Why is science dissemination important?
To disseminate is ‘to scatter or spread widely, as though sowing seed; promulgate extensively; broadcast; disperse’ according to the dictionary. Putting ‘science’ in front of it, immediately clarifies the term: science dissemination is about spreading science widely.
This short explanation doesn’t really pinpoint what it is exactly though.
If we want to delve deeper, we need to look at the importance of science communication. We have to examine the development of science communication, and the relation between science and art.
Researchers want to do proper research – obviously. But they also want to get their research published in an academic journal. Sometimes they take this so far that a recent study discovered a new psychiatric syndrome amongst researchers: publiphilia impact factorius - the obsession with publishing in highly regarded journals. But we’ll leave that for another discussion.
The point is: researchers like to publish. Of course they do - it’s part of their job to inform their colleagues about what they discovered, or analysed. However, informing other researchers is one thing... Informing the general public and important policymakers really is something else. But it is arguably just as important - if not more.
First: In Europe citizens pay for research. Research is funded by the taxpaying public. Which means that researchers have an obligation to their fellow citizens, who have the right to know what their money is being used for. It’s as simple as that.
Second: It is important to have fundamental discussions between different scientific perspectives, sure. But these discussion don’t necessarily lead to changes in society immediately. For research to have a big impact, it must reach important policymakers who can act upon the results.
Finally: It’s the researcher’s duty to make sure that their findings are heard by the people. In a time of fake news, and self-taught journalists, this duty is becoming more important than ever.
But… research takes up a lot of time, and so does science communication. There are only 24 hours in a day, and 7 days in a week - of course one person cannot do it all.
Science and art
That’s where artists come in. And I’m talking about artists in the broadest sense of the word here: writers, designers, filmmakers, photographers, storytellers, animators, etc.
There are even those who specialise in the 'art' of communication by organising events or reaching out on social media. It’s artists like these who can help scientists reach the people.
Art and science have always gone hand in hand. Take for example the anatomical drawings by Leonardo Da Vinci. Is it science? Is it art? I would say it’s both.
Another example would be Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp. What’s interesting about this painting is the way Rembrandt plays with the notion of ‘reality’. Four of Dr. Tulp’s students - the ones who aren’t staring at like reindeer caught in headlights, or the ones that are lost in thought - seem to be looking at the corpse. More specifically, they seem to be looking at the dissection of the corpse’s arm. However, if you look closely, you could argue that they are looking slightly past the arm, towards the open book in the bottom-right corner of the painting.
Some have argued that Rembrandt has hidden a statement in these details. The students may be fascinated by the dissection of the body in front of them, but they can't understand it by just looking at it. Instead, they need help from the book - the scientific findings of others.
Art and science depend on each other in a similar way. While a scientist may be capable of giving us the facts, it is the artist who brings those facts to life. I guess Rembrandt agreed with this point of view...
So when it comes to science communication (and for that matter, science dissemination): science alone is not enough to reach the people. But neither is art. They need to work together, they need to be intertwined, in order to get the message out there.
We must build bridges between science and society. Scientists and artists have a shared responsibility to make that happen. Together, we can get the real science out there - focus on the beauty of science and transfer that beauty to the public.
And that is why science dissemination is important.