We’ve been visited by... Vladimir de Semir, Science journalist

Vladimir de Semir, the science expert, visited the IMO recently, and we had a very interesting chat with him

Why is science communication important?
Doctors have to reach out to society and patients, more than ever now. Nowadays, it’s necessary to have basic scientific knowledge to get through life. It’s even useful for making decisions in our daily lives.

Does the general public actually have any scientific knowledge?
It is improving, because more science is being reported. In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of journalists specialising in the field, whereas the number of communications and public relations departments of companies and institutions operating in health and research has proliferated. The European Union even plans in promotion budgets when approving science and health projects.

More quantity doesn’t necessarily mean more quality, does it?
That’s right. Sometimes, information can be trivialised by so many communications departments constantly needing to keep the media informed or by the emergence of new technology and the vast amount of unfiltered information available on the Internet. I think that more analysis and opinion is necessary, because if this type of information is not properly contextualised, people’s expectations can be falsely raised. It’s important to report well and with rigour and to go beyond anecdotal evidence.

What role do doctors and scientists play in this process?
The attitude of doctors and scientists has changed considerably. They have now realised the importance of communicating scientific knowledge, when not long ago, it was actually frowned upon. They obviously have to adapt the way they communicate knowledge, so that patients and the people on the street can understand. I also think that the media should create interesting discussion forums. What’s missing, for example, on television, are lively and entertaining discussion programmes about science and technology.

How can this area of communication become more rigorous?
I think with more training and reflection in the media itself. In Spain, the media usually only deals with day-to-day matters and doesn’t stop to analyse what it’s doing.
In fact, the Observatory is a project that came about through my reflections on my work as a science journalist.

So the Observatory is based on reflection and encourages reflection...
That’s right. The Observatory was set up with a scientific, medical and environmental mission. It particularly focuses on medicine and health as well as how to convey this information to society. And we do it from different perspectives: analysis, teaching, advising public and private organisations and cultural agitation.

What does cultural agitation mean?
It basically means that, as well as doing a lot of reflection, we are very vocal in proposing different ways of communicating and enhancing knowledge about scientific culture.

Finally, out of curiosity, where did your fascination with science come from?
Well, I’m not really sure... Actually, it was probably the school I went to, the Swiss School in Barcelona. I remember there was a very good physics teacher there, and the school, which also had very few students, generally had a great scientific spirit. Perhaps all of this also influenced one of my classmates, Jorge Wagensberg, who, incidentally, years later would become a key factor in my decision to launch the newspaper supplement Ciencia.

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