Roland Jackson, Chief Executive of the British Science Association , and a member of the Steering Group for the project, offers a perspective on science and culture.
I have always been interested in what the Public Attitude Surveys tell us, and not least to use the results to challenge those who still persist in claiming that the UK public is ‘anti-science’ when it is clearly nothing of the sort.
This time round I developed a particular interest in the concept of science and culture, leading out of the work we did on the Science for All Group (http://interactive.bis.gov.uk/scienceandsociety/site/all/). In our Report and Action Plan we identified a number of actions to encourage UK cultural institutions to take a strategic approach to the sciences in culture, and we recommended that public perceptions of science and culture should be explored in this upcoming Survey.
It has always irked me that the arts community in the UK seems to have purloined the words ‘culture’ and ‘creativity’ as if they are synonymous with the ‘arts’. For example, the European Capital of Culture bidding process, and that of the UK City of Culture, have no requirement for a science-based cultural programme (though the use of digital technologies is graciously and instrumentally encouraged in the latter to ‘maximise participation and access’). Not that I have anything against the arts, but my concept of culture and of creativity certainly includes the sciences, and they are implicitly excluded in the way these bidding documents are written and interpreted.
So, it is good to see the Public Attitudes Survey 2011 seeking to test out how the public views science and culture. The first indications are that the term ‘culture’ lacks a clear definition for people, but that they do see science enriching and extending our culture. They see economic benefits, informed public debate, leisure opportunities through e.g. science centres and museums, popular books and television, and enhancement, because of the science content, in entertainment programmes like Grand Designs.
It is time to recapture culture and creativity from the exclusive grip of the artists, and to claim them squarely for the sciences too.
On a lighter note, I’ve been pleased that the British Science Association has been able to work closely with Ipsos MORI on this project. We sourced the scientists who appeared at the deliberative workshops held last year, and so it was interesting and inspiring to read of the experiences of Sarah and Kate in two of the previous posts. I hope it’s been a useful learning experience for them, as well as adding a different dimension to BIS’s research. It’s apt then that BIS are planning to launch the results of the study during National Science and Engineering Week in March which this year has a theme of communication.