It is a shame that we live in a society where it is easier to raise 100 million pounds to buy a jumbo jet to ferry holidaymakers to Lanzarote, than to raise 50 million pounds to send a probe to Mars in order to find life. As it is, 50 million, the cost of the Beagle 2 mission was not enough for Colin Pillinger, the project leader, to beat the odds and succeed. Even though the Beagle 2 mission failed in its objective, the publicity generated and success in communicating the science and wonder of the project can only be described as beyond anything seen in recent years. The person behind the publicity machine was Peter Barratt, who is interviewed for our first item in this issue.
The interaction between science and the public occurs in many diverse ways. Successful communication, particularly through the medium of television, usually involves direct engagement between viewer and presenter. In the case of Beagle 2 Colin Pillinger was extremely skilful in projecting his personality and giving science a human face. In our second item Bienvenido León analyses the work of the broadcaster and naturalist David Attenborough, who in a number of series of documentary programmes on television, has informed and enchanted the minds of generations of viewers and brought the marvels of the animal kingdom into people’s lives.
Returning to an astronomical theme, Carmen del Puerto of the Astrophysical Institute of the Canary Islands, describes how her department provides input of astrophysical discoveries into the Spanish media. Informing the public on a subject as abstruse as black holes is not easy and it is just as hard in the Spanish press and television to get the message through as in other countries. It is not simply the question of publicly funded institutes justifying themselves to the public but fulfilling a genuine desire to share their discoveries and enhance and engage the cultural diversity of society of which science is a part.
Communication also enhances debate both within science and about science, but this debate must be critical and rational. The philosophical underpinning of science cannot be neglected and Roger Trigg in his article “Beyond Science” warns of the dangers of allowing science to become either divorced from its philosophical foundations or, worse, become dominated by opinion and majority beliefs.