What is the role of lobbying in the scientific community, the science-based industries or other organizations where science plays a pivotal role? Indeed, what is science? Carl Johan Sundberg, Swedish physician, medical researcher and founder of the Euroscience Open Forum, intends to deliberate these thought-provoking questions during the session he has co-organizeed with Anna Larsson from Public Swedish Radio at this year´s PCST conference.
“Science without communication has a limited effect. If people don´t know why and what we´re doing then how will anyone be able to use it?”
Sundberg has long been passionate about the inseparable union of science and communication. In 1999 he conceived the Euroscience Open Forum (ESOF). At the time, the European association devoted to the advancement of science, Euroscience, was still in its early infancy.
“There was a need then, as there is still now, for many more arenas for science or knowledge to meet the public and indeed for people engaged in science to exchange views and knowledge.”
In Stockholm during 2004 Carl Johan Sundberg breathed life into the first ever pan-European general science meeting, ESOF, which hosted a smorgasbord of plenary lectures and scientific sessions. Its success has led the way to the now firmly established biennial ESOF meetings. The second was in Munich 2006 and this year, 2008, in Barcelona. Turin has won the bid to host 2010.
Carl Johan Sundberg´s initiative for the ESOF helped earn him the 2005 Descartes Prize for Science Communication. Ironically, his reaction to learn about the prize highlights communication gaps. “I didn´t know there was such a prize in the field of science communication.”
Dr. Sundberg´s own research with muscle physiology brings him in practical contact with communication within research. But not all research catches the media´s eye.
“At most, one of ten studies has some potential media interest. We send out a press release; then the journalists might start calling.”
In this professional role as a researcher, Sundberg has found basis for his session at the PCST-10 conference. The media plays an integral role in shaping how research and science affect us all. That mutually dependant relationship sets the stage for the session topic: ‘The role of lobbying´ in which challenging questions will be posed.
“Who sets the agenda on what is reported on? Is it the scientists, the science journals, the media or a totally different power? What is the role of lobbying? And how askew does the outcome become due to it?”
Sundberg explains, “It´s the big scientific journals which get the limelight. But it is often the specialist journals which publish much of the most significant research.”
And if that wasn´t enough to fill Carl Johan Sundberg´s plate, the tireless physician, researcher and communications expert is pivotal in improving the relationship of the media, the public and the scientific community. Sundberg is initiator and course director of two higher education courses aimed at bridging the schism between scientists and the media. Popular Science Communication at Karolinska Institute uses leading Swedish journalists from Swedish Public radio and Svenska Dagbladet to train PhD and medical students on how to effectively communicate science to non-scientists. Its counterpart,Medicine for Journalists, gears up 40-50 journalists on basic and clinical medical science and how to critically assess scientific information.
Sundberg regrets he won´t be able to attend all sessions at the PCST-10 conference. Of the many he hopes to participate in, two stand out in their similarity to his own topic and professional experience. One is the symposium organized by Nancy Longnecker from the University of Western Australia Science entitled Science communication programs at universities. The other is the symposium organised by Hans Peter Peters, Research Center Jülich, Germany, Science and the media: a cross-national analysis of biomedical researchers’ interactions with the media and the role of organizational science.
“I want to learn from them their experience and share my experience with them.”
What is Carl Johan Sundberg´s role at the conference?
“I´m there to facilitate dialogue in our session. We´re not there to be “talking heads” on a panel.”
Text: Elizabeth Dacey