The Art of Science
Written by Rose Geransar
Tags: science and society, art, policy
The art in science and the science in policy: Engaging the public through the performing arts
In an ideal democratic society, citizens can express informed and well thought-out views about the issues that impact science policy. This requires people to be engaged in consideration of the scientific and moral issues.
Public engagement involves more than just public education; its goal is to promote an understanding of the facts and values through reflective feedback, dialogue, and debate.
The question then becomes, what is the best way, or at least a promising way of engaging members of the public in science policy issues? There is a whole area of social science research that examines this question.
Science Policy, Art and the Public
Social scientists have recently begun exploring the role of the arts and sciences in popular culture as a means to engage the public in questions about science policy.
The woes of Mary Shelley’s Dr. Frankenstein and the cloning horror scenarios in the 1970’s movie The Boys From Brazil have long shaped public thinking about the ethical and social issues at the frontiers of biology.
Recent movies such as Jurassic Park, GATTACA, and The Island have led us to exercise our imagination about cloning, genetics, morality, and identity. Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake paints a doomsday scenario reminiscent of the 1930’s novel A Brave New World. It seems that time and time again, the arts have demonstrated the power to influence, intrigue, and to engage us in reflection on issues that may otherwise seem abstract and elusive.
Science- Artistically Expressed
What if scientists, artists, and social scientists together could develop balanced ways of presenting facts to encourage people to reflect on the values that impact science through theatre, music, literature, and media?
Different art forms may encourage people to consider and discuss the values that underlie the positions they develop or already hold about moral issues impacting science. Through the dialogue generated by such works of art, scientists and policymakers can hear from citizens and better understand their views.
There are many examples of such creative public engagement. In the U.K., the BBC has aired the drama-documentary If…Cloning Could Cure Us, featuring a scientist charged with violating that country’s embryonic stem cell laws; at the end of the show, the viewers were asked to call in a verdict on the case.
In Canada, scientists and artists have developed the fictional T.V. series
ReGenesis, accompanied by online science fact sheets and commentaries exploring ethical and social issues, produced by the Ontario Genomics Institute, available to viewers. Genome BC and other organizations have used Caryl Churchill’s play A Number to project audiences into the fictional lives of clones, followed by a discussion session with an expert.
Health Canada used theatre as a tool to engage Canadians in the development of the new Assisted Reproduction Technologies Act. Health Canada funded researchers to engage the public with a play called Orchids, written by Jeff Nisker. In these and other ways, the arts can be an avenue through which to engage publics on science policy issues.
And What About You?
As a Canadian, you can become engaged in issues related to science policy in many ways: by choosing your field of study and career path, by volunteering your time to support causes that you believe in, by writing to your members of parliament about the issues that are important to you, or simply by being tuned in and informed about the scientific issues of the day. The humanities and the arts present more avenues through which to explore and express the issues at the crossroads of science, ethics, law and society.
Who knows, you could be Canada’s next science playwright…