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Science popularization Its History Triumphs and Pitfalls

Science popularization: its history,
triumphs and pitfalls
Impact, N o . 144
337 Editorial
341 The growth of science popularization: a historical sketch
Jack Meadows
347 Science popularization: a view from the Third World
A. M. Sharafuddin
355 C a n the mass media help increase developing countries'
scientific literacy?
Mack Laing
367 Science journalism training in Asia
Adlai J. Amor
373 Media resource services: getting scientists and the media together
Fred Jerome
379 Books andfilms:powerful media for science popularization
Bernard Dixon
387 Science popularization in rural China: 800 million farmers
learn science
Shen Chenru
399 Mikhail Vasilyevich Lomonosov: he was ourfirstuniversity
Ashot T. Grigoryan
409 N e w concepts of space-time and gravity
A. A. Logunov
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impact of science on society. N o . 144, 337-339
This issue deals with an activity that is increasingly carried out but rarely written
about: science popularization. Although it has a long history (see Jack M e a d o w s '
article, p. 341 ), few textbooks exist to instruct those w h o wish to popularize science; and
the subject is infrequently explored in print, outside of the publications of organizations
directly devoted to it. This issue of Impact m a y well be the first of any journal's
predominantly devoted to the theme from an international point of view.
Yet the popularization of science is increasingly important in today's world. It is
scarcely necessary to explain w h y : science and technology are so pervasive in both
developed and developing countries, and progressing so rapidly, that no reader will
need to be persuaded of the need to discuss their effects on society. (For the sake of
brevity, w e shall speak here of 'science popularization' as including both science and
technology, though there are, of course, distinctions between the two.)
The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defines the word 'popularize' as "to cause to
be generally k n o w n and accepted, liked or admired", adding only as a tertiary
explanation "to present (a technical subject, etc.) in a popular form". The word first
came into use as early as 1797, while its use in the sense of presenting technical subjects
in popular form arosefirstin 1836. In developed countries, this latter definition is n o w
the generally accepted meaning of the term 'science popularization'. T h efirstdefinition
raises some highly interesting questions about the nature of science popularization and
the role of the science popularizer: is the popularizer- -or more important, should the
popularizcr he a sort of press agent or public relations person for science? O r is his or
her role more properly one of social critic? Is the science popularizeos job really to
cause science not only to be k n o w n , but to be "accepted, liked or admired"?
Most science journalists in developed countries would balk at such a description of
their role. Having passed through m a n y stages of transition, beginning (in the lives of
most of those currently writing about science or presenting it through other media)
with what is sometimes k n o w n as the 'gee-whiz school' (which stressed the wonders of
science), and proceeding (rather uncritically) through a period w h e n the benefits of
science were stressed (as in the early optimistic days of nuclear power generation), they
would rather n o w be described as social critics. Having since seen the other side of the
coin (Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, Bhopal, Challenger, etc.), the science journalist
today sees his or her role as a sort of assessor of the possible societal effects of science, as
well as someone w h o simply "causes to be generally k n o w n " scientific developments.
A n d while individual popularizers certainly choose to try to persuade their readers,
listeners or viewers to accept, like or admire certain scientific developments, they
customarily view themselves as far from being simply advocates of science.
A n d quite properly so. For where else is the uninformed, non-technical citizen to
obtain objective information? (One w a y in which science journalists are aided by
experts infieldsin which the journalists are unlikely to be well-versed is described on
page 373 by Fred Jerome). T h e danger, of course, is that the journalists themselves m a y
be anything but unbiased, or simply ignorant of all the facts. But then so m a y the
scientists be, as Bernard Dixon points out in his article on page 379.
W h a t , then, is the popularizer supposed to do? W h a t is his or her real role?
Surely the populàïizer's main task is to explain, in terms a particular reader or
audience can understand. Whatever other reason a reader or listener or viewer has for
paying attention to the popularizer, the major purpose is to learn. The wider the
audience, the more painless the learning should be—in other words, the m o r e
entertaining. (Entertainment value really applies to all learning—nobody wants it to be
difficult, and everyone likes to be entertained, even scientists.)
But beyond exposition the popularizer has a further task—to evaluate what is being
expounded by placing it in a larger context, so that the audience can judge its
significance. T o take an example: when contraceptive pills first came into use,
popularizers were obliged to report on their disadvantages as well as their advantages.
T h e pills h a d side-effects, s o m e of which could be potentially fatal for some users. Yet
childbirth also sometimes had fatal results, so the popularizer was obliged to put the
dangers of using the pills into perspective by describing some of the potential dangers of
not using them and risking pregnancy. T h e complexity of the implications of new
scientific or technological advances has increased greatly in recent years, particularly
the implications of their introduction into developing countries. T h e science
popularjzer's responsibility increases apace. In m a n y cases he or she m a y be almost the
sole source of a reader's, listener's or viewer's information o n a particular subject.
W e are not talking here solely of journalists w h o communicate through the written
word. A s Bernard Dixon explains in his article, television and film can play a major role
in forming the public's opinion about science and scientists. Shen Chenru (page 387)
shows h o w , in China, farmers play the role of popularizers for other farmers.
I have emphasized the role of the science popularizer in developed countries, as
though there is a difference between that and the role of the popularizer in developing
countries. A n d differences there are, as Adlai A m o r and A . M . Sharafuddin explain in
their articles on pages 367 and 347. Perhaps the major difference is that in developed
countries science and technology are already well-accepted facts of life, popularizers are
presenting them to a public educated at least to some extent in their principles and
already persuaded of both their potential benefits and dangers. In developing countries,
on the other hand, the scientific tradition is largely absent, the philosophies that go with
it are alien to a large majority of the population, and knowledge of both benefits and
dangers is relatively scarce.
The educated elite in such countries, of course, have a view similar to that of their
counterparts in developed countries—but with this difference: they see science and
technology as vital keys to development, and therefore as a good to be accepted less
critically. This is not to say uncritically: the educated in developing countries are
extremely uneasy about the possibilities of a new form of colonialism involving
transfers of technology that d o not meet their needs as m u c h as those of the countries
that export them. But the benefits of science and technology as a whole m a y tend to
outweigh the dangers in their minds and popularizers m a y more easily fit the first
Shorter Oxford English Dictionary definition as people w h o are trying to m a k e science
and technology accepted, liked or admired. N o better example of this can be found than
the situation described by Shen Chenru.
The proper role of the science popularizer thus requires close scrutiny in both
developed and developing countries. A s these articles show, it has already been
evolving. But it is apparent that it needs to evolve further—and perhaps in different
ways in different parts of the world.
O n e of the ironies of the present situation is that, while acceptance of the need for
science popularization is perhaps at an all-time high in both developed and developing
countries, support for it is in some respects tending to wane. Thus in the United States,
for example, popular magazines that started up a few years ago are failing for lack of
advertisers' ability to identify a well-defined target audience. A n d a m o n g development
agencies (as described by M a c k Laing in his article o n page 355) there is a feeling that
the efforts to increase scientific literacy through training in science popularization
a m o n g the media are hard to measure. Shortage of funds m a y also be a factor: Unesco,
which has shown interest in science popularization since its founding 41 years ago, has
suffered budget cuts that have led to a marked reduction of its activity in this field.
Despite temporary setbacks, however, science popularization is an activity that
will—and must—continue. M u c h improvement is needed before it will reach its
potential, and in this both national and international organizations must play a part.
W e hope that this issue of Impact will help in the process.
The Editor
This present issue is the last to be edited by David Spurgeon, w h o officially retired from Unesco at the end of
1985. During the three years in which he worked o n Impact the Organization benefited greatly from his wide
experience as a science writer and journalist, and w c wish him well in his future work.
Managing editor
impact of science on society. N o . 144, 341-346
The growth of science popularization:
a historical sketch
Jack M e a d o w s
The need to popularize science arose towards the end of the seventeenth century, when the
emergence of a quantitative, mathematical approach to knowledge of the physical world
left behind the majority of readers. Early readers of popularized accounts were easily
fooled by unscrupulous writers. Sciencefictionlater played a part, as did science lectures.
The space race and the spread of television have made more recent contributions. This
thumbnail historical review of science popularization raises interesting questions about
some current media assumptions.
Popularization becomes necessary w h e n an area of knowledge moves into the hands of
a limited n u m b e r of specialists, and its contents then become impenetrable to others.
W h e n everybody is involved in some w a y with agriculture, farming problems are the
c o m m o n property of the community. W h e n , as occurs nowadays in developed
countries, only a small fraction of the population is involved in farming, writers on
agriculture are needed to explain what farming is all about.
The beginning of science popularization
In the early seventeenth century the natural science of the day was the c o m m o n
property of all educated people. The scientific revolution ensured that, by the end of
that century, some attempt at interpreting science had already become necessary. The
new view of the world about us that developed during the century, culminating in
Newton's work, emphasized a quantitative, mathematical approach that w a s incomprehensible to the majority of educated readers. Consequently, books popularizing
Newton's ideas began to appear even during his lifetime.
The growth of this mathematical approach during the eighteenth century,
especially in France, led to a continuing need for the popularization of theoretical
developments in such subjects as astronomy. However, m u c h science continued to be
non-mathematical and so w a s still readily accessible to the educated reader. For
example, geology was a c o m m o n amateur activity: up to the mid-nineteenth century, it
was expected that even research journals in geology would be comprehensible to most
The author is a historian of science with a particular interest in communicalions and publishing. Until
recently, he was Head and Professor of the following units of the University of Leicester, in the United
Kingdom: Departments of Astronomy and History of Science, the Primary Communications Research
Centre and the Office of Humanities Communication. H e is now Professor and Head of the History and
Information Studies Department, Loughborough University, Loughborough, United Kingdom, at which
address he m a y be contacted.
Jack Meadows
laymen. In biology this belief that research could be presented directly to the general
reader extended throughout most of the nineteenth century. Charles Darwin, for
example, believed all his books could be read by non-biologists (though he did not
suppose that all would be of interest to such people).
A s the different branches of science developed, publication of research in journals
gradually replaced publication in book form for one branch after another. This trend
can be seen as a sign of the growing professionalization and specialization of science,
which can, in turn, be related to the increasing difficulty of the subject for non-scientists.
The problem lies not just in the growth of specialized jargon, but in the continuing
build-up of a theoretical base to each science, which often requires a formal training to
understand. The growth of scientific specialisms and the appearance of professional
scientists is a particular feature of the nineteenth century. W e might expect,
correspondingly, that the nineteenth century would see the growth of science
popularization, and this is, indeed, the case. Not only d o books popularizing scientific
ideas begin to appear in increasing numbers; so, for the first time, do authors w h o
devote most of their time to such popularization. A n example is Mary Somerville, w h o
specialized in writing books that summarized the scientific knowledge of the day—her
two best-known being The Connection of the Physical Sciences and Molecular and
Microscopic Science. Her considerable influence—a w o m e n ' s college in Oxford was
n a m e d after her- reflects the involvement of w o m e n in the popularization of science
throughout the 19th century (partly due, perhaps, to the social problems attached to
becoming scientists themselves).
Blinding people with science
A s literacy grew, and understanding of science decreased, so it became easier to blind
people with science. A n amusing example occurred in 1835. The famous British
scientist, John Herschel, had gone out to the Cape of G o o d H o p e with his telescope in
order to carry out observations of the southern heavens. Whilst he was at the Cape, the
New York Sun printed reports by a special correspondent, R . A . Locke, which claimed
that Herschel had m a d e detailed observations of the m o o n ' s surface. In the process he
had found that the m o o n was inhabited and had actually been able to see some of the
inhabitants. This ' m o o n hoax' fooled m a n y in Europe as well as North America. Along
with the United States broadcast of H . G . Wells' The War of the Worlds, which is always
alleged to have induced a near-riot towards the end of the 1930s, the m o o n hoax stands
out as the most successful media presentation of imaginary science.
