Dr Paul Merchant, interviewer for A Changing Planet, writes:
Much of the discussion at this year’s Science in Public conference focused on public access to the data and final outputs of scientific work, especially journal articles. Most agreed that papers reporting on publically funded research ought to be free to read. Various practical and ethical problems were discussed.
I was very excited by a paper on the translation of scientific findings/papers into documents that might be both accessed and understood by ‘the public’ (in the sense of non-scientists). By thinking about different conceptions of ‘translation’ from Actor-Network Theory and the work of philosopher Paul Ricoeur, the speaker raised questions about what should and should not be lost in translating science into publically understandable science.
Interviews for An Oral History of British Science contain many examples of scientists attempting to translate their work for audiences of non-scientists. Geologists recall public lectures. Geophysicists remember, in detail, their involvement in television programmes explaining plate tectonics. Climate scientists reflect on interviews for local and national newspapers, and television news programmes. Scientists of all kinds describe their contribution to public exhibits, from stalls at the British Antarctic Survey open days, to permanent exhibits at the Science Museum.
Perhaps I should have examined some of this material for my own paper at Science in Public. Instead I used the interviews to consider science in public in another sense – scientific work actually conducted in public, among ‘the public’. I played a number of clips, including this in which the late Russell Coope remembers practising palaeoclimatology in gravel quarries:
I argued, first, that scientists engaged in fieldwork in public and semi-public places encounter members of the public (farmers, quarry workers, tractor drivers) whose own engagement with and understanding of environment cannot simply be regarded as unscientific. And second, that it is during these encounters with members of the public in the field that scientists are most likely to reflect on their own identity as scientists – with delight, or anxiety, or both.
I am pleased to say that other delegates at the conference expressed great interest in what some of them called ‘the data’ – the interviews themselves. Many were intrigued to hear that An Oral History of British Science is recording (and making available) scientists’ memories of and reflections on their whole lives, including childhood, education, career, family life, relationships, hobbies, passions, dreams, retirement. Search content summaries and transcripts via the Sound & Moving Image Catalogue (under reference C1379; search tips can be found here) and listen for yourself at British Library Sounds.