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British Council seminar "Communicating the beauty of science". 25–30 March, 2008. Edinburgh, England.

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead : his eyes are closed.

The pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all our lives. Albert Einstein

Science is truly beautiful. On every scale from the sub-atomic to the pan-galactic. Beautiful molecules and beautiful life-forms ; beautiful discoveries and beautiful theories. But not everyone notices all this beauty. Or when they do see it, they don’t see it as anything to do with science. As Einstein says, their eyes are closed. So how can we open them ? How do we get those who “just don’t get it” – who perceive science as dull, difficult or ugly – to give science a second glance…and a second chance ?

It’s not straightforward : Many people formed negative attitudes to science early, often at school, but are now too busy to spend time revising their opinions. Attempts are made to turn people on to science by making it ‘fun’ or to simplify it, but what motivates most scientists is their curiosity and the inherent beauty which they see when exploring the underlying structures and rules that make up the universe.

What doesn’t help is that for all the efforts of scientists, journalists and others much potentially broad-interest science still comes shrouded in jargon and equations, disguising its beauty. The media then adds its own distortions. It provides the lens through which the general public see science and scientists. Yet many feel it is a lens which needs its focus adjusting : scientists often object to how the media trivialises their research, while many in the media complain that scientists are poor communicators unwilling or unable to go beyond the cold facts to convey the excitement and wonder of their work. This polarisation of views can undermine public understanding, hamper scientific credibility and distort the whole image of science.

This seminar will tackle all these challenges : setting out how scientists and journalists can improve the ways they understand and utilise each other, and exploring how science communication can go beyond communicating the facts and findings of science, to convey its beauty and mystery. Get it wrong and the vastness of science, all that’s known and all that still isn’t, may seem daunting and discouraging. But get it right and this is at the heart of its appeal – an exhilarating plunge into the unknown where however deep you go you can always scoop up a few pearls of wisdom.

Closely linked to the Edinburgh International Science Festival, the event combines workshops, practical exercises, interactive sessions and talks with highlights from the Festival programme. Sessions will be intensely interactive and fun and built on exchanges of ideas, brainstorming, and comparisons of different global practices. The scope will range from broad issues such as how to make science appeal to those who don’t find it attractive, to guidance on being interviewed, to the detailed anatomy of individual science stories. Leading scientists, journalists and science communicators will take part in the sessions, but there will also be an emphasis on the expertise and experience brought by the participants, and the programme is flexible enough both to take on their specific interests and concerns and to allow time to explore Edinburgh and the Science Festival. It should be an eye-opener.

More detail on the website : [www.britishcouncil.org/seminars-science-0710.htm]