If the m o o n hoax is famous, few people k n o w that an attempt was m a d e to follow it
up with a 'sun hoax'. It was claimed that Herschel had also observed habitations on the
sun. W e might expect this was dismissed immediately because it was obviously absurd
to imagine that a hot sun could have inhabitants. In fact, John Herschel's father,
William Herschel, had put forward what he thought were serious reasons w h y
inhabitants of the Sun might exist. His idea had been well-diffused by writings and
discussions not specifically related to science.
This serves as a useful reminder that the picture of science put together by any
individual m e m b e r of the general public comes from a variety of sources. S o m e ideas
become so widely accepted that they are almost assumed automatically. In the
nineteenth century, for example, the belief in progress was buttressed by the growth of
science and technology, and, in turn, strongly influenced the way in which these latter
were presented to the general public. This sort of wider, 'extra-scientific' framework can
A history of science popularization
often be extraordinarily important in forming the public view of science. A n example of
such interaction can be found during the period of the nineteenth century w h e n science
popularization became important: for, at the same time, two other literary genres also
established themselves—detectivefictionand science fiction.
Science, Sherlock Holmes and science fiction
A brief glance at the Sherlock Holmes stories readily shows the affinity between the
nineteenth-century view of scientific method and the detection methods employed by
Sherlock Holmes. Indeed, within a few years, detective stories were making explicit use
of scientific research as a part of the plot. Science fiction, of course, necessarily
contained references to science from the beginning. T h e immensely popular novels of
Jules Verne in the latter part of the nineteenth century were planned, in part, as vehicles
for presenting science to the general public, and were extremely successful in this.
Verne's publisher explained what he saw as the purpose of the novels:
The novels of M . Jules Verne have c o m e just at the right time. W h e n an eager
public can be seenflockingto attend lectures given at a thousand different places
in France, and w h e n our newspapers carry reports of the proceedings of the
A c a d e m y of Sciences alongside articles dealing with the arts and the theatre, it is
surely time for us to realize that the idea of art for art's sake no longer meets the
needs of the time w e live in, and that the day has c o m e when science must take its
rightful place in literature.1
A n d Verne, himself, explained at the beginning of one of his books:
This story is not fantastic, it is only romantic. It would be a mistake to conclude
from its improbability that it cannot be a true story. W e are living in days when
anything can happen—one m a y almost say that everything has happened. If our
tale seems improbable today, it need not be so tomorrow, thanks to the resources
science will m a k e available in the future and nobody will then think of calling it
H o w to attract—or deter—an audience
Correspondingly, today, science-fiction series and medical 'soap operas' o n television
are probably more effective sources of 'scientific' information for most people than
programmes explicitly devoted to science. T h e information is put over in a palatable
form, not least because it is not explicitly identified as relating to science. It was already
recognized in the nineteenth century that the word 'science' could deter potential
consumers. The editor of one nineteenth-century English magazine, commenting on
the dreary reading permitted to Christian families on Sundays, remarked that it was
often so dull that m a n y preferred to read the scientific articles in his magazine.
In one form or another, science has always been reported by the media.
Krieghbaum 3 cites an item which appeared in thefirstissue of thefirstAmerican
newspaper, published in 1690.
Epidemical Fevers and Agues grow very c o m m o n , in some parts of the Country,
whereof, tho' m a n y dye not, yet they are sorely unfitted for their imployments; but
Jack Meadows
in some parts a more malignant Fever seems to prevail in such sort that it usually
goes thro' a Family where it comes, and proves mortal unto m a n y .
The Small pox which has been raging in Boston, after a manner very
Extraordinary, is n o w very m u c h abated. It is thought that far more have been
sick of it than were visited of it, when it raged so m u c h twelve years ago,
nevertheless it has not been so Mortal. The number of them that have dyed in
Boston by this last Visitation is about three hundred and twenty, which is not
perhaps half so m a n y as fell by the former. The time of its being most General, was
in the Months June, July and August, then 'twas that sometimes in some one
Congregation on a Lords-day there would be Bills desiring prayers for about an
hundred sick. It seized upon all sorts of people that came in the w a y of it. 'Tis not
easy to relate the Trouble and Sorrow that poor Boston has felt by this Epidemical
Contagion. But w e hope it will be pretty nigh Extinguished, by that time twelvemonth when itfirstbegan to Spread. It n o w unhappily spreads in several other
places, a m o n g which our Garrisons in the East are to be reckoned some of the
This passage certainly reflects one of the characteristics of popularized science—the
dominance of biomedical themes. Over three-quarters of science reporting lies in this
area, and it has always played a dominant role. It also typifies science reporting in
newspapers up to the last few decades in that it was not written by a specialist in science.
Thefirstsigns of a shift in this respect can be discerned after the First World W a r . The
war demonstrated very clearly that scientific research was going to have an increasing
impact on warfare. It has sometimes been called the chemists' war: m a n y of the sciencerelated activities, from obtaining the right colours for uniforms to manufacturing
explosives, were based on chemistry. T h e first specialist science correspondents
appeared in the 1920s and 1930s as the growing importance of science came to be
recognized. Prior to that, the tradition was for the scientists themselves to popularize
The importance of lectures
O n e method of major importance for popularizing science in the nineteenth century
was the public lecture. Scientific lectures often drew huge audiences and, because they
were repeated several times, were usually prepared with considerable care. A famous
example of popularization by public lecture was Michael Faraday's The Chemical
History of a Candle, which he gave a number of times, the last in 1860. Faraday worked
at the Royal Institution in London, and his discussion of the candle was given as one of
that body's series of annual Christmas lectures for children. There is, in fact, a
fascinating thread in the oral popularization of science at the Royal Institution from
Faraday's lectures in the nineteenth century, through the pioneering talks on science of
W . H . Bragg, Director of the Royal Institution o n the radio before the Second World
W a r , to the post-war presentation of the Christmas lectures as a regular feature o n
Faraday's lecture was soon published, and has been in print on and off ever since.
Later in the nineteenth century, T h o m a s Huxley gave a public lecture On a Piece of
Chalk—with Faraday's lecture the most renowned of Victorian public lectures o n
science. This, too, has been reprinted frequently. A s popular magazines expanded in
number during the latter part of the nineteenth century, so the popularization of science
A history of science popularization
in print became increasingly influential. Huxley and m a n y of his contemporaries in
Britain and abroad were regular contributors to such magazines. The competition for
their services could be strong. Huxley wrote for both the Contemporary Review and the
Fortnightly Review, and explained to the editor of the latter:
M a n y thanks for your abundantly sufficient cheque—rather too m u c h , I think,
for an article which had been gutted by the newspapers.
I a m always very glad to have anything of mine in the Fortnightly, as it is sure
to be in good company; but I a m becoming as spoiled as a maiden with m a n y
wooers. However, as far as the Fortnightly which is m y old love, and the
Contemporary which is m y new, are concerned, I hope to remain as constant as a
persistent bigamist can be said to be. 4
Enter the professional science writer
The replacement of scientists as popularizers by professional science communicators
has been primarily a post-Second World W a r phenomenon. The effect of this war on
science popularization was significantly greater than that produced by the First World
W a r . This was partly because the impact of science on warfare was greater—the atomic
b o m b and radar being the obvious two examples. Partly it resulted from the greater
complexity of the science involved. In comparison with the First World W a r , the
Second has been referred to as the physicists' war: whereas the chemistry of the former
was fairly straightforward, the physics of the latter was not. The need to explain what
were obviously going to be points of continuing importance underlined the need for
specialist reporters. It also indicated the need to expand popular coverage of science. A
survey of the United States press carried out in 1951 found that two-thirds of the editors
concerned had at least doubled the a m o u n t of space devoted to science over the
previous decade. This growth in science coverage and the use of specialist staff was
stimulated further by two events that began in the 1950s. T h efirstwas the space race;
the second was the rapid spread of television.
Within a remarkably short space of time, television was exerting a greater influence
on public opinion than any other m e d i u m . This rapidly led to a new emphasis on
scientific topics that were visually attractive, such as astronomy and archaeology.
Because of the high cost of producing television programmes, it also confirmed the
dominant role of the professional science communicator, for only they had the time and
training required. Correspondingly the presentation of science on television is as m u c h
concerned with what is good television, as with what is good science.
It is interesting to compare the nineteenth-century approach to popularizing
science with that to be found today. Consider Faraday's opening words in his The
Chemical History of a Candle.
I propose, in return for the honour you do us by coming to see what are our
proceedings here, to bring before you, in the course of these lectures, the Chemical
History of a Candle. I have taken this subject on a former occasion, and were it
left to m y o w n will I should prefer to repeat it almost every year; so abundant is
the interest that attaches itself to the subject, so wonderful are the varieties of
outlet which it offers into the various departments of philosophy. There is not a
law under which any part of this universe is governed which does not c o m e into
play and is touched upon in these phenomena. There is no better, there is no more
A history of science popularization
open door by which you can enter into the study of natural philosophy, than by
considering the physical p h e n o m e n a of a candle. I trust, therefore, I shall not
disappoint you in choosing this for m y subject rather than any newer topic, which
could not be better, were it even so good.
In contrast with Faraday, the emphasis since at least the Second World W a r has
been on the 'newsworthy' items of science, which is nearly always taken to m e a n the
' n e w ' . The emphasis o n the new is not always, in scientific eyes, an emphasis on the
important. This forms one of the bases for the long-term suspicion that scientists have
had of the popularizers of science. Paradoxically, this has gone o n alongside
popularization of science by eminent scientists. For example, John Tyndall, Faraday's
successor at the Royal Institution, was regarded with suspicion for his activities as a
popularizer, despite his scientific accomplishments.
W h a t we can learn from yesterday's experience
C a n w e learn anything from the historical development of science popularization?
Certain points are obvious and need little stress. The fact that the scientific community
has always had a love-hate relationship with the media simply reflects the unavoidable
tension between media concerns and scientific norms. It would probably be highly
undesirable for science reporters and scientists to have identical aspirations. It is
equally obvious that the type of material presented depends on the nature of the
particular m e d i u m via which it is presented. However, it m a y be less obvious that this
can influence the branches of science which m a k e most impact on the general public.
Yet, as was noted above, a connection can readily be seen between the rise in interest in
archaeology and astronomy and the spread of television. But history raises s o m e
questions that have been little discussed.
A prime example concerns the integration of scientific knowledge into the
experience of ordinary h u m a n beings. Faraday's lecture centred on a candle: Huxley's
concerned a piece of chalk. Both of these were everyday objects to their audiences.
Using these objects as a focus, both Faraday and Huxley worked outwards until they
had reached the scientific frontiers of the day. This sort of approach is m u c h rarer
nowadays, though the need to integrate science into ordinary life is probably m u c h
greater n o w than in the nineteenth century.
Has 'newsworthiness' become too central to modern media presentations of
science? M o r e generally, should the history of science popularization be studied not
only for its intrinsic interest, but because a historical perspective raises questions
concerning some of the automatic assumptions m a d e by the media today?
1. J. C H E S N E A U X , The Political and Social Ideas of Jules Verne, London, Thames and Hudson,
1972, p. 23.
2. J. C H E S N E A U X , Op. Cit., p. 37.
3. H . K R I E G H B A U M , Science and the Mass Media, N e w York,
4. L. H U X L E Y , Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley,
N e w York University Press, 1967.
London, Macmillan, Vol. 1, p. 424,
impact of science on society, N o . 144, 347 353
Science popularization:
a view from the Third World
A. M .
The popularization of science and technology presents very different problems in
developing countries than in industrialized ones. Yet the need for scientific literacy is even
greater in the Third World. Innovative approaches are necessary, and the adaptation of
local languages and culture important. The task is a vital one: three-quarters of the world's
peoples are becoming increasingly aware that their poverty need not last forever.
