Science used to be the broccoli of popular culture, something you had to trick people into consuming. Now it’s more like kombucha: suddenly cool, and for reasons that are still only vaguely understood.
That’s among the themes of yesterday’s MIT News Q&A with John Durant, director of the MIT Museum, and David Kaiser, Germeshausen Professor of the History of Science and director of MIT’s Program in Science, Technology, and Society, about their recent report on the September 2013 special event The Evolving Culture of Science Engagement.
There is a tremendous proliferation of new forms of science engagement. Back in the day, you were really talking about journalism, public lectures, radio or television documentaries, museum and science centers, and not terribly much more. But today we have people doing stand-up comedy based around matters scientific; We have storytelling initiatives, with people converging in pubs and clubs to hear scientists talking about their own lives and their work; and we have people who are having extraordinary success with science in social networks, on YouTube, and so on…One of the most disconcerting qualities about it — and I’m being tongue-in-cheek — is that a lot of it seems rather cool.
The 2013 conference, which was supported by the Knight Science Journalism program as well as the Noyce Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, Intel, the Wellcome Trust, and several other offices and departments at MIT, was designed to begin a conversation and an investigation into the roots of these changes. Conventional top-down approaches to improving “public understanding of science” – think science museums and newspaper science sections – are now being supplemented, sometimes even eclipsed, by everything from animated YouTube series like Minute Physics to …