think that we’ll get a better education in those countries simply because science communication is a more developed there than in our own countries. But maybe this won’t be true for much longer.

During a session about postgraduate courses in science communication in Latin America, at the 13th International Public Communication of Science and Technology Conference (PCST2014), I heard things could be changing — there were signs that interest in regionally-specific science communication in Latin America is growing.

“Latin America is a very diverse region," said Susana Herrera Lima, who coordinates the Master’s Degree in Science and Culture Communication at the Universidad Jesuita in Guadalajara, Mexico. “Each country has particular features and different levels of science development, but it is true we share a marginal level of support for science. That’s why science communication has to be tied to each country’s political, social and economic context.”

This may strengthen opportunity for Latin America's science communicators: the region is apparently a virgin field for them to analyse, experiment with and test new ideas in.

“Science communication has to be tied to each country’s political, social and economic context.”

Susana Herrera Lima, Universidad Jesuita

It is common to see science communication studies tied to United States and Europe’s perspectives but “we need a sort of professional that is able to assess the specific needs of Latin America and who makes the field of regional science communication visible to the world”, said Diego Vaz Bevilaqua, from the Museu da Vida (Museum of Life) at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Rio de Janeiro, where they also train students in specific areas of science communication.

Unfortunately, the delegates said, there are not a lot of examples of science communication studies in Latin America that succeed in doing so.

“It is quite a new field,” said Vaz Bevilaqua. “Most of our students went back to their institutions, and a lot of them are still studying. In fact, we cannot offer PhDs in science communication in Brazil because they do not exist. So it is too early to give examples.”

However, there are some signs that it can be possible to link science communication to helping meet social needs.

For instance, in Guadalajara there was a science communication project that helped put the threats facing a local forest, which is its principal source of water, on to the agenda of local residents and politicians.

“The message was not ‘visit the forest’ but ‘let’s understand its role for the city’. It had such an impact on the public opinion that it led to a social opposition to housing companies [which wanted to build there],” Herrera said.

The delegates also agreed it’s important to make these graduate programmes visible globally, through, for example promoting them at international conferences, such as the PCST2014, and publishing research in international journals. This would allow for more opportunity to get Latin American students and their research into the international discussions. It would also increase the number of foreign students interested in coming to study in the region, they said.