As the world approaches the twenty-first century, the prevalent tendency is to judge the
progress of mankind with the yardstick of the industrially advanced countries. For
example, in those countries the dominant role of science and technology in h u m a n
affairs is generally taken for granted, and issues relating to such matters as ecology,
nuclear power or 'star wars' easily assume major proportions.
This is not generally so in the Third World, which comprises about four-fifths of all
countries and three-quarters of the world's population. T h e majority of people in these
countries are so engrossed in the struggle for bare existence that the emerging problems
of h u m a n civilization often scarcely m o v e them.
T h e developed countries typically have high per capita income (greater than
U S $5000) and life expectancy (greater than 70 years), high rates of urbanization (over
70%) and literacy (over 95%) coupled with low population growth rate (less than 1%).
It hardly needs emphasizing that conditions are substantially different in
the vast majority of developing countries. O n the lower rung in such countries,
comprising nearly half the world's population, the typical picture is one of low per
capita income (less than U S $500) and life expectancy (less than 60 years), low rates of
urbanization (less than 30%) and literacy (below 60%) with a high population growth
rate (more than 2%).
This rather simple statistical pen-picture of the differences between the developed
and the developing world does not, however, tell the whole story. M a n y of the
underlying causes of these differences are rooted in the long history of such nations'
development. These conditions, in turn, cause explicit as well as implicit differences in
perception of current needs and approaches in the two groups of countries in the
popularization of science and technology.
Dr Sharafuddin, Secretary of the Science and Technology Division of the Government of Bangladesh, taught
physics and education at both general and teacher training colleges for a number of years, and is himself a
pre-eminent popularizer of science in a developing country. Since hisfirstsuch article—on the atomic
bomb—was published in 1946, he has written nearly two dozen books in thatfieldand on education and has
appeared regularly on radio and television. In 1983 he was awarded the Kalinga Prize for Popularization of
Science by Unesco, and last year w o n the Bangladesh President's Award (Ekushey Padak) for his
contribution to education. H e m a y be reached at the following address: Science and Technology Division,
Government of Bangladesh, Building N o . 6, Bangladesh Secretariat, Dakha-2, Bangladesh.
A . M . Sharafuddin
O n e of the prime characteristics of the developing countries is that they have
generally been by-passed by the scientific and technological revolutions of the last three
centuries, which have contributed to the present high level of material comfort in the
developed countries. S o m e developing countries had m a d e important contributions to
the development of science and technology in the past and some even served as the
cradle of h u m a n civilization. But thefloweringof science and technology that began in
Europe in the seventeenth century was used to advantage by only a relatively small
group of nations. This situation created not only a difference in material conditions in
the two groups of countries but also a difference in the social climate.
Professor Abdus Salam, the Nobel Laureate, makes a poignant comparison
between Europe and Asia in the seventeenth century with this reminder:
... about the same time that the Taj Mahal and St Paul's were built, there was also
created—and this time only in the West—a third monument, a m o n u m e n t still
greater in its eventual import for humanity's future. This was Newton's Principia,
published in 1687. Newton's work had no counterpart in India of the Moghuls. 1
H o w the Third World fell behind
T h e invention of printing, and the consequent ease in the dissemination of knowledge;
the habits of logical thinking, accurate observation and measurement; the development
of new instruments for observation and measurement such as the clock, the telescope
and the microscope; and, above all, a questioning mind that places experimental
evidence above authority and dogma—all of these factors led to the Industrial
Revolution. T h e practical use of science, which was demonstrated through its
technological applications, created the climate for ever-increasing emphasis o n the
pursuit of science.
In the absence of any parallel development in the Third World countries, most of
which were meanwhile colonized by the industrially advanced countries, they generally
remained immersed in their past traditions. S o m e of these countries had glorious
traditions indeed—in music and dance, arts and crafts, poetry and drama, philosophy
and religion; but modern science, whichflourishedin the West, simply did not have a
chance to take root in these countries.
Things of the spirit emphasized
Thus, throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, while the West mastered the
forces of Nature and excelled in practical matters, the East—having lost m u c h of its
past glories—concentrated more on matters of the spirit. Feeble efforts were m a d e by
some Western scholars, missionaries, and even colonial rulers, to share the fruits of
modern scientific knowledge with the peoples of the East; but the results were not
substantial enough to bring about any change in the general social antipathy towards
science. In Japan, the effort at modernization during the Meiji restoration of the
nineteenth century was endogenous and it has n o w started bearing fruit after nearly a
After the Second World W a r , the Third World nations began to gain sovereignty
and embark on the road to independent development. Their people are often appalled
by the disparities between their economic conditions and those of the West. Here they
are at once faced with a contradiction. They realize that the situation cannot be rectified
Science popularization in the Third World
without the infusion of modern science and technology into their societies; but at the
same time the age-old traditions, the poor education system and the inadequacy of the
scientific infrastructure create strong barriers to their path of advancement.
Thus it is that the syndrome of the two cultures (one of the humanities, the other of
the sciences)—which C . P . S n o w lamented—manifests itself in an even more
pronounced cultural chasm within the societies of the developing world than in
developed countries. While in the West the march of reason and logic in science is taken
for granted, people in the East often tend to rely on fate and authority. With such an
attitude ingrained in the various strata of society, it is often the astrologer and the
purveyor of talismen w h o c o m m a n d more authority than the scientist. This is not to say
that there are no superstitions in the West, but science is usually very m u c h an accepted
part of the life of the entire people there which is not yet the case in the Third World.
It is easy to see that such an attitude does not help social or economic development.
It would not even be enough for an enlightened attitude to be adopted in this matter by
the social elite in the developing countries. In order to ameliorate the condition of the
people, production in all sectors needs to be increased, which can be done only by
harnessing the scientific and technological knowledge of the day. This, however, does
not prove very successful unless the people as a whole have a m i n i m u m of scientific
literacy - a fact amply demonstrated in recent years in the efforts to introduce highyielding varieties of grains and family planning methods into developing countries.
There is another reason w h y it is important that the developing countries m a k e
their due contributions to science. Science and technology are the c o m m o n heritage of
mankind. In recent years the contributions to this heritage have c o m e mostly from
Western nations; but there is n o reason w h y the other nations, which have m a d e
significant contributions to h u m a n civilization in the past, should not do so today—
and, for that matter, in the future as well. In the biological sciences, for example, of the
estimated four tofivemillion species of plants and animals, about three million belong
to the tropical regions, which fall mostly in the developing countries. Only a small part
of these species have been identified and studied. T h e task is not easy when the
developing countries as a whole contain less thanfiveper cent of the research scientists
of the world and about the same order of research and development funds.
Science popularization in the Third World
O n e big advantage the Third World countries have today is that it is no longer
necessary to argue the case for science and technology. It is quite easy to see that the
modern way of life has been created through the acquisition of scientific knowledge and
utilization of this knowledge in harnessing nature and putting it to the service of m a n .
However, this unconscious acceptance of science does not necessarily m a k e it easy to
popularize science and its methods a m o n g the mass of the people. Their lack of
education and acquaintance with the basic principles of science, coupled with their
traditional reverence for the old ways, in fact makes the task extremely complex.
The basic needs of the Third World countries are food, clothing, shelter and
improved health facilities. Often, better supplies of water and energy and better
environmental conditions also have to be ensured. These needs can be met only if the
entire population is aware of modern developments in science and technology and can
apply their basic principles in everyday life. Increased food production, effective family
planning, improved sanitation and hygiene, better environment, efficient use of water
A . M . Sharafuddin
and energy resources—all of these require a m o d i c u m of scientific knowledge. But
where large sections of the people are illiterate, it is not easy to carry the message of
science through the printed media. In such a situation, electronic media like radio and
television assume great importance. Innovative approaches are often needed to reach
as wide an audience as possible.
In most developing countries, in view of high population growth rates, young
people form a large part of the population. For example, in Bangladesh the age group
0-15 years comprises about 4 8 % of the entire population while in developed countries
this group is only about one-quarter of the population. The younger generation, with a
greater predisposition towards change as well as to science, therefore becomes a prime
target for science popularization. It is not surprising that in m a n y developing countries
science clubs of young people have been gaining in popularity.
Science clubs: agents of change
A science club m a y be formed in a school or a locality. Often one or more science
teachers or a scientist, doctor, engineer or agriculturist serves as adviser to the group.
The group m a y hold periodic discussion sessions, undertake science projects or field
studies, take part in science fairs and/or initiate some productive enterprise such as
apiculture, pisciculture, gardening or small-scale manufacture (for example, food
preserves, electrical equipment, etc.). In m a n y countries science contests and fairs are
organized at regional or national level in which various science clubs and educational
institutions can participate. These contests not only contribute to the popularization of
science but also help identify talent a m o n g the young. In Bangladesh, a national science
week has been organized every year for about a decade in which nearly 400 science
clubs participate alongside educational institutions of various levels.
These activities are, of course, supplemental to the formal science education that
goes on in the various educational institutions. But such activities assume added
importance w h e n the school curriculum itself is rather bookish, with little facility for
students' experiments, textbooks are unattractive and the facilities for extracurricular
reading poor, if not altogether absent. Science corners and science m u s e u m s in schools,
although recommended as an ideal, are rather hard to come by in practice, except in the
very affluent schools. Science m u s e u m s or centres do, however, exist on the national or
regional levels and serve a very useful purpose in making the people aware of the
modern scientific developments. These also serve as useful adjuncts to the curricular
offerings of the schools in the locality. The Science M u s e u m can also serve as a focal
point for co-ordinating the activities of the science clubs.
In m a n y Third World countries, annual or seasonal fairs and festivals play an
important role in the cultural life of the people. F r o m that point of view, science fairs
and exhibitions appeal not only to the young but also to the masses. Here they can
come and, often in a festive atmosphere, savour various scientific gadgets and
demonstrations by youthful scientists-in-the-making. ' O p e n houses' run by the
research institutions have similar effects. The c o m m o n m a n then gets an opportunity to
enter the precincts of the research laboratories, which are generally closed to him, and to
see what learned scientists are trying to do to m a k e life easier for him. These exhibitions
and open houses serve as important occasions for public relations which ultimately
m a y create a more favourable climate for scientists to carry on their often-esoteric
pursuits. Such public relations promotionals are needed not only for ordinary citizens
but also for high level policymakers, w h o in the Third World are often no less unaware
of developments in science and technology than the population at large.
Science popularization in the Third World
Local language and culture are important
In view of this lack of education in general and acquaintance with scientific concepts in
particular in Third World countries, communication to laymen of even simple concepts
of science relating to everyday life becomes important. Knowledge about ways of
obtaining pure drinking water,fightingdiarrhoea with h o m e - m a d e oral rehydration
salt, basic nutrition, use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, production of biogas, use
of improved mud-stoves, etc. m a y be of considerable value in their everyday lives. Such
knowledge has to be extended in a simple manner and on a broad scale. Even the
remotest villages today have portable transistor radios; community T V sets are also
becoming fairly widespread. Naturally, information for the mass of the people has to be
in their o w n language and in a form through which they can easily get the message.
The question of language m a y be relatively simple in monolingual countries such as
the Arab states or Bangladesh, but in a multilingual country like India, with as m a n y as
15 official languages and hundreds of other local ones, or in G h a n a and the like, it m a y
be quite difficult. Even where a well-developed language is available, there m a y not be
any worthwhile tradition or convention in communicating scientific facts and ideas. In
an age when scientific knowledge is proliferating at an exceedingly fast rate, the
question of keeping up with scientific terminology within the limits of local languages
becomes rather complex.
How local culture is enlisted
S o m e countries have developed innovative programmes capitalizing on local culture
and traditions. O n e such programme is the Kerala People's Science M o v e m e n t
organized by the Kerala Shastra Sahitya Parishad (literally, Kerala Science Literature
Organization) in the Southern Indian state of Kerala.
