Page last updated at 12:07 GMT, Wednesday, 28 January 2009

What makes this time different?

By Pallab Ghosh
Science correspondent, BBC News

Wednesday sees the launch of the government's Science [So What? So Everything] campaign to engage the public in science and shake off the public perception of science as elitist. But will this familiar tack make a difference?

Campaign poster (Dius)
The campaign uses newspaper adverts and celebrity input

The Public Understanding of Science Movement began in earnest in 1985 following the publication of a report which said that the public was suspicious of science and felt that it was remote to their lives.

Despite the millions spent and the campaigns launched since then to revamp the image of science, today's government survey has shown that little has changed. The government's solution seems to be more of the same - another campaign.

So can this latest attempt succeed - or is the science establishment destined to a never-ending groundhog day of trying and failing to connect with the public?

Those at the Department of Innovation Universities and Skills who are behind this latest attempt say that their campaign is different. It will focus on how science relates to the every day lives of ordinary people rather than giving an elitist other-worldly image of the subject.

But do people need science evangelised to them any more than they need people turning up at their doorstep asking them if they've found God?

Most people do draw on science but usually when it's relevant to their lives. When they or a relative becomes ill, for example, they are quick to gather, question and assimilate pertinent scientific information in order make important medical decisions. We also do this when we play sport, buy iPods, do the gardening - and the list goes on.

But those behind this latest campaign say this appreciation of science doesn't easily translate into studying science and getting jobs in science based industries.

And there's concern that there's too much fear and not enough fact driving perfectly legitimate debates on science related issues - such as the MMR triple jab or GM crops.

Some of the country's leading science organisations, including the Wellcome Trust and The Royal Society, have long argued that there needs to be a way of dealing with the shortage of qualified science teachers, in the same way there has been for maths.

The Science Minister Lord Drayson said today that this campaign is just the beginning of a process.

Without a sustained long-term plan, however, there's a risk that any momentum this latest campaign generates will be lost and go the way of previous attempts to turn the public's obvious admiration of science into something that's a part of their daily lives.

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