4 Comments »Posted on Friday 30 January 2009 at 3:19 pm by Jacob Aron
In Musings, Science Policy

This week saw the launch of a new government campaign designed to reduce the perception that science is “elitist” by promoting the ways scientific advances enrich our everyday lives.

Run by the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS), Science [So What? So Everything] has a swanky looking website complete with Web2.0 curved corners, and you can even follow the campaign on Twitter.

An advert from the campaign
An advert from the campaign.

The adverts all follow a similar theme, illustrating various things that science offers people such as healthier diets for babies, laser eye surgery, and of course Facebook. The government hopes that campaign will help build a more science-literate society, after a government survey last year found that more than half of respondents felt science was too difficult for most people to understand.

Science Minister Lord Drayson met with celebrities including Terry Pratchett (the sci-fi author who is now searching for a cure for his Alzheimer’s) and Heston Blumenthal (celebrity chef with a taste for molecular gastronomy) in Downing Street to launch the campaign on Wednesday.

He praised Britain for being a world-leader in science, second only to the US, and stressed that as maintaining this standard will be vital for our future, the public perception of a scientific elite needs to change:

“We must challenge myths like these if we are to build a prosperous, science-literate society, able to tackle the difficult issues that modern science presents and work them through to create the jobs and growth of the future.

“Science is going to be an important tool for getting us out of this downturn. We all need to be aware of the impact of science on our lives. We also need more trained scientists and engineers to help build the Britain of the future in key areas such as earth and life sciences.

“My job is to make sure these messages are understood.”

The trouble is, I’m not sure these adverts actually do challenge the perception of science as “elitist”. In essence, they boil down to the government saying “Look you, sit down and listen. Science has done all these things for you, so you’d better be bloody grateful for once.”

Ironically, given my thoughts on the service earlier this week, I think it’s actually the Twitter account that is the most interesting part of this campaign. Following the discussion there, it seems like some actual two-way conversation on science between the people and the government is taking place. The rest – the website, the adverts – is just the usual stuff dressed up in a bunch of [square brackets] to make it look hip and modern.

Perhaps our government should take a look across the pond at how President Obama’s administration is using new technology to talk to it’s citizens. Maybe the campaign slogan should be revised: Science: [So What? So Twitter]…

  1. 4 Comments

  2. I’m getting a strong sense of deja vu, this feels eerily like http://www.talktofrank.com...

    By Neuroskeptic on Friday 30 January, 2009 at 6:19 pm

  3. Thanks for the love re Twitter – I was that webmonkey :)

    I’ve come in as an outsider to govt and I reckon people would be surprised at just how keen politicians / civil servants are to get up to speed on social media. There’s a genuine desire to make campaigns better and have more effective communication with the electorate / public at large. Very promising, early days of course… one step at a time…



    By EP on Monday 2 February, 2009 at 9:19 am

  4. Interesting to hear that. Can we expect more updates to the campaign through Twitter then?

    By Jacob Aron on Monday 2 February, 2009 at 9:24 am

  5. That’s the plan..!

    A lot of govt campaign sites / channels die off after a short lifecycle (usually because of lack of funds to keep them up and running). We’re working on ways to keep conversations like this going – govt wants it and so do the people they’re talking to so it makes sense. Takes a while to steer an oil tanker in the right direction, mind, but trying is a start…!

    By EP on Monday 2 February, 2009 at 10:11 am

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