Every autumn the Parishad organizes science marches over hundreds of kilometres
through the countryside in which folk artists perform dramatic sketches in hundreds of
locations on a wide range of scientific subjects such as health, education and
environment. China has been publishing, under the guidance of the Scientific and
Technological Association, scores of very inexpensive popular science books on a wide
range of topics for general readers. The Science and Technology Division of the
Government in Bangladesh puts out a fortnightly feature bulletin under the title Ajker
Biggan (Science Today), which is freely used by various information and mass
communication media throughout the country.
The use of local language for science communication presupposes the strengthening
of the language itself to m a k e it suitable as a vehicle for conveying scientific facts and
ideas. A language develops in accordance with the needs of communication. Often
words, turns of speech, and modes of expression are borrowed through contact with
other cultures; in the case of new knowledge, words have to be borrowed, adapted or
created. Since m a n y scientific terms have been derived from Latin or Greek, European
languages appear to have an advantage in this respect. In other languages, scientific
terms often have to be borrowed from terminologies that have been internationally
accepted. This is a natural process of the enrichment of languages. S o m e languages,
however, are more adaptable in this respect than others and hence it is easy for them to
assimilate scientific terms. The degree of sophistication that m a y be adopted in the use
of terminology depends to a very large extent on the age group or educational level at
which the material is aimed.
A. M . Sharafuddin
For very young children or the average layman, in fact, very little technical
terminology m a y be needed. In practice, the comprehension even of a scientist w h o
specializes in one discipline m a y be only slightly better than a layman's when a recent
development in another scientific discipline is being discussed.
In recent years great advances have been m a d e in communication technology. N e w
printing processes have been developed using photocomposition multicolour techniques. These processes n o w m a k e it possible to publish science books with highly
attractive illustrations. Colour television is becoming widespread even in developing
countries. With the use of electronic editing and video cassettes it is becoming possible
to carry interesting science programmes to far larger sections of the people.
The question of w h o should prepare these programmes is a critical one because
good science communicators are not very easy to come by in any country. Naturally,
scientists ought to be in the forefront of this effort, but often they remain so engrossed in
their o w n research or related pursuits that they do not find enought time to spare for
such activities. Also, barring some honourable exceptions, a good scientist is not
necessarily a good communicator. For example, in order to be a good writer, a scientist
has to have a good c o m m a n d of language. Communication by radio and television also
requires a good voice and other attributes. Sometimes a journalist m a y be more
effective in communication than a scientist, provided that the accuracy of presentation
is not compromised. In fact, for effective science communication, the use of simple and
interesting language, setting the facts of science in an indigenous social, cultural and
literary context and extensive use of visual materials would appear to be the right
ingredients for good communication.
Currently, scientists do not seem to have adequate incentive for communicating to
laymen. Unesco's efforts in this direction, through the annual award of the Kalinga
Prize for the Popularization of Science and other similar activities, have been of great
help in raising the prestige of science communication. It would appear that similar
incentives could be especially helpful in raising the level of science communication in
the Third World countries where the need for such efforts today assumes utmost
Problems and prospects
Particular problems relating to the use of local languages in science popularization and
the availability of good communicators have been mentioned. But the basic problems
of science communication in Third World countries are the weak educational
structure, poor research and development system and the lack of appreciation of
science as an essential ingredient of culture. O f course, it m a y be said that these are
exactly the deficiencies that the popularization of science is supposed to correct.
W h e n a large part of the population is illiterate, it is difficult to reach them through
the printed media. A poor education system with poorly trained teachers does not
provide suitable facilities even for out-of-school science activities. If little science is
done in the country, there is not m u c h to communicate. In general, a lack of
appreciation of science is also reflected in poor coverage of science in the media;
newspapers often devote m o r e space to such columns as What the Stars Tell than to
scientific and technological developments.
However, there are bright streaks in this apparently dark cloud. T h e younger
generation is eager to change its living conditions and to master science and technology
Science popularization in the Third World
to that end. Even the national planners can n o w see that science has opened up n e w
vistas for improving the h u m a n condition. N e w agricultural techniques can increase
food production m a n y times. Developments in the biological sciences and n e w
biotechnologies have created unprecedented prospects for improving our health and
increasing agricultural and industrial production. Developments in space sciences have
revolutionized communication and provided the m e a n s for better management of the
earth's resources. N e w insights into ecological balance have m a d e it possible to pursue
development activities in harmony with nature. For thefirsttime in history m a n is in
possession of the means to ensure plenty for all m e m b e r s of the h u m a n race.
These prospects raise the prestige of the scientist and the technologist in the eyes of
the general public as well as those of the policymakers. T h e same p h e n o m e n a also m a k e
it urgent to enhance public awareness of the social implications of n e w developments in
science and technology. For just as there are immense benefits to be derived from these
developments, there also are lurking dangers that m a y cause unprecedented upheavals
in h u m a n civilization—whether owing to h u m a n action or not.
It would be a cliché to say that a bright future for mankind cannot be ensured if only
a small part of the h u m a n race enjoys the affluence and comforts created by science and
technology. Rapid and revolutionary developments in these fields are making it
increasingly apparent that the developing countries today do not necessarily have to
pass through all of the stages the industrialized countries did. Large-scale sharing and
dissemination of scientific knowledge a m o n g the people can m a k e significant
contributions to the removal of inequitable disparities in the h u m a n condition.
In this age of instant communication, when the h u m a n race is entering the era of the
information society, the three-quarters of the world's population living in the Third
World are today becoming increasingly aware that they have as m u c h right to the
h u m a n heritage as any others, and that their backwardness and poverty need not be
1. Z . H A S S A N and C . H . LAI, ed. Ideals and Realities: Selected Essays ofAhdus Salam. Singapore,
World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd., 1984, p. 152.
2. A N I L K U M A R A G A R W A L , Science in our daily lives: the growing need to know, in
M . Anandakrishnan, ed. Planning and Popularizing Science and Technology in Developing
Countries. Oxford, Tycooly Publishing Limited, 1985, p. 216.
impact of science on society. N o . 144, 355-366
Can the m a s s media help increase
developing countries' scientific literacy?
M a c k Laing
Considerable effort has been made to attempt to increase scientific literacy in developing
countries in recent years by improving the presentation of news and information about
science and technology in the mass media. The results have generally been perceived as a
mixture of success and failure. Here a Canadian science journalist with wide experience in
the field gives a personal assessment—and offers some suggestions for improvement in the
M y first attempt at teaching a science-writing seminar in Africa almost ended—in a
mini-revolution—before it had properly begun.
T h e programme called for a morning roundtable discussion a m o n g three scientists
and three editors. N o scientists and only one editor showed up. M y African leader and
counterpart, w h o had arranged the programme, hustled back to his d o w n t o w n Dar es
Salaam office to try to rescue the situation. I began tofilltime with impromptu talk and
long tea-breaks. By 3 p . m . , the 30 journalist-participants were restless. They felt they
had been deliberately stood up by the scientists. Revolution was in the air.
Reporters from Radio Tanzania and The Daily News drifted up to talk to rme once
again, this time taking notes. With sinking heart, I realized I was being interviewed. The
inevitable had happened—if you frustrate a rabble of reporters long enough, they will
get up to mischief. The Daily News headline next day read: "Panelists 'boycott'
workshop". I was quoted as being 'disappointed' and 'lamenting' the lack of panelists,
w h o were then named—incorrectly.
Fortunately perhaps, I didn't k n o w w h o our guests were to be. The programme did
not list them. The reporters solved this by guessing, wrongly in most cases, from names
mentioned later in the programme.
I felt the seminar had dead-ended. But m y Tanzanian colleague, Abdallah Ngororo,
a long-time Daily News editor, put the meeting back o n the rails next morning. After
chastising the group for 'poor reporting,' he announced a re-run of the panel on what
would have been an off-day. That day, despite some grumbles from wounded panelists,
the session proceeded usefully.
T h e rebellion actually strengthened the seminar. It underlined the need for
scientists and journalists to work more closely if national development is to be sparked
M a c k Laing is an associate professor in the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of Western
Ontario in London, Canada. H e has acted as resource person in science-writing seminars in Asia, Africa and
South America, and was founding editor of Depthnews Science Service in Manila (1976-78). Professor
Laing's practical newspaper experience covers about a dozen years, mostly with The Telegram, Toronto
(now defunct) as general and science reporter, with later summer sessions as foreign and city editor at The
Toronto Star. In the early 1960s he was technical writer at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the
United Nations in R o m e .
M a c k Laing
by raising scientific awareness through the media. The incident also brought to the
surface the traditional mutual mistrust between scientists and journalists the world
A block that must be broken
It is a communications block that must be broken if the basic idea is to become an
active force in development. The idea, of course, is to bring an understanding of science
and technology to the public through the media. This concept has been embraced, or at
least accepted, by several international organizations, a m o n g them Unesco, the
International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU) and Canada's International
Development Research Centre (IDRC). The result has been a series of seminars over
the years,firstin Asia, more recently in Africa. They are designed to bring scientists and
journalists together and to encourage journalists to write about scientific and
technological research going on in their o w n countries.
It is a subject new to most Third World journalists and thus strange and a little
uncomfortable. The seminars attempt a conversion—using a touch of evangelism,
perhaps—to turn reporters with a heavy political interest into science writers.
O n e supposed result is to m o v e research results off library shelves and into the
hands of farmers, fishermen, paramedics and the like, through the media, for practical
use in the field.
Other hopes are that increasing science coverage in the press and broadcast media
will help de-mystify science for the public, create a pro-science feeling a m o n g readers
and listeners, raise public science literacy and thus generally speed development.
What have the results been?
Does it work? Has there been a rise in public scientific literacy due to an increase in
national science/technology stories in the press of developing countries? Has there been
any increased media use of science writing in these countries?
The answer is a depressing " N o " , or a not m u c h more hopeful, " W e just don't
k n o w " . T o find out would require communications research in countries where such
research has neither an established tradition nor high priority.
Meanwhile, the original idea of encouraging general-assignment reporters to
become science writers is being re-examined. As funding becomes harder to find,
agencies are also asking, "Does this idea really work?" The I D R C of Canada, for
example, has supported the concept for more than 10 years. N o w , fewer science-writing
seminars will be funded in future.
O n e recent change has been to try to enlarge the pool of science writers through
seminars for science journalism trainers and the creation and introduction of sciencewriting courses in schools of journalism and communications. This was tried in 1985
and 1986 in Z i m b a b w e and Malaysia, respectively, and earlier in Latin America. N o w ,
there will be an increased I D R C accent on supporting communication among scientists,
rather than from scientists to the public through the journalist science writer.
The emphasis changes
This is not a new effort, but a switch in investment emphasis. The thinking is that
development will be better served by upgrading and improving publication of scientific
journals and books, reaching across scientific disciplines, rather than trying to move
Scientific literacy in developing countries
less specific messages d o w n to the reading and listening public. This m a y be a sensible
move, considering the years of support for the idea of communicating with the evermysterious mass communications audience and that concrete results are few.
The nagging questions remain: Are w e dropping the original idea too soon? Are the
real results hidden? W o u l d they surface if the correct research questions could be
designed and asked? S o m e difficulties arise.
In m a n y countries in Africa, less so in s o m e parts of Asia perhaps, the press itself is
suspended in a delicate balance between government and public. Research inquiries
that could conceivably reflect on government science policy m a y merely invite
bureaucratic hindrance. Such research by foreigners seems even less welcome and m a y
well be less useful.
I remember being surprised by the lack of enthusiasm a qualified African
communications researcher showed to a suggestion for a simple survey of science
content in newspapers. T h e project probably would not get the necessary approval of a
media board outside his institution, he said. The board wasn't generally agreeable to
such direct research.
