Change the state of Indian SciComm

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---This petition will remain active until 31st of January 2020 for signatures. After the deadline, this document along with the signatures will be printed and mailed to each of the addressed office bearers---

This is an open call to promote initiatives that make the Indian SciComm community more inclusive, by recognising and supporting its current diversity of agents and efforts


We are a group of interested stakeholders across the entire spectrum of science communication roles. We practice science communication in affiliation with institutes as well as freelance. We focus on India and its citizens as our target audience.

As young and upcoming science communicators, we are not well represented by the status quo of governmental and allied science communication agencies and institutions. We do not have access to much of the infrastructure that is sponsored by these institutions. To rectify this, we strongly request the following:

  • A constantly updated and current list of all Indian science communicators, curated and hosted on a publicly accessible website. The list should be indexed and searchable by name, mode of communication (writer, artist etc.,) and contact details.
  • A constantly updated, publicly accessible and current list of funding opportunities for Indian science communicators, both professional and freelance, to host and attend meetings such as conferences, workshops and conclaves – nationally and internationally. 
  • Better representation, inclusion and diversity at all national/regional/institutional science communication meetings, initiatives and festivals. More specifically in terms of gender, age, location, and most importantly in terms of professional scicomm experiences. A commitment from agencies and institutes to have atleast 30% women representatives on their panels for conferences and meetings.

 


Effective Science Communication (Scicomm) is necessary:

  1. To improve general scientific literacy among the public
  2. To understand the role of science in the culture and consciousness of a society
  3. To provide the general public with knowledge and tools for effective decision making and to democratise science by enabling the public to participate in scientific discourse
  4. To promote accountability of scientists doing science in an enterprise and ecosystem that is funded by the public taxpayer’s contributions
  5. To showcase the science, hard work and dedication of scientists doing active research all over India and not just in premier research institutes.
  6. To support a better science education system by providing up to date information for science-oriented subjects at school and university

These are the shortcomings of Indian Scicomm : 

  • Science Communication is seen to be a passive and unidirectional effort to ‘educate’ or ‘inform’ the public. Any non-scientist is assumed to automatically be at a ‘lower’ knowledge level than the communicator and the best way to communicate science was to ‘talk at’ the public.
  • Institutional SciComm has been restricted to institutional outreach through events like open days, conferences and conclaves. Science Museums and Science Centers do community centric scicomm by hosting annual lectures and events. However, most science outreach events are constructed to be one time experiences for the audience. Repeated exposure and sustained engagement to build trust among the audiences is not widely practiced.
  • There is little to no indication of social science research on the subject of effective scicomm and outreach especially those that specifically pertain to the Indian context. There are very few researchers pursuing this area of study and their work is not adequately modified and applied to real-life situations. 
  • The use of science art is restricted to schematic diagrams and illustrations within scientific texts, academic textbooks and other distribution material. There is little to no use of experimental science art formats and media to help conceptualise and design innovative ways of engaging the public with science. 


Despite the immense benefits of science reaped by an ever-advancing Indian society, these problems ensure that news about Indian science barely features in the cultural zeitgeist of modern day India. Indian scientists are hardly recognized and results of Indian scientific research is rarely featured in popular media. 

But there are instances where Indian SciComm is improving :

  • Audiences are not treated as a group that needs to be informed or educated. They are considered aware, receptive and capable of contributing their unique sets of expertise and life experiences to a continuing narrative of scicomm. Thus, they are active players in a dialogue of communicating science. 
  • Institutional scicomm is coming into its own. There is a growing group of dedicated scicomm and outreach officers at science institutions. They have access to various kinds of activities that range beyond organizing the usual roster of open days and conferences. These new efforts include –  encouraging scicomm talks in regional languages, organizing science talks in residential complexes, making and disseminating podcasts and videos and pushing the envelope on bidirectional audience interactions using social media. 
  • Science communication institutes such as NISCAIR perform active research in scicomm and ones like HBCSE-TIFR collaborate with science education researchers in India. Such combinations of institutes has helped open up new channels of communication between science research institutes, scicomm research institutes, schools and colleges. Outreach content, especially tailor-made for school-age children and young adults, is now freely accessible and available.
  • Science art has come into its own with the inputs of professionally trained designers and artists. They have helped create unique and useful media such as graphical abstracts, infographics and 2D and 3D animated videos. Using such different kinds of media not only make concepts easier to understand, but they also make science more accessible by reaching a wider variety of audience with different languages, learning styles and backgrounds. Further, science illustration can also be employed as a powerful tool for improving our conceptual understanding of scientific processes, by providing us with newer visual perspectives and insights. 

