“We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.” – Carl Sagan
It seems that my destiny is intertwined with science and technology, despite my attempts to distance myself from it. The more I try to escape, the more it catches up with me. Science explains myths and mysteries, while technology simplifies complex tasks. In a world where we constantly seek meaning and explanations for the ever-changing dynamics of our daily lives, science and technology become our saving grace.
However, it is ironic that despite living in a society that is heavily reliant on science and technology, the majority of people know very little about it. In fact, many believe that Nigeria is not making any progress or is completely in the dark when it comes to inventions, discoveries, innovations, and groundbreaking contributions in science and technology. This perception may not be entirely accurate. The way we tell the story of science and technology needs to change in order for the outcomes of our efforts to be useful and drive sustainable development.
Currently, it appears that not enough is being done in terms of communication and advocacy. Science and technology are being communicated, but not in the way they should be. In most cases, researchers rely on conventional media to disseminate their research outcomes, primarily for promotion rather than focusing on their potential impact on development. The prevailing cliché is “publish or perish.”
As a result, mediums such as journals, conferences, workshops, monographs, and books are used to share research findings. However, the consequence is that the potential impact of such research outcomes on society is diminished. New media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and others are rarely utilised by researchers, let alone more traditional mass media platforms such as newspapers, television and radio. In this environment, few researchers and scholars write newspaper columns or host radio/television shows to showcase what happens in laboratories or within universities and research institutes. As a result, many research outcomes end up on bookshelves without reaching end users who could translate them into development.
The media itself has not been supportive of science and technology. Only a few newspapers have dedicated science and technology desks, and the same goes for electronic media. Many journalists consider science and technology to be dull and uninteresting. Some even find it too complicated to communicate, as it is often filled with jargon that appears esoteric to the average person. Consequently, the majority of journalists avoid it like the plague.
In order to make science and technology understandable to the general public, the narrative must change. We need to move from the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) concept to STEAM (science, technology, engineering arts and mathematics). By emphasising the arts in the equation, communicators and scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians must work together. This collaboration will enable trained communicators to use various communication tools to simplify scientific and technological jargon, making the story not only well-told but also relatable to stakeholders. Science and technology will continue to be seen as impenetrable as long as those who should be telling the story are excluded. To change the narrative, certain actions should be taken.
While it is essential for researchers and scholars to publish their work, especially for promotion purposes, it is crucial to note that communicating research outcomes should not be limited to conventional media such as workshops, journal articles and conferences. Science and technology, like life, is dynamic and therefore, the way research outcomes are communicated should not be rigid. Several changes need to occur if we want key stakeholders, particularly entrepreneurs, to utilise and translate research outcomes into products and services that will drive sustainable development. The following suggestions may help change the narrative:
1. The Federal Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation should urgently establish a science and technology museum. This museum would serve as a central location where prototypes of research outcomes, inventions, discoveries, and innovations from various agencies and parastatals under the ministry can be displayed. These prototypes would generate interest among relevant stakeholders such as entrepreneurs, policymakers and science communicators.
2. Researchers should start utilising new media and social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to disseminate their research outcomes.
3. Researchers should contribute columns to newspapers and magazines, showcasing the outcomes of their research.
4. Researchers should produce podcasts highlighting important research outcomes and make them available to the public.
5. Government agencies with expertise in science communication should organize webinars and seminars/workshops to educate storytellers about the workings of science and technology.
6. Departments of communication and media studies should prioritise science and technology communication to produce graduates who are equipped to tell science and technology stories effectively.
These suggestions are not exhaustive, and there are many other initiatives that can change our perspective on science and technology. What is crucial is the need to change the way we communicate science and technology. Without a doubt, as Zoltan Istan stated, “science and technology can solve all the world’s problems, and historically it has been shown to make the world better and better.”
This further reinforces the critical nature of science and technology for human existence, as emphasized by Carl Sagan in the opening quote of this article. The narrative must change. We need to understand what our society is so dependent on for sustainable development. It is a collective responsibility but the relevant stakeholders must champion this cause.