In another example, the head of a journalism school was interested in starting a
science-writing course. M y suggestion was a one-semester course or even a course to
run the full school year. H e agreed there was enough material for a long course. But he
said the practical option would be a three-week seminar format. H e said this would be
more readily accepted by another government body which approved course content.
O n e has to work within the system.
The quick short-course format was also urged by representatives of three other
African countries, simply because their countries had no formal training programmes
at all in journalism or communications. These situations are a m o n g the reasons w h y we
don't k n o w m u c h about the use of science and technology copy in the African media.
What is needed in Africa: baseline information
O n e big research need in this area n o w is to establish some baselines for h o w m u c h
and what type and quality of science news is used in the African press. T o k n o w where
we're going, w e have to k n o w where we've been.
Without these baselines, it becomes impossible to measure any increase, decrease or
other change that might indicate success or failure of current projects to interest
African journalists and their media in science writing. W e can, of course, go by instinct,
feel, impressions. Doing so is not only unscientific, but causes mood-swings between
mild satisfaction and dark depression.
Despite the occasional rebellion, the seminars are well received. Reporters see
almost immediately the extremely wide range of science and technology material. They
see its basic interest and usefulness to their readers. They notice the hard, concrete
nature of most science statements compared to the tide-shifts and opinions of politics.
With science, there is little need to 'read between the lines'. T h e reporter begins to
appreciate h o w simple good science is w h e n explained by those, sometimes rare,
scientists willing to translate and simplify.
Science writers'" organizations
In an attempt to maintain seminar-created m o m e n t u m , loose organizations of science
writers have been set up toward the end of these seminars. There is, or was,
M a c k Laing
Figure 1. Some of the 30 Tanzanian journalists work in class at Msimbazi Community Centre in
Dar es Salaam during a 1984 science-writing seminar sponsored by the International
Development Research Centre of Canada and the Tanzanian government.
L'Association internationale des journalistes scientifiques africains, for West Africa,
and the Eastern and Southern Africa Science Writers' Association ( E S A S W A ) , the
latter having been set up twice in the 1980s. I a m the proud holder of membership card
N o . 01 of the Asian Science Writers Association ( A S W A ) formed at a 1977 Manila
seminar, and also the second run at such an association in Asia.
In each case, very little has been done. A n optimist might add-yet. A cynic would
say the organizational effect stops when the funding runs out.
There's no denying that so far, ambitious plans for printing regular collections of
science news or even for periodic meetings of scientists and science writers have been
becalmed by distance between members, lack of money, organization and absences of
key members.
Ed Murray, an American journalist of wide experience, tells h o w he had thought
he had helped raise the credibility of the main English-language newspaper in
Khatmandu, Rising Nepal.
During a month-long seminar attended by the palace's number two public relations
m a n , Murray had persuaded reporter-participants to tone d o w n effusive coverage of
the royal family. The diplomatic community praised the increased dignity and
credibility of this revised news policy for the monarchy.
But six months later, once again there was a page one banner headline and a large
front-page picture of the Queen for what Murray considered a minor social
"In other words," he said, "back to the old ways as soon as the reform movement
wore thin"1.
Meanwhile, there is some history to fall back o n when change does not occur as
quickly as expected. Organizations of science writers in the developed world have gone
Scientific literacy in developing countries
through the same slow starts as in Africa and Asia. These have been followed by u p and
d o w n cycles as organizational ability surfaced or sank and as the media cheered o n the
science beat or let it slump.
In the United States, the National Association of Science Writers ( N A S W ) is once
again healthy, listing about 600 active science reporters. It began with 12—but that was
in 1934. The Canadian Science Writers' Association began about 25 years ago,firstas
an offshoot of the N A S W , and went through m a n y bleak and a few better years. It n o w
distributes a dozen C a n S 1000 science-writing awards annually. A re-organization and
membership drive several years ago brought its membership to m o r e than 300, though
m a n y are in industrial public relations or with specialized publications that most of the
public does not see. The International Science Writers Association (ISWA), n o w based
in the United States, has regular financial problems, but manages to maintain an
international network for useful informal contacts a m o n g science writers.
Considering this halting history in developed countries, is it too soon to write off
similar beginnings in the Third World?
Pondering the word 'developed' here, I recall going to Venezuela in the early 1980s
as one offiveinternational instructors on a science-writing seminar organized by a new
think-tank called I D E A . Y o u might imagine the surprise of the so-called 'experts' to
find a 90-member press club for science writers only, complete with recreational
clubrooms and working space, in Caracas. Nothing so progressive existed in our o w n
Are the editors to blame?
It continues to be fashionable for science writers to blame editors and news directors
for the dearth of local science stories, not only in Third World media, but in scores of
small and m e d i u m cities in North America where the science beat never quite got
Editors take a lambasting in a 1986 collection of research and readings on science
writing, Scientists and Journalists: Reporting Science as News2. Public opinion polls
and readership surveys since the early 1960s have shown increased reader-interest in
getting more science news. Yet the book says that most American editors did little to
answer this d e m a n d until the late 1970s.
Editors still don't believe people are interested in science stories, the book contends.
It quotes Susan West, staff writer for the slick Science 85, popular magazine of the
American Association for the Advancement of Science:
W h e n I was working for a newspaper, the editors would cut any science story
d o w n to 500 words. They didn't believe there was anything important enough in
science that couldn't be said in 500 words. A n d they didn't want a story to explain
h o w scientists work, h o w they carry out the process of science.
Alton Blakeslee, retired science writer for the Associated Press, once said he could
get a story o n the front page of every newspaper subscriber to the A P by leading with
something about the treatment of piles, ulcers or sexual impotence. H e explained this
was because every wire service editor either had these conditions or worried about
Science writers in the developed world, with their relatively stable lifestyles, secure
political situations and steady incomes, m a y laugh at these editorial idiosyncrasies as
M a c k Laing
part of the birth pains of their brand of science writing. The problem in m u c h of the
Third World is that the same editorial impasse is occurring and it is an annoying waste
of time where development is already painfully slow.
' W o science stories, please"
This makes it distressing w h e n a feature writer for Tanzania's English-language
newspaper says her editors have bluntly warned her, " N o science stories, please." N o t
once, she says, but on three occasions.
The editor of the Bulawayo Chronicle in Z i m b a b w e , Geoff Nyarote, was equally
straightforward. During a scientist-editor roundtable he said:
I receive certain science journals and a m at a loss to understand them—they
are so specialized. W h y should I bother lifting them for the m a n on the street?
There is some feedback (from readers) on features in the health sciences, yes. O n
the microchip, no. The newspaper is not a textbook. It would be easier to train
scientists to be writers than vice-versa. I would encourage scientists to contribute.
This m a y , indeed, have to happen. It could be a worthwhile experiment. W h e n
trying to inform a public about science, the rule might well be 'the more writers from
any background, the better'. However, having scientists write popular science has only
worked on a small scale in developed countries where a few gifted scientist/popularizers
write on the large events in science. They miss the lesser localized stories across the
country—exactly the kind of story both developing and developed countries need.
At a 1982 I D R C science-writing seminar in Nairobi, the former editor-in-chief of
Kenya's The Daily Nation, Peter M w a u r a , told participants that with Africa's low level
of development and sophistication, the situation is 'not yet ripe' for science
specialization in the mass media. In 1985, Wilf Banga, h o m e editor at Z I A N A ,
Zimbabwe's news agency, declared: "There is a scientific apathy about talking to the
ordinary person. Scientists don't want to spend time at this." Yet D r Itai Chiri, scientific
liaison officer to the Z i m b a b w e a n cabinet, maintained: "I have yet to see... a
specialized reporter for science. Y o u don't have any science reporters. That is where the
problem is."
It is not that African and Asian newspapers do not have any science articles. Rather
the science content of the press is heavily foreign—up to 85 o ó in one casual survey of
Asian papers. Thus the African reading public will be informed of Baby Fae, the girl
with the transplanted chimpanzee heart, or of the Jarvik-7 artificial heart or
experiments against the cancer cell with Interleukin 2—all courtesy of American or
European science writers and the Big Four news agencies. Interesting news, but safe,
distant and unrealistic by comparison with local erosion, flooding, birth rates and
hospital conditions.
The danger of 'science' as a label
M e t individually over dinner or beer, African and Asian editors are an agreeable lot—
bright, well travelled, curious listeners, often with foreign training and beyond-borders
perspectives. Like editors anywhere, all they want from a reporter is a good story.
Most of these editors readily see the value in a solid health-sciences story. But they
do not want to venture m u c h beyond this border. For them, the label 'science' seems to
call up a world in which they and their readers would have little interest.
Scientific literacy in developing countries
Figure 2. Erwin Protzen, a Tanzanian-born engineer, tells science-writing seminar participants
Shimye Ahmed Shimye of the daily Kiswahili newspaper Uhuru, and Sozy Kaffana of
Tanzanian Information Services, about a windpower project outside Dar es Salaam in late
M a c k Laing
Despite this natural reluctance, editors will print science stories when they cost
little, are served up smartly and require little handling.
As founding editor-reporter, under I D R C support, for the Manila-based Depthnews Science Service from 1976 to 1978,1 was immensely encouraged to see w a d s of
clippings in several languages bounce back from our 200 subscriber newspapers. But it
was a 50-50 success. W e could get the service used, but w e couldn't get it paid for. O n
two regional trips, all editors took refuge in the perennial budget cutbacks. In other
words, science stories were worthwhile printing, but they were a luxury when they were
going to cost more than the regular Depthnews service in which they were packaged.
W h o should write about science?
M a n y editors have m a d e a pre-judgement in the continuing debate in the Third World:
is it better to train a scientist to be a writer or a writer to be a scientist?
Experience in the developed countries suggests that neither approach works well
w h e n applied as the question suggests. T h e best product seems to result w h e n a
journalist w h o is interested in science and w h o knows a little more science than his
reader interviews a scientist w h o is willing to translate, clarify and interpret. This is a
long stretch from training a journalist to be a scientist.
Observations in developed countries s h o w that scientists have little interest in
personally reducing their precise scientific language for public consumption. G o o d
scientists are interested in doing science. M o s t of them are so engrossed with their work
that they resent the time they must take to write up their results—even for publication
in their technical journals. With a few outstanding exceptions, scientists dislike writing,
have no training for it and, given a choice, won't or can't do it well. The idea that follows
from this picture is that the science writer becomes a middleman between scientist and
In India, major newspapers commission scientists to write about research.
Technical accuracy is good, but the articles are often long, tedious and difficult, even in
a country whose newspaper readers have considerable scientific literacy.
The question is whether these articles penetrate the readership as readily as those of
Indian science journalists, w h o are closer than the scientist to both their readers and
their editors.
Indian editors tell m e that articles by scientists are a pain to handle, due to the
scientists insisting that their copy remain untouched by the editorial hand, even where
it is unclear or simply longwinded. N o editor likes the 'prima donna' reporter w h o
fancies his story untouchable. Yet m a n y editors are forced by necessity to deal with the
prima donna non-reporter in handling the scientist w h o writes for the press.
The need for training
Another great need in Third World journalism is for basic training. O n e introductory
device I have used in science-writing seminars is to begin with a simple non-science fact
sheet—about an accident orfire,for example. Participants are asked to rewrite the
jumbled facts into an acceptable news story.
The same type of exercise is used in journalism schools in m a n y countries. With the
help of local African journalism instructors, the facts were redrawn to use local names,
Scientific literacy in developing countries
buildings and streets. Before writing, participants, mostly local reporters with an
average experience of three or four years, were asked to pick out any error in the facts as
presented. The built-in error was that a car crash had occurred at a certain corner
where two major streets crossed. In fact, these two streets were parallel.
Participants discussed almost every other point in the exercise, but s o m e h o w
missed this basic local geographic mistake. Discussion on every point but this was
sharp and properly suspicious, but I would have expected more familiarity with their
o w n city's layout.
