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The Public Understanding of Science Seminar

The London PUS seminar is an open intercollegiate seminar concerned with the broad range of topics that fall under the headings of public understanding of science, public engagement with science, science communication, and science-in-society. It was founded in 1993, and has been hosted in turns by the Science Museum, UCL, Birkbeck and now the LSE's Bios Centre. The original aims of the seminar were

  1. to enhance the awareness of useful concepts and research methods for the analysis of the public understanding of science,
  2. to invite members and visiting researchers to introduce specific topics and problems, and
  3. to provide a forum for researchers in the field. The agenda, along with the field, has since expanded and diversified.

PUS is on the one hand a growing field of activity at the interface of science, technology and society, informing and engaging the public in new developments. Such activity includes science communication, museum exhibitions, science centres, science theatre, science fiction, scientific public relations, learned societies conferencing, popular science book writing, science journalism, radio or television programmes, political lobbying, public mobilisation, public lecturing, citizen juries, public consultation, consensus conferencing, and public engagement with science as for example historically over nuclear power or recently over computing and the internet, GM crops, or stem cell research.

On the other hand PUS stands for the diverse field of research that maps, analyses and evaluates these activities in their historical context. Such research includes surveys of public interests and literacy, risk perception studies, monitoring public attitudes, the changing image of scientists and science, the production of media science coverage; analyses of mass media coverage of science and technology over time, the logic of exhibits, case studies of public scientific controversies, science in literature, notions of the public among scientists; the barriers to science communication, public rhetoric of science, science communication strategies, and the reasons for and the evaluation of public engagements through citizen juries, deliberative opinion polling, consensus conferences, tables rondes, hearings or participatory technology assessment. The aims of such research include improving PUS activities, and/or mapping and critically observing the changing settings, repertoire and contributions of 'public understanding' to the governance of science-in-society.

The seminar aims to offer three sessions per term on Wednesday afternoons. It is currently hosted by the LSE BIOS Centre and organised by Martin W Bauer and Valentina Amorese (LSE) and Jane Gregory and Simon Lock (UCL). Notices of seminars are via an email list, and membership is open to all.

Contacts: Valentina at v.amorese@lse.ac.uk for practical information about the seminars, and Simon.Lock@ucl.ac.uk to join the mailing list.