Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Dresden conference: communicating science

The Dresden conference on materials, energy, and public acceptance is over - I am sorry that my report about it can only be partial because of my limited knowledge of German. However, I have been impressed by the attempt of the organizers to put together a truly interdisciplinary meeting, something that involves not just science and technology but also how to communicate science and technology.

In science, "interdisciplinarity" is one of those mythical beasts that some people report having heard of from a one-eyed sailor who had a brief glimpse of it while sailing through the Roaring Forties. But, occasionally, you can see the beast alive and kicking. This seems to be the case for the interdisciplinary program in science communication of the University of Dresden that puts together professor  Wolfgang Donsbach, specialist in communication science, and professor Antonio Hurtado, specialist in energy technologies; who has organized the conference.

The results of interdisciplinary work are always interesting although not always successful. Here, I think we can see the start of something surely interesting and that has potential for becoming successful. Here is, for instance, a picture of the poster shown by Adriane Schmidt at the conference. The group is doing a lot of good work, clearly in going in the right direction.

Apart from the communication work, the conference was all rotating around the concept of "Energiewende", the "energy transition". But we cannot have any transition if we don't manage public acceptance for the concept. In Germany, the energiewende idea seems to have gained some momentum; the very fact that it is recognized with a specific name and that is being discussed means that it is recognized as a definite possibility - even though, of course, it also generates plenty of opposition. This is a success for the communication of scientific ideas.

What we are seeing in Germany is a first step in the right direction; a promising start. In the end, we must recognize that doing good science is not enough any more. We need to become good at communicating science.


Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)