In the writing of this exercise and others tried in other seminars, another unexpected
point surfaced—a considerable, almost universal, lack of attention to the correct
spelling of local proper names of people and places. This basic journalistic point was
pervasive in every seminar, even those in Malaysia, for example, where the average
experience in journalism was 15 years or more.
E d Murray, the veteran American reporter w h o has run four long training seminars
in Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Fiji, seems to agree. H e writes:
I have found that an unconscionable amount of waste-work is being performed
every day by overworked sub-editors w h o have to rework and rewrite almost
every piece of copy they get from reporters and their city or news desks.
A lot of Asian newspapers in English are n o w being produced by sub-editors
w h o slave away at correcting the same amateurish sloppiness every day; that is,
always putting out fires instead of spending some intelligent time on fire
O f course, the exercises I used were artificial. There was no penalty for failure to
copy place- or family-names precisely. In m a n y cases, participants were writing in
English as a second language (though one they usually spoke well and worked with
But in these cases, there seemed to be more concentration on trying to find some
trick buried in the details than care with the facts as recounted and with the 'labels', the
names surrounding the facts.
Accuracy and the press
The need for accuracy in these concrete details is only a step removed from a basic
ethical question. R e m e m b e r for a m o m e n t the mini-revolution at the beginning of this
article? You'll recall that the reporters chose to guess at the names of the missing
scientists. W a s this professional? N o . They had time to telephone the scientists, and
certainly the editors, to ask w h y they had not appeared, before naming them. W a s it
unethical not to try to check? Probably it was, though that's a more difficult question.
The story embarrassed the wrong people—those w h o were not scheduled to be present,
but w h o were n a m e d as deliberately boycotting the workshop.
A sideline of this was that it confirmed any conception the local scientific
community had about the accuracy of the press. It probably also tended to entrench
their mistrust of reporters. So although the main part of the story—no scientist showed
up—was accurate and m a y b e even useful, poor reporting of the details reflected back
on the story and the reputation of the reporters. It was a practical lesson in
M o r e professionalism is also needed a m o n g organizations and editors when
selecting se*minar participants. Though most participants are qualified, some have been
M a c k Laing
recommended for the wrong reasons. They include seniority alone, coverage of stories
unrelated to the seminar, rewards for service, health reasons or even the need for a
The need for books written by Africans
For both basic journalism training and for science writing, there is a great need,
especially in Africa, for books written by native-born n e w s m e n and n e w s w o m e n .
O n e how-to book is Essentials of Modern African Journalism, by D r Ralph A .
Akinfeleye, of the University of Lagos 4 . Published in 1982, its preface says it m a y be the
first journalism text written in Africa about Africa by an African journalism instructor.
Its first half is an analysis of 16 African journalism training institutions in five
countries. It includes the first classification of African journalists by their type of
journalism as seen by the author. Classifications include: cocktail journalism, next-ofkin journalism and journalism of conscience.
Scientific Journalism5, though not about science, is a useful little book out of
Nigeria. It m a y be thefirstAfrican journalism manual to mention the computer and
It covers content analysis, surveying, sampling and one much-needed area in
African journalism- statistics and data presentation in graphs and charts. It seems to
borrow from the American text, Precision Journalism, by Philip Meyer.
By far the most up-to-date addition to this slim shelf is Reporting Africa6. It
appeared in late 1985. Its 14 chapters cover the basics of reporting. Financial and court
reporting are included, but not science writing. Reporting for radio and T V is an
excellent addition. All chapters are African-written. O n e would hope for wide
distribution by the publishers, the T h o m s o n Foundation and the Friedrich N a u m a n n
Science Writing in Asia: The Craft and the Issues7, by Depth news Asia editors Adlai
A m o r and Paul Icamina and myself, is a draft manual that m a y be adaptable for other
regions. Publication costs were partially funded by mid-1986.
Radio and television must be given greater emphasis. O n e aid is the bright, 45-page
booklet Broadcast Journalism by Harriet Otis Lawrence 8 . M r s . Lawrence is a black
American journalist with a master's degree in English and experience with United Press
International and is married to a Nigerian journalist. She became broadcast-lecturer at
the Nigerian Institute of Journalism in 1979.
Both Nigeria and C a m e r o o n have communications research journals which have
published studies on h o w development messagesfilterd o w n to information users.
African Communication Review discussed some problems in a special 1984 issue9.
In Cameroon, Frequence Sud printed a special issue on science journalism following
a 1983 science-writers' seminar. It includes the constitution of L'Association internationale des journalistes scientifique Africains10.
S o m e of these books, though not widely available, provide an answer to m y
question about basic training.
M u s t w e start again?
If a science writer is merely a professional general reporter w h o is specializing in one
subject, I wondered, and if there are indications of some deficiency in basic reporting
Scientific literacy in developing countries
skills, should not these general reporters go back for remedial basic training before
being asked to deal with the new labels of science—names of chemicals, processes, body
organs—in which accuracy is essential? In other words, perhaps w e should start from
the beginning. O n e wonders whether a three-week seminar in science writing should
begin with a three-day session on basic reporting, perhaps as an entrance requirement
to the seminar.
Some hopeful signs
Fortunately, there are hopeful signs for continuing training. O n e is the n e w
C o m m o n w e a l t h Association for Education in Journalism and Communication
(CAEJC). Its inaugural meeting was held in Arushar, Tanzania, in mid-1985. A n
associated science-writing seminar was planned, but had to be cancelled due to lack of
The 49 C o m m o n w e a l t h countries, most of them in the Third World, have at least 19
journalism training institutions. The association n o w has more than 150 members and
a computerized list of all Commonwealth journalism educators has been started at the
new Centre for Mass Media Studies at m y university's Graduate School of Journalism
in London, Canada. T h e next association meeting is being planned. So is ajournai for
C o m m o n w e a l t h journalism trainers.
Even more specific for science writers is S W E G , the Science Writing Educators
Group, part of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication
in the United States.
Third World science writing got another boost in late M a y 1986. For the second
time, a seminar was held on the international popularization of science during the
meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. This is the
world's largest annual scientific meeting. Both popularization seminars were inspired
by the International Science Writers' Association. I hope the proceedings of the recent
Philadelphia seminar can be published, as were those of thefirstseminar in Los
A recent strong m o v e to improve basic training for Third World journalists has
been the creation in early 1985 in the United States of the Center for Foreign
Journalists (CFJ). This is n o w part of the 40-year-old American Press Institute at
Reston, Virginia. It has an annual programme of seminars in all aspects of journalism
for United States reporters, editors, photographers, advertising and circulation
managers, even publishers. The C F J plans to expand this basic training programme to
foreign journalists, especially those already in the United States for non-journalism
studies, post-graduate work or just mind-broadening travel. There will be an attempt
to co-ordinate the training of foreign journalists w h o can carry this basic training in
reporting and editing back h o m e and pass it on to their co-workers.
"The single most important need as far as print journalism in Asia is concerned is
for trained native trainers," says C F J adviser E d Murray. "These newly trained trainers
would need only the necessary support from top management to áet up shop and begin
improving their o w n staffs at the basic levels of proficiency."1
In mid-1986, C F J was planning two September workshops—one to train trainers;
the other for about 15 African journalists interested in science writing. In addition, the
new centre was co-ordinating a two-day environmental sciences workshop for Chilean
Scientific literacy in developing countries
and Argentinian general reporters. Immediately afterwards, these reporters will be
covering a large scientific conference in Chile o n environmental problems in the lower
cone of South America.
A n d finally, s o m e African-written research o n African science writing has begun.
John M k a m w a , a feature writer for Uhuru, Tanzania's daily newspaper in the Kiswahili
language, is this year in a two-year graduate p r o g r a m m e at Carletôn University's
School of Journalism in Ottawa, C a n a d a . His thesis, which he plans to complete in
1986, includes a follow-up study of the 1982 science-writing seminar in Nairobi.
M k a m w a will ask participants h o w m u c h science writing they have done. Other
questions concern constraints o n science writing inside and outside African m a s s media
and h o w they m a y be overcome.
In the years ahead, it will be interesting to see whether public science literacy rises in
the Third World, whether development does speed u p in certain countries and h o w
m u c h might be due to increased media use of local science news.
At the m o m e n t , w e can't be faulted for not trying the experiment.
1. J. E D W A R D M U R R A Y , paper presented at Pacific Basin News Issues of the 1980s Seminar,
Institute of Culture and Communication, East-West Center, Honolulu; 10 Jan 1986.
2. S H A R O N M . F R I E D M A N , S H A R O N D U N W O O D Y and C A R O L L . R O G E R S eds, Scientists and
Journalists: Reporting Science as News; 866 Third Ave., N e w York; The Free Press, 1986.
3. R A E G O O D E L L , The Visible Scientists; Little, Brown & Co., quoted in (2) 1977.
4. R A L P H A . AKINEELEYE, Essentials of Modern African Journalism: A Premier; 10 Fashoro St,
Surulere, Lagos, Nigeria, Mirai Printing Press, 1982.
5. I D O W U S O B O W A L E , Scientific Journalism, Plot A , Block 2, A c m e Road, Ogba, P . M . B . 21001,
Ikeja, Nigeria, John West Publications Limited. I S B N 978-163-020-00.
6. D O N R O W L A N D S and H U G H L E W I N , eds, Reporting Africa: A Manual for Reporters in Africa;
Harare, The Thomson Foundation and The Friedrich N a u m a n n Foundation, printed by
Mardon Printers, 1985.
7. A D L A I A M O R , P A U L I C A M I N A and M A C K L A I N G , Science Writing in Asia: The Craft and the
Issues; in draft, 1986.
8. H A R R I E T O T I S L A W R E N C E , Broadcast Journalism, a Manual for Students of the Electronic
Media; Ibadan, Nigeria, printed by the Sketch Publishing Co., Ltd., about 1980.
9. African Communication Review, Vols. 1 and 2, special edition, selected articles from the
Fourth Biennial Conference of the African Council on Communication Education and
Nigeria Mass Communication Association conferences, editor Alfred E . Opubor, Dakar,
Senegal, Pan-African News Agency.
10. I requeme Sud, Revue de Recherche sur les Mass Media, Vol. 5, 1984; Ecole supérieure des
sciences et techniques de l'information, Université de Yaounde.
11. J A M E S C O R N E L L , ed, The International Popularization of Science: Reporting the News and
Effecting Change in the Developing Countries; International Science Writers Association,
1986. Available at U S $ 3 from: H o w a r d Lewis, I S W A secretary-treasurer, 7310 Broxburn
Court, Bethesda, Maryland 20817, U . S . A .
impact of science on society, N o . 144, 367 372
Science journalism training in Asia
Adlai J. A m o r
The mass media are generally recognized as the best means of informing the public in Asia
about the effects science and technology are having on their lives—and of their promise for
development. An Asian press foundation and a Canadian development organization are
collaborating to improve the coverage of science and technology by the Asian mass media.
But much remains to be done in the future.
The Chinese have a proverb that says that if you give a m a nfish,he will have food for
only one day. But if you teach the m a n how tofish,you will feed him for the rest of his
life. Old fashioned as it m a y seem, this m a x i m m a y nevertheless prove to be the key to
training science journalists and thereby increasing public understanding of science and
technology in the developing world.
Science, which has n o w become part and parcel of daily living, has still to be
understood by millions of Asians if their countries are to modernize and develop. But
the difficulties of interpreting science and technology for the public are great,
particularly in countries with large rural components, as in Asia. Here, illiteracy rates
are often high and there are few opportunities for direct contact with modern science
and technology. Yet it is precisely in these areas where the need for the application of
modern science and technology m a y be the greatest.
Training programmes in Asia
Despite the uneasy relationship between scientists and journalists, the mass media have
always been identified as the best means of bringing about public understanding of
science and technology. T h e media's role in these efforts was reaffirmed in 1984 in
Manila, Philippines during the Conference o n Journalism Training in Asia. S o m e 40
Asian publishers, editors and professors of journalism called for more specialized
training programmes for Asian journalists, especially in science and technology.
