There is a worrying decrease in the number of students studying the physical sciences. In order to improve teaching methods and make physics, especially, more relevant to employers’ demands and attractive to students, some universities have incorporated “problem based learning” (PBL) in their courses. Their aim is to develop problem-solving skills in students, rather than just “fact learning”, with a strong element of self-direction by the student, emphasising the problem solving procedures themselves. Clearly, courses must be well directed in order to take into account the basic mathematical skills and knowledge students already have. In “Could undergraduate physics teaching be better?” – a question which always has “yes” as an answer – Lewis Elton provides an overview of physics teaching in the UK, and promotes his ideas on PBL.
The ideal situation for those that are involved in portraying the physical sciences on television is that journalists should know about science and be independent, critical and professional observers; and the scientists should know about the history and social implications of their work, and see popularisation as a prime duty. The conclusions of Jochen Pade and Klaus Schluepmann in “Science on Television”: an analysis of European scientific programmes aired during a three-month period, was that this ideal is far from the case. Since their study was done the situation may have improved in some areas, with significant individual exceptions, but generally contentious issues are not handled very well by the press.
For the scientists involved, communication with the public on contentious issues is fraught with difficulty. Often scientists are seen as opposed to environmentalists, even though many scientists consider environmental issues important. By the same token many environmentalists have had scientific training and yet are labelled anti-science. In “Environmentalists vs Scientists” Tiziana Lanza analyses two case studies in Italy, though the examples considered have their mirror images in many countries.