The paradox in the title of Sharon MacDonald’s article “Exhibitions and the Public Understanding of Science Paradox” is that more science in the public arena has not led to better public understanding, but rather more illiteracy and misinformation about science. One side of the paradox underlies the growing importance of science in society and the diverse ways it is thrown at the public, the other effect reflects the pressure on the public to evaluate, reason and make judgements – as the temperature goes up so does the entropy. Rather than an insoluble paradox, MacDonald sees the broader approach of science museums to science as culture as a positive move to engender the “wow” factor in science and stimulate the public to ask questions rather than seek answers.
In “The View from the Rhine”, Wolfgang Goede gives a brief review of the present state of science communication in Germany. He describes details of a training programme for science journalists and scientists in which the aim is to bridge the gap between science and the public. Science reporting is gaining in importance in Germany and the project Goede describes will enhance the training of journalists in science skills as well as helping scientists to be more media aware – and even to become journalists.
In her article “Clio meets Minerva”, Barbara Tuchanska poses the provocative conclusion that the historical nature of science is not fully taken into account by philosophers of science. Tuchanska identifies two problems: First, the abstraction of historical events in science for the purpose of analysis of itself displaces the events from their historical perspective. Second, history is seen as descriptive, whereas philosophy of science is about models and is in essence ahistorical. Tuchanska argues that the way through these tensions is to view continuity in science as part of its own self-making process, and as a result neither historical nor philosophical aspects of science have a privileged position.
Literary metaphors in science are often interesting and revealing, but the reverse process i.e. scientific (or mathematical) metaphors in literature are much rarer and when they occur have a special fascination. In “The Geometry of a Paper” Daylene Zielinski describes an analogy between fractal geometry and essay writing. The former arises out of chaos theory and describes iterative schemes which give rise to often quite bizarre mathematical structures, which abound in nature. Zielinski shows how these fractal structures provide a template for essay writing and she incorporates this analogy in her essay writing classes to her students to good effect.
As this issue is coming out the Mars lander Beagle 2 is hurtling towards the red planet. It is due to land on Mars on 25th December and, barring accidents, may be able to shed light on whether there is or has ever been life on Mars. Whatever happens, congratulations to Colin Pillinger and his team. We will know soon enough the answer to the “Life on Mars” question, either through Beagle 2, if it is successful, or some other future project. But what is different, now in the UK, is that the final frontier for science has been reached and breached – yes, I am referring to the media spotlight, the public relations dream. Don’t knock it: scientists have been battling for decades in the UK to make headway in the popular press and TV with a front-page story reported in an accurate and sensible way. They may not find life on Mars, but the Beagle 2 team have certainly shown the way to communicate science.