Although there were early efforts to promote science journalism in Asia—especally
in Japan—they gained m o m e n t u m only in the last 15 years. The idea behind these
efforts is that development can be accelerated by creating greater public awareness of
the use of science and technology in the development process. A n d this means
encouraging Asian journalists to recognize the news value of local science and
technology stories.
Adlai J. A m o r is the deputy executive editor of the features agency Depthnews Asia, and training director of
the Press Foundation of Asia. H e is actively involved in the training of journalists around Asia and the
Pacific, especially in relation to science. A . J. A m o r is a journalism graduate of Colombia University, N e w
York. H e m a y be contacted through: Press Foundation of Asia, P . O . B o x 1843, Manila, Philippines.
Adlai J. A m o r
Spearheading the m o v e have been the Press Foundation of Asia (PFA) and the
International Development Research Centre (IDRC) of Canada. T h e P F A , based in
Manila, is a private, non-stock, non-profit agency owned by the region's publishers and
editors. It has been involved in the training of journalists since 1968, and has conducted
more than 104 seminars, workshops and meetings. O f this number, 25 have been
devoted to general science and technology, health, environment, energy, agriculture
and demography. In all, more than 2488 have participated in these training activities,
an average of 136 journalists per year since 1968.
P F A also runs the only science news service for Asia and the Pacific, Depthnews
Science Service. It has some 600 newspaper and radio clients and is published or aired
in 14 languages. It was started with the help of the I D R C .
The I D R C , based in Ottawa, Canada, is a unique international aid agency devoted
to the application of science and technology to solve development problems. It is a
public corporation created by the Parliament of Canada in 1970 but is governed by an
independent international board of governors. Arguably, no other agency in the world
has done so m u c h as the I D R C in so short a time to promote science journalism in the
Third World.
Since 1974, the P F A and the I D R C have been collaborating to promote science and
technology in Asia and the Pacific. They have jointly conducted a number of science
writing workshops—in 1974,1977 and 1982 in the Philippines, in 1975 in India and in
Malaysia early this year. (The first such regional course, however, was conducted in
1970 in Tokyo by the P F A and the Nihon Shimbun Kyokai, the Japanese Newspaper
Publishers and Editors Association.)
Several other workshops were held in recent years. They include IDRC-assisted
workshops in N e w Delhi in M a y 1984 with the Press Trust of India, in September 1984
in Kuala L u m p u r with the Malaysian news agency B E R N A M A , and in 1985 at Los
Banos, Philippines with the Philippines N e w s Agency. Similarly, a workshop for radio
producers was conducted in Malaysia in July-August 1984 with the Asia-Pacific
Institute for Broadcasting Development.
Although these workshops were not co-sponsored by the P F A , the Foundation
assisted them by providing trainers and other consultants. Similar assistance has also
been extended by the Foundation to the World Health Organization and the United
Nations Environment Programme in conducting health and environment reporting
workshops for journalists in Asia and the Pacific.
Training the trainers
While the pool of Asian and Pacific science writers has grown over the years as a result
of these training activities, no organized attempt has been made until recently to
increase the number of trainers of reporters specializing in science journalism. As a
result, the P F A and I D R C heeded the Chinese proverb about teaching a m a n h o w to
fish as a means of coping with the increasing demand for training in science journalism.
In the long run, however, the Foundation hopes that this new method of training
will instil self-reliance a m o n g media establishments so that they will train their o w n
people and thus at the same time help stretch the region's limited resources.
Three training-of-trainer activities have been supported by the I D R C in the Third
World since 1984. The first was held two years ago in Colombia, the second in Harare,
Zimbabwe, in November 1985, and the most recent in Shah Alam, Malaysia, in January
Science journalism training in Asia
The idea behind these workshops was not only to teach science journalism but to
design programmes for science journalists and to teach journalists to become science
journalism trainers. This idea was later refined in the Malaysian workshop to include
the development of training materials in science journalism.
According to Professor M a c k Laing, of Canada's University of Western Ontario,
the Malaysia workshop w a s the most successful. Professor Laing, w h o had directed the
Z i m b a b w e workshop, w a s a m e m b e r in Malaysia of a four-person training team
composed of two journalism professors, a science journalist and an instructional
technology expert.
Eighteen journalists and journalism instructors from nine countries in Asia and the
Pacific participated in the Malaysia workshop, which was co-sponsored by the P F A .
Though only two or three participants, as professional journalists, did no teaching in
their usual work, there were another eight active journalists whose teaching activities
varied from occasional training to regular teaching as in-house training officers.
The nature of the workshop
The W o r k s h o p to Train Science Journalism Trainers had two basic frameworks. The
first was the training content, which focused o n two areas of competence—science
journalism and training/development in thisfield.The second was the training process.
which involved drawing out needs and required skills and then providing the theory to
organize those needs and skills into a training module.
As part of the workshop, the participants were asked to develop 15-minute microlessons on any aspect of science journalism. In delivering the lessons, the participants
were video-taped and later subjected to group criticism. Training modules were also
developed covering the whole range of training for science journalists, editors and
journalism trainers. These modules are currently being edited into a manual called
Science Journalism Training, the first of its kind in Asia.
As a result of the workshop's success, the P F A ' s trustees and directors resolved that
the Foundation should conduct training-of-trainer workshops annually.
In future workshops, however whether for training journalism trainers or science
journalists—six key areas must be given careful attention: participants, scheduling,
training materials, trainers, science-media relations, and evaluation and further
In conducting science journalism workshops, one must realize that most science
journalists today are science journalists by accident—though some are there by choice.
M o r e often than not, science journalists have a background in the humanities and
hardly any background in the sciences. They have become science journalists because
they were assigned to cover such 'beats' as the health ministry or the environment. O n c e
they m o v e o n to other beats—like city hall or parliament—few retain their interest in
science journalism.
It is for this reason that organizers must take a long-term view in training science
journalists. If they have been trained and motivated in science journalism early in their
careers, w h e n they later become deskmen or editors they will be more open to accept
science and technology stories, and thus more stories o n science and technology will
appear in the media.
Adlai J. A m o r
Although most participants in the P F A - I D R C ' s science journalism workshops had
been writing for a m i n i m u m of three years, it was thefirsttime they had attended a
science writing workshop. It was thus crucial for workshop organizers to persuade
them to change from being accidental science journalists to motivated journalists truly
interested in the coverage of science and technology. While their careers were out of the
organizers' hands, m u c h was accomplished that would, in the short term, improve and
increase science and technology coverage by their respective newspapers or news
T h e standard science journalism workshop formula that the P F A has developed over
the years involves a balanced combination of lecturers, editorial clinics, writing
assignments andfieldtrips.
Mornings are normally reserved for lectures on science and technology. These serve
to increase the journalists' knowledge of science and technology. The afternoons are
spent on discussing h o w such knowledge can be communicated to the public.
The editorial clinics are loosely structured practical sessions, which leave a lot of
leeway for the trainers to respond to the problems of the journalists. These problems
could include simplifying complex scientific processes or dealing with statistics. They
could even include putting the problems of the journalists into context within the
framework of science and technology in their respective countries.
Writing assignments—based either on a scientific paper or a field trip—are an
integral part of the editorial clinics. In fact, participants are asked to write for their
respective publications while attending the workshop. This not only boosts the
coverage of science and technology issues, but also gives the trainers a focal point on
which to structure the editorial clinics. It also contributes to an overall newsroom
atmosphere that organizers endeavour to cultivate during the workshop.
Thefieldtrips are especially helpful in giving the journalistsfirst-handexperience of
conditions in thefieldor factory or research institute. In addition, scientists feel m o r e
free to talk on their h o m e ground than in the workshop room. At least onefieldtrip is
scheduled, preferably in the middle of the week. Threefieldtrips m a y be scheduled for a
two-week workshop.
T w o weeks is the longest period practical for a training-of-trainer or general science
and technology workshop. A one-week schedule is ideal for specialized workshops
focused on issues like health and the environment. Shorter activities can be held, but
only if they are orientation seminars for senior or working science journalists.
Ultimately, the length of the workshops depends on the time editors can spare their
reporters. Since most newspapers in Asia and the Pacific are understaffed, their
reporters can be spared for two weeks at most.
Training materials
Recently, P F A - I D R C workshops have been using Science Writing in Asia: The Craft
and the Issues as their basic text. This manual was co-written by Professor M a c k Laing,
Depthnews Science editor Paul Icamina and myself. It is based o n our collective
experiences as science journalists and looks at science journalism from an Asian
perspective, combined with Western insights. Prior to the appearance of this manual,
most training materials were limited essentially to Western sources.
Science journalism training in Asia
Research studies and samples of good and bad journalism normally form the core of
P F A - I D R C training materials. Research studies are used to show journalists h o w best
to dissect such tomes in order to get to the meat of the matter. The story samples—
including the writing assignments of the participants—provide the workshop with case
studies through which to impart tips and tricks in the coverage of science and
technology stories.
M a n y of these training materials have been developed over a number of years, and
more need to be developed. In most instances, each workshop builds on the training
materials of another. But this is definitely one area where m o r e work has to be done.
The quality of the instructional materials determines the quality of the learning process;
the higher the quality, the better the learning process.
Science and technology are often described as 'dead' beats. Thus, our experience has
shown us that science and technology journalism trainers must be more than teachers.
They must also be facilitators and motivators: they should spark excitement in the
journalist, excitement that m a y have faded after several years of covering the beat.
Trainers should also bolster the participants' self-esteem as reporters. Only in this way
can they recharge the reporters' energies and encourage them to write better.
In all our training programmes, w e always stress that w e are there as journalists
willing to share our experiences with our colleagues. This is necessary for the simple
reason that journalists often claim to k n o w m o r e than others. Thus, w e are in effect
recognizing this claim and inviting them to share with other journalists their o w n
This approach is also necessary because n o one can ever hope to be an expert in all
fields of science and technology. Yes, perhaps an expert in environmental sciences,
biotechnology or computers— but not in everything. Thus the learning process
becomes m o r e participatory, with each journalist contributing a bit of what he k n o w s
towards the creation of a better and holistic understanding of science and technology.
Science-media relations
In a sense, the workshops w e have conducted have been encounters between scientists
and journalists. Often the discussions are not confined to the science subject at hand,
but also deal with m a n y problems faced by scientists and journalists. Although this was
never scheduled, it always happened.
W h e n w éfirstfound this occurring, w e were at a loss to k n o w h o w to deal with it.
But gradually, w e learned that the workshops themselves can contribute to a greater
understanding by scientists of the media and by the journalists of the scientific process.
W e have n o w realized the value of such encounters and have incorporated them
into our editorial clinics. A s part of the workshops, the journalists are required to write
science and technology stories. Instead of just leaving the trainers to criticize the stories,
w e normally ask the scientists and technologists to c o m m e n t on them. This often results
in better and clearer stories.
Such interactions have also resulted in better interpersonal relations between the
journalists and the scientists and technologists. Trust is established, and contacts are
often m a d e for future stories.
Science journalism training in Asia
Evaluation and further training
T h e need for further training is especially important for science journalists. This need
was raised as early as 1970 when Alton Blakeslee, science editor of the Associated Press,
said during the P F A - N S K Science Writers W o r k s h o p : "Your training never ends.
Besides taking courses, you must read constantly".
Future workshops for science journalists need not be confined to science writing as
such: they could be designed m o r e as orientation seminars geared to keeping
journalists in touch with the latest developments in science and technology.
In the Philippines, the Science and Technology Journalists Association conducts
weekly forums with scientists. Over lunch, the latest scientific developments are
discussed. All the discussions are on the record, thus giving the journalists both a
learning experience and a story for submission to their editors.
