"Science centers and museums should be places of continuous non-formal education, where people of all ages are drawn in to learn," according to Argentine researcher Diego Andrés Golombek, winner of 2015 UNESCO Kalinga Prize for the Popularization of Science. To mark the World Science Day for Peace and Development (10 November 2016), Wide Angle is publishing his interview conducted by the UNESCO Science Sector.
What is the importance of having a UN-recognized World Science Day for Peace and Development?
Science needs to be celebrated and communicated within all sectors of society. In this sense, the celebration of the World Science Day for Peace and Development is pertinent and timely, provided we do organize worldwide activities where people, can not only understand, but also experience and interact with scientific culture. Needless to say, science has no ideology nor purpose: it cannot be right or wrong morally speaking; however, scientists and institutions do have interests that we need to take care of, for example the national aims that foster science and technology as motors for development. Finally, the main application of science and technology is certainly development, in terms of health, education, clean energy and so forth. Indeed, dedicating this day to science for peace and development is a great success in itself.
How do you see the Day fitting in within science communication? Does it in any way influence the field of science communication?
Science communication needs to happen everywhere, all the time. However, having specific dates and themes might make it easier to engage the public. In my opinion, the best opportunity here is to devise citizen science activities that might take place simultaneously in different places of the world, and use this chance to communicate scientific thought and culture.
This year we’re celebrating science centres and science museums and the contribution they make to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
These goals are expansive and ambitious covering an array of issues linked to the Sustainable Development Goals; notably contributing to public education is a goal on its own. Moreover, in many cases, science centers and museums hold exhibits that relate directly to sustainability and, if not, we can also hold specific activities that contribute to public awareness of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. For example, in our centre we have joined the NASA/GLOBE activity of cloud observation.
What is the importance of science centres and science museums in society today?
I consider that, together with the idea of “edutainment”, science centers and museums have coined the notion of “sciencetainment”, i.e. sharing rigorous scientific culture in an entertaining manner. Even when directed at children, or teenagers, these centers appeal to all kinds of audiences, young and old, displaying not only scientific and technological advances and frontiers, but also the very fabric of scientific thought, which is indeed central to any kind of development, both personal and social.
We also aim to have science centers and museums as crossroads for the interaction with other aspects of human culture, including the arts and the humanities. If we can help to make people realize that science is indeed part of their everyday lives, then we have fulfilled part of our mission.
What function(s) should science centres and science museums fulfil in society, Are there any specific functions that science centres and science museums are still focusing too little on?
I certainly agree with UNESCO that the functions of science centres and museums range from providing informal science and technology education, to facilitating social interaction between science and society, to increasing the participation of the public in the decision making process!
And of course, another function of science centres and museums is to promote scientific vocations in young people.
In terms of gaps, I believe that we are still lacking in public engagement for the decision-making process. In general society knows very little about how these decisions are made, and science centres could help in the democratization of the process.
How do you see Science Centres and Science Museums in the future?
Generally, the public views science centers and museums as places for kids, where they can have fun, while having an educational experience. However, I would like to see these centers as places of continuous non-formal education, where people of all ages are drawn in to learn. Nevertheless, funding can also be a challenge, and centres must often be imaginative.
What would be the message you would like to convey on this World Science Day for Peace and Development?
Science is a way of looking at the world. It is a very powerful tool to understand nature and ourselves and, as such, can be applied to achieving development goals, including peace and a fair and sustainable development for all.
Born in Buenos Aires, Professor Diego Andrés Golombek is a biologist currently researching biological rhythms at the National University of Quilmes and the National Research Council (Argentina), and is director of the National Program of Science Popularization. In recognition of his tireless contribution to science communication and education in diverse and entertaining formats, notably for his role in the development of Argentina’s first Science Cultural Centre, he was awarded the UNESCO Kalinga Prize for the Popularization of Science in UNESCO Kalinga Prize for the Popularization of Science is an international distinction awarding outstanding contributions of individuals in communicating science to society and promoting the popularization of science. As UNESCO’s oldest prize and the first international Prize to recognize the popularization of science; it remains to this day the only Prize of its kind in the UN system.