Let's talk about it

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<ul><li><p>EDITORIAL</p><p>July/August 2005 1</p><p>I am frustrated. Frustrated at my inability to communicate</p><p>what it is I do. When meeting people at a party, I struggle after</p><p>initial pleasantries have turned to the topic of occupations.</p><p>Doctor, teacher, or lawyer immediately tell everything</p><p>about a profession in a single word. The day-to-day routine,</p><p>the difficulties faced, and the difference they make are all</p><p>instantly recognizable. I, on the other hand, watch eyes slowly</p><p>glaze over while I try to explain materials science. In avoiding</p><p>scientific terms, I am left grasping at half-sensible analogies</p><p>while making increasingly fraught gestures with my hands. </p><p>I am also puzzled. Why is science communication so difficult?</p><p>Surely, a large part of science is explaining how new findings</p><p>reinforce or alter our current picture of how things are, how</p><p>they work, or how they can be made to work? I also believe</p><p>there is an increasing public appetite for science. Biomedical</p><p>discoveries or images from the extremities of the solar system</p><p>are now front-page news, and often the only good news.</p><p>Physics that notoriously difficult science currently has a</p><p>high profile with the World Year of Physics. In fact, it is hard to</p><p>escape Einstein just now, with even comedy shows and dance</p><p>performances celebrating his famous three papers of 1905. </p><p>While the Year of Physics is a great opportunity to increase</p><p>interest and popularity, the iconic status of Einstein also points</p><p>to some of the difficulties in science communication. Everyone</p><p>knows the slightly disheveled, shuffling, white-haired old man</p><p>standing in front of a chalk board. This is what a scientist</p><p>should look like. Everyone also knows that Einsteins theories</p><p>are incomprehensible. This is what a scientist should produce</p><p> something esoteric, impenetrable. Einstein restored faith in</p><p>the unintelligibility of science, writes John D. Barrow of the</p><p>University of Cambridge in an essay, Einstein as icon [Nature</p><p>(2005) 433, 218]. You didnt need to try to understand and</p><p>no one would think you stupid for not knowing.</p><p>Not only must researchers confront the barrier of people not</p><p>bothering to understand, but these fast-paced, media-saturated</p><p>times mean that only simple messages resonate. Often,</p><p>reporting concentrates not on the results themselves but what</p><p>they may lead to in future, as that is what the layperson can</p><p>appreciate in the available time. So, it is very easy to oversell</p><p>the science, going too far in sexing up a story: fuel cells will</p><p>solve our clean energy needs; stem cells will cure Parkinsons. </p><p>These perceived magic outcomes of incomprehensible science</p><p>by white-coated boffins closeted in hidden labs are dangerous</p><p> especially so when the public and political awareness of</p><p>science is increasingly important. There are difficult debates to</p><p>be had where science must face wider ethical issues or various</p><p>personally held values. This includes the potential risks of</p><p>exposure to free, engineered nanoparticles, balancing security</p><p>with civil rights in developing ever more pervasive sensing</p><p>technologies, and the disposal of nuclear waste. Here, societal</p><p>involvement is absolutely necessary. If science experts are still</p><p>to be heard and trusted, then open, honest communication is</p><p>critical. That includes elaborating on the research process, the</p><p>available evidence, and the inherent uncertainties. </p><p>Jonathan Wood</p><p>Acting Editor, Materials Today</p><p>Lets talk about it </p><p>Editorial Advisory PanelGabriel Aeppli, University College London, UKCaroline Baillie, Queens University, CanadaZhenan Bao, Stanford University, USARobert Cahn FRS, University of Cambridge, UKMartin Castell, University of Oxford, UKLarry Dalton, University of Washington, USAPeter Goodhew, University of Liverpool, UKHermann Grimmeiss, Lunds Universitet, SwedenAlan Heeger, University of California, Santa Barbara, USA</p><p>George Jeronimidis, University of Reading, UKMark Johnson, Naval Research Laboratory, USA Richard A. L. Jones, University of Sheffield, UKStephen Pearton, University of Florida, USAFrans Spaepen, Harvard University, USARichard Spontak, North Carolina State University, USAMarshall Stoneham FRS, University College London, UKGeorge Whitesides, Harvard University, USAJackie Yi-Ru Ying, Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, Singapore </p><p>Published byElsevier Ltd.The Boulevard, Langford Lane,Kidlington, OX5 1GB, UK</p><p>EditorialPublisher Amanda WeaverEditor Cordelia SealyActing Editor Jonathan WoodAssistant Editor Mark TelfordEditorial Assistant Eleanor OrchardProduction/Design CoordinatorChristopher EddieTel: +44 (0)1865 843 140Fax: +44 (0)1865 843 933E-mail: materialstoday@elsevier.com</p><p>AdvertisingAdvertisements Manager Kevin PartridgeTel: +44 (0)1865 843 717Fax: +44 (0)1865 843 933E-mail: k.partridge@elsevier.comAdvertisement Sales, Europe David KayTel: + 44 (0)1273 423 512Fax: + 44 (0)1273 422 707E-mail: dkay@fastnet.co.uk</p><p>Free circulation enquiriesMaterials Today, Tower House,Sovereign Park, Market HarboroughLE16 9EF, UKTel: +44 (0)1858 439 601Fax: +44 (0)1858 434 958E-mail: controlled1@subscription.co.uk</p><p>Subscription orders &amp; paymentsPrice: Price: 161 / US$180Europe/ROW Tel: +31 20 485 3757</p><p>Fax: +31 20 485 3432USA Tel: +1 212 633 3730</p><p>Fax: +1 212 633 3680</p><p> Elsevier Ltd. 2005</p><p>Materials Today is owned andpublished by Elsevier Ltd. 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