Latin Science Isn’t Too Popular

Latin America’s scientists are failing to reach out to local populations or to share their knowledge effectively, a leading conference of academics in Buenos Aires was warned.

A survey carried out by Brazil’s Science, Technology and Innovation ministry (MCTI) found just 12 percent of respondents could cite the name of any of the country’s research institutes.

In Argentina, a comparable survey by RICYT, the Iberian-American Institute for Science and Technology Indicators, found the figure was 20 percent of the population.

Worse, estimates suggest only 2 – 5 percent of the region’s entire population regularly view science-based news articles, magazines, programmes or websites, or visit museums or “City of Science” installations.

“We are clearly failing in our attempts to communicate to the population at large the benefits of publicly-funded research, or to develop among the next generation an interest in science,” warned Marcelo Knobel, a professor at Brazil’s University of Campinas and a coordinator of the Buenos Aires science conference held 7-10 April, which brought together researchers from Brazil and Argentina.

This unwelcome news was shared at FAPESP Week Buenos Aires and event co-sponsored by the São Paulo research Foundation and its Argentine counterpart Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (Conicet).

According to Prof. Knobel, who is also a senior official with FAPESP, “Latin America’s populations simply don’t know about the science that’s going on, much less where it’s taking place across the region.”

Although surveys show that awareness of scientific research and the existence of institutions where it is carried out rise in line with education levels, the overall level remains extremely low, agreed Carmelo Polino, a researcher with Argentina’s Centro de Estudios sobre Ciencia, Desarollo y Educación Superior (Centro Redes), which is linked to RICYT.

Further survey-based evidence cited at the Buenos Aires conference included research by Datafolha Institute, the polling division of Brazil’s leading newspaper Folha de S. Paulo. Datafolha found that 79 percent of respondents regarded science subjects as being presented in too complex a fashion. A significant number said they had lost interest in science because of the way the subject was taught in schools.

Latin American science just isn't popular enough,  and scientists  may be to blame. Photo Wikimedia

Latin American science just isn’t popular enough, and scientists may be to blame. Photo Wikimedia

Nevertheless, a hunger for better information about science clearly exists within the population: the same Datafolha survey found a third of respondents regularly sought out science stories. Research by the University of Campinas Laboratory of Journalism Studies (Labjor) also found substantial repressed demand for better science information within the population.

You can read an article about the Labjor research and its conclusions by clicking here.

All this suggests that it is not demand, but supply that may be at fault – and that scientists, science publishers, and teachers must bear the blame for failing to communicate the benefits of science effectively enough.

“The problem isn’t caused by the public, but by researchers and those who should be communicating the benefits of science more effectively,” said Carlos Eduardo Lins da Silva, a professor of Journalism at São Paulo’s ESPM (Advanced School of Advertising and Marketing.) It was scientists themselves, he said, who were not able to do the job of communicating properly, and of reaching out to the public.

You can read a detailed article about this topic and the Buenos Aires Conference by Brazilian journalist Elton Alisson by clicking here


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