Science and the publics: a review of public understanding of science studies
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Science and technology touches the lives of all - we meet science and technology in our roles as citizens, workers, consumers, policymakers and researchers - and is key to individual, social and economic development. The public understanding and engagement with science has been measured quantitatively and monitored over time in many countries. South Africa does not have a systematic, comprehensive and nuanced assessment of the relationship between science and the public.
South Africa aspires towards being a knowledge-based economy for its development. The ingredients for that trajectory are a public that is educated and informed about the developments in science and technology. In South Africa, both those areas are of concern. We have undertaken this scoping exercise to outline the debates related to the publics and science, to review the studies related to the publics and science conducted internationally and in South Africa and to propose how we study the publics relationship with science in South Africa, a stratified country.
This scoping exercise outlines why the relationship between the publics and science is important and why it needs to be studied and monitored; it outlines the frameworks by which this relationship has been studied and uses this framework to suggest how we study the relationship in South Africa. We propose that in South Africa, a stratified society, we frame these studies under the rubric of publics' relationship with science. Given South Africa's diversity we need to recognise the different publics. We also recognise that the public's relationship will be shaped by the culture in which that public is located and a study of the relationship must report on both attitudes, views, knowledge etc. and on the science communication received.
We review the international and national studies around the publics' relationship with science and in these we include studies conducted through household surveys and studies conducted at schools. We also review the literature on how the relationship between science and the publics get shaped. We then propose a framework for how the publics' relationship with science could be studied in South Africa to provide a comprehensive and nuanced picture. This information would then drive the development agenda and would be at the heart of policy formulation and programmatic interventions.