 


This new multimodal and multidimensional form of scicomm is being practiced in India by scicomm-ers from a variety of backgrounds:

  1. Science communicators including science writers, science artists, multimedia content creators, science teachers and pedagogy experts
  2. Scientists who are actively engaged in science communication
  3. Outreach managers affiliated with research institutes
  4. Government officers, in Vigyan Prasar, DBT and DST tasked with increasing public scientific literacy and awareness
  5. Members of science education organizations & scientific societies, both professional and amateur, who are actively engaged in science communication

 

As Indian science communicators in this day and age, we have a gargantuan task cut out for us to shift this narrative. However, the current environment is not conducive for us to do our best work. We are plagued by: 

  • Lack of resources and support to help develop and sustain an ecosystem for evidence-based science communication practice. These include access to funds, initiatives for continuous professional development, capacity-building and a seat at the table where the state of the field is discussed through dialogue and discourse
  • Lack of access to information (or intensive gatekeeping) about the field faced by novices, amateurs and interested parties along with lack of access to governmental funds, peer networks and recognition from already existing institutes and networks like NCSC, CSIR-NISCAIR, ISCOS, Vigyan Prasar
  • Lack of recognition and support for science communication as a research field in itself . There is a need for encouragement from organisations to help inculcate a culture for researching science communication theories and methods, especially in the Indian context
  • Lack of understanding, even amongst the scientific community, as to the impact and meaning of science communication. This is the result of lack of communication between social sciences and other sciences, making it difficult for hard science researchers to understand the social value of communicating their research to a lay audience.
  • Lack of defined jobs and roles in organizations, institutes and Universities and the absence of defined roles and standardized salaries. Currently, there is a sudden influx of new institute and department positions for scicomm and outreach with little background knowledge about the skills needed and the appropriate remuneration required
  • Lack of inclusion and diversity. Indian SciComm lacks the voices and experiences of under-represented groups such as women and Indian language communicators and scicommers from non tier-1 cities, universities and institutes



To help us do our best work and change how science is communicated in India, we want to see some systemic and long-lasting changes. These include: 

  • Science communicators should have access access to science, scientists, scientific meetings with or without institutional association.
  • Open and publicly accessible listing of grants and funding sources for professional and freelance scicomm initiatives, including for attending international conferences, workshops and courses.
  • For each university and scientific institute to have a fully staffed and functioning communications and outreach department, whose members are chosen according to a defined skill rubric and compensated adequately as fully salaried employees. An ideal team should include atleast – one public engagement officer, one social media manager, one graphic designer and an overall co-ordinator.
  • More initiatives, grants and opportunities to encourage and promote cross-disciplinary research into evidence-based practices that can be applied to not just to general science communication, but also to public engagement, citizen science and science policy interventions.
  • More inclusive calls for conferences and societies related to scicomm and more diverse representation in higher offices and conference panels


Why is this change important?

Current Indian society is complex and varied in terms of its socio-economic, linguistic, cultural, and ethnic diversity. To go hand in hand, Indians today deserve a better way to know more about Indian science and the enterprise of science as a whole. Given both the scale and diversity of our populace, our challenges for scicomm are on a scale that is not comparable with other nations. Doing effective scicomm in India not only requires constant feedback, but also an emphasis on facilitating scicomm and outreach in our own local languages and contexts. Simply said, we need to change the way we look at science and science communication.

Despite many years of advancements, many of our citizens still lack basic scientific knowledge on important topics such as health & hygiene, sanitation, agriculture, climate, etc. Our scientific policy making machinery is in its infancy, when compared with other nations on a similar developmental timeline. With better science communication and public engagement, we can raise our nation’s scientific literacy levels and help initiate dialogues that can truly change the way Indians interact with science. The democractic and equitable public discourse that will result from this change can truly empower stakeholders like scientists, engineers, policymakers, farmers, students, and other public groups to make informed decisions for the society. And finally, there is an urgent need to encourage and enable diversity and inclusivity not just in science but also in science communication. It is very important to abolish narrow mindsets and gatekeeping of who is able to communicate this science and through what channels. Indian science communication must be open to communicators from all backgrounds, affiliations, expertise, and inclinations to do justice to the unique diversity that is Indian society and science.

Our constitution explicitly proclaims that development scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform is one of the fundamental duties of the people of the Republic of India. Effective science communication done by trained agents can showcase this very spirit of scientific enquiry and inspire generations of Indian scientists to come.

 

CONTRIBUTORS AND EDITORS:
Shruti Muralidhar (indscicomm@gmail.com)
Siddharth Kankaria (siddharth.kankaria@gmail.com)
Lipsa (lipsa89@gmail.com)
Somdatta Karak (somdattak@gmail.com)
P Surat (suratsaravanan@gmail.com)