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Book Review: Communicating Science: Professional, Popular, Literary by Nicholas Russell

Review by Rachel Zelkowitz

By
1:46pm, January 15, 2010
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Books about science communication typically start from the premise that communication is important and proceed to tell scientists how to do it better. Russell’s book departs from that tradition to analyze the history of such communication and look at how views of its importance have changed over time. The result is a fascinating exploration of past and current trends, with some insight into what the future may hold.

As the title denotes, the book covers science communication in three realms, beginning with information sharing among scientists themselves. Russell, a professor of science communication at Imperial College London, describes how respected journals such as Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society evolved. He questions the effectiveness and fairness of peer review and looks ahead to the future role of open-access online journals in professional science communication.

Russell then parses efforts to impart scientific understanding to the public and engage the public with scientific efforts. He references primarily British programs, but the challenges he describes for popular science communication apply more broadly. In an interesting departure from the standard spiel, the book also questions what level of popular science communication is truly necessary to create informed citizens in a democracy.

The final section discusses how the literature of a culture or era reflects general attitudes toward science and scientists. Russell examines such greats as The Time Machine, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and, of course, Frankenstein. Dissertations have addressed this topic, so Russell’s treatment is relatively abbreviated. But the section is cogent and provides a fitting close to this interesting and important book.

Cambridge
University Press, 2010, 324 p., $31.99.

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