With more opportunities and channels for communication available than ever before, scientists are probably in closer contact with the public than at any other period. Scientists are under increasing pressure to communicate, from funding agencies, their own universities and companies, and indeed from the media. But all this communication takes time, potentially posing the practising scientist with the dilemma: whether to focus on their research or to take time out to talk about it? On one side lies the attraction of the ivory tower, on the other the attractions of the public arena. How should one decide on the appropriate balance?
And what, in fact, do we want to achieve? Is the goal to demonstrate why scientific research is beneficial to society, or to demonstrate why scientific understanding is important in itself? If both, are these goals necessarily interrelated, or should we be trying to separate our approaches to them? These questions themselves raise the more fundamental issue of why we undertake scientific research at all, and whether scientists expect the public to engage with not only the outcomes of science, but the practice of science too. What, fundamentally, do we want to convey when we communicate ‘science’?
To address questions such as these we have assembled a diverse group of panelists: four Nobel Laureates (Walter Gilbert, Brian Kobilka, Sir Harold Kroto and Ada Yonath), Beatrice Lugger, (Deputy Director of the German National Institute for Science Communication), and Simon Engelke, a student participant and entrepreneur. Together they span the range from those who take obvious joy in communicating science to those who, as a rule, prefer not to step into the limelight. The panel discussion, moderated by Adam Smith (Editorial Director of Nobel Media), will aim to devote approximately equal time to discussion within the panel and questions from the audience.