While there is a need for further training, every effort must be exerted to evaluate
such training programmes so that they will meet the requirements of the participants.
Evaluation questionnaires have been designed by the P F A for all its workshops and
each workshop is subjected to intensive scrutiny during and after the activity. Through
such evaluation programmes, each training activity builds on the previous one, and
knowledge and experience eventually accumulate.
The future
There is one area in long-term training that needs to be further explored: degree courses
in science journalism. Although some Asian universities offer one or two classes in
science journalism, there is n o university in the region that offers a speciality in this
In the long term, science journalism courses in universities- -whether for journalists
or scientists—will contribute greatly to increasing public understanding of science and
technology. Asian educational institutions already offer science and technology
courses; all that is needed n o w is to teach their students to communicate their relevance
to the daily life of the Asian people.
S o m e universities in the A S E A N region are thinking of offering science journalism,
starting next school year. But as with the short-term workshops, they are hampered by
the lack of qualified teacher-trainers. T h e d e m a n d for more training-of-trainer
workshops is most certain to increase in the next few years. A s the Chinese proverb
says, it will only be through teaching universities, press institutes and the media ' h o w to
fish' that w e can cope with the demand.
impact of science on society. N o . 144, 373 378
Media Resource Services:
getting scientists and the media together
Fred Jerome
The Three Mile Island nuclear power station accident in the United States led to the
establishment of the Media Resource Service (MRS), which puts journalists in touch with
scientists by telephone to help the press meet the public's need to understand science and
technology. The recent Chernobyl nuclear power accident has underscored that need. The
MRS is run by the Scientists' Institute/or Public Information, a non-profit group. Similar
services have since been set up in Canada and the United Kingdom, and interest has been
shown in many other countries.
At 12.45 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on 28 April ¡986, C B S Evening N e w s called the
Media Resource Service in New York City for help on a story. The reporter said that a
radioactive cloud had been discovered over Denmark and Sweden and there was
speculation that it might have been caused by some kind of accident at a Soviet nuclear
power plant. She wanted to know if we could put her in touch with any experts on the
location and design of Soviet plants.
By the end of that day, the MRS had received 35 media calls on Chernobyl, and the
next day a record number of 60 journalists called (160 by the end of the week), all seeking
experts to comment on the nuclear accident.
At that stage, of course, no official details on the accident itself had been released. But
our MRS files of more than 20 000 scientists included experts who could and would
comment on Soviet nuclear plants and compare them to those in the United States, as well
as scientists who could comment on the danger, or lack of danger, from the radioactive
plume heading towards the United States. Other media questions we helped with that week
(and the weeks following) dealt with such topics as graphitefires,radiation effects on the
food chain, and the impact of Chernobyl on the United States'" nuclear industry.
The impact of major disasters
Something about a technological disaster glues us to our television sets and
newspapers, desperately seeking every bit of information we can get. Perhaps it is the
Fred Jerome is director of the Media Resource Service in the United Stales. A n experienced journalist, w h o
has worked for daily newspapers as well as the Associated Press and Newsweek, he has also taught science
writing at a number of universities in the N e w York area. His educational background, however, was not in
science: he graduated with an Honours degree in English, and strongly believes in the value of having general
reporters—not just specialists—to write about science in the media. H e can be contacted through: the
Scientists' Institute for Public Information, 355 Lexington Avenue, N e w York, N Y 10017, U S A .
Fred Jerome
suddenness of it, perhaps the unexpectedness—this was not supposed to happen, the
shuttle was supposed tofly,the nuclear plant was supposed to generate electricity—or
perhaps it is the fact that we don't understand what went wrong. O r perhaps something
else, something about the fallibility of m a n . Whatever it is, the impact of such
disasters extends across all national borders, bringing us together, uniting the world in
worry—and in the urgent need to know what happened, what's happening and what is
likely to happen.
Certainly this was the case following the disaster at Chernobyl, as it was at the time
of the space shuttle Challenger explosion and the Bhopal catastrophe. These calamities,
in three different continents, each provoked immediate, heartfelt concern a m o n g
people the world over—and provoked also a universal need for information.
A n d the role of the M R S in helping to provide public information through the mass
media during those tension-filled but knowledge-starved days, suggests that such a
service, or something similar, might be worth serious consideration in other countries,
developing as well as developed. Before discussing that, however, it would be well to
review the historv of the M R S .
The establishment of the M R S
It was seven years and one m o n t h before Chernobyl that the accident occurred at the
Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania. A n d the near-panic that ensued
a m o n g the public at that time, as journalists scrambled desperately for information
about nuclear power, radiation, and a possible melt-down, convinced us at the
Scientists' Institute for Public Information to set up the Media Resource Service. By the
end of 1979, Walter Cronkite, this country's best-known and most trusted television
newsman, had agreed to serve as honorary chairman of the n e w programme, and the
Ford Foundation had given us a start-up grant of U S $ 7 5 000.
The rest, as they say, is history. Several Wise Old Observers predicted the project
would never work. Journalists, they said, don't have the time or the interest to call a
referral service for expert sources. Journalists, they said, are content to dash off halfbaked, unchecked stories simply to m a k e headlines. A n d scientists, they said, are too
wrapped up in their work and too suspicious of the media to volunteer their time to talk
to the press.
Despite these dire predictions, by the end of 1980 we had enlisted 5000 scientists in
the Media Resource Service, and by mid-1981 calls had begun to c o m e in from
reporters at a rate of some 20 per week. Over the years, those numbers have grown
steadily. At the time of writing (June, 1986), more than 20000 scientists have returned
questionnaires to the M R S indicating their areas of specialization and their qualifications, as well as their views o n controversial subjects in theirfields.(The M R S always
refers experts with a diversity of views when a journalist's question involves a
controversy.) A n d in an average week, w e n o w service more than 50 calls from the
Literally thousands of journalists have called the M R S in recent years, from small as
well as large newspapers, specialized newsletters as well as major news magazines, and
little, out-of-the-way radio stations as well as national television networks (table 1).
Their questions have covered a diverse range offields(table 2). In one recent week, for
example, asked-about topics included arthritis research, possible health hazards from
Getting scientists and media together
Table 1. Calls made to the Media Resource Service in 1985-1986 by media type.
t Including news services and syndicates, publishing and production companies.
Table 2. Calls made to the Media Resource Service in 1985-1986, by category.
Health and medicine
Environmental issues
Social science and psychology
Life sciences
High technology
Military technology, national security
Natural disasters and weather
Percentage of total
n e w cosmetics, a toxic chemical spill, the future of the United States space programme,
the continuing spread of A I D S , and the use of robots in auto manufacturing.
The M R S cost, of course, has grown, too—now some U S $ 5 0 0 0 0 0 annually.
Indeed, perhaps the most significant sign of the programme's success is that media
companies, from small independent newspapers to giant publishing chains, n o w
contribute money to it. At the latest count, 56 media sponsors were contributing an
average of U S $2000 each, providing 20% of the M R S budget. (These contributions are
voluntary, and calls to the M R S are serviced whether or not the journalist works for a
contributor.) The rest of the budget comes from foundations (60%) and non-media
corporations (20%).
A n e w plateau of significance
W h i l e the M R S has clearly emerged in recent years as a major, if not indeed the major
source of sources for journalists covering science a n d technology, in the past 18 m o n t h s
the p r o g r a m m e has reached a n e w plateau of significance. This is thanks, if that w o r d
can be used, to the three major science-related disasters: Bhopal, the Challenger
explosion and Chernobyl.
E a c h of these disasters brought a record n u m b e r of m e d i a calls to the M R S — 6 8 in
the w e e k after Bhopaî, 9 7 during the w e e k after the Challenger explosion, and, as
mentioned earlier, 160 in the aftermath of Chernobyl. B u t it is not just a matter of
Fred Jerome
numbers. The M R S role following these tragedies has demonstrated the value of, and
the need for, a crisis-response centre for the media.
W e can n o w identify several important differences—besides the increased number
of calls—between a normal week for the M R S and a crisis-response week:
— During a crisis week, virtually all the calls to the M R S are about the crisis, while
during a normal week, as mentioned, the calls run the gamut of topics from soup
to nuts.
— While during a normal week, only 30% of the calls c o m e from major media
outlets—newspapers with more than 100000 circulation and national T V
networks—and 7 0 % come from smaller, local, media outlets, during a crisis
week those figures are reversed.
— During a normal week, only about 15% of M R S calls come from television
outlets, but during a crisis week fully half are T V calls.
— In an average week, only 10% to 20% of the journalists calling the M R S require
immediate (within 2 hours) referrals, while most don't need the n a m e s and
phone numbers of scientists for at least half a day. But during a crisis, virtually
all the callers need to talk to experts immediately.
These factors require adjustments in the normal operations of the M R S during
crises, and have prompted us to develop an 'emergency response' m o d e to meet the
media's needs. They also underscored the importance of our having the top experts in
our files, experts recruited primarily from the leading professional societies, research
centres, government agencies and universities around the country.
During times of crisis, the Media Resource Service becomes more than simply a
'nice' programme lending a helping hand to journalists w h o need to check some facts
or find a few more experts to quote. Suddenly, the M R S becomes a crucial force in
bringing information to an anxious or even semi-hysterical public. The T V producer,
w h o calls at 3.30 p . m . to find an expert to go on the air at 5.00 p . m . to explain the
possible dangers of radioactivity, doesn't have time to check around for alternatives.
The responsibility of the M R S in such a situation is a heavy one—to refer responsible,
non-hysterical, articulate experts. It is a crucial role at a critical time.
The enthusiastic expressions of thanks from journalists at major media outlets
around the country w h o called the M R S during the Bhopal. Challentier and Chernobyl
crises demonstrate that w c have done our job well. At the same time, w e are working to
prepare for possible future emergencies—ensuring that w e can reach, and reach
quickly, the top experts in toxicology, radiology, structural engineering, seismology,
aviation safety, military technology, etc.; identifying those experts w h o have television
experience; and testing our rapid response system.
Unfortunately, disasters will occur. O n e of the prices w e pay for advancing
lechnology is the wider impact of technological failures. It m a y be fairly argued that it is
a price well worth paying. But is behoves us to prepare as well as possible to provide a
worried public with accurate, responsible—and fast—information during those crises.
International application
As m o r e and more nations inevitably develop advanced scientific and technological
capacities, the possibility of establishing programmes like the Media Resource Service
would seem to warrant serious exploration.
Getting scientists and media together
Following the Chernobyl disaster, a Deutsche Presse-Agentur dispatch by Evelyn
Bohne, datelined Hamburg, ran in the 9 M a y San Francisco Chronicle, under the
headline: C O N F U S I O N C R E A T E S F A L L O U T ' H Y S T E R I A ' IN W E S T
G E R M A N Y . It read, in part:
The Chernobyl nuclear disaster has unleashed 'hysteria' among West Germans,
in the words of one top official, with streets deserted during rainfall and whole
truck-loads of lettuce destroyed to escape an invisible poison hanging in the
The background to the fear is a stream of conflicting advice from officials in Bonn,
H a m b u r g , Mainz and Hanover as to h o w the 60 million West G e r m a n s should
deal with radioactivity in the air, rain and soil. N o other European, country has
been so shaken.
In the same vein, an article in the New York Times of M a y 14, datelined Paris, began:
France announced the formation of an interministerial committee today to
review information about the Soviet nuclear disaster. The Government acted to
help allay public concern over its belated disclosure that France suffered m u c h
higher doses of radioactivity than normal after the accident.
These news accounts have a familiar ring. It was just such an atmosphere of public
fear and confusion after the Three Mile Island accident in 1979 that led to the
establishment of the M R S in our country.
The idea of setting up M R S - t y p e programmes in other countries is not new.
Projects modelled on the United States M R S have, in fact, been established in Canada
(in 1984)t and in England (in 1985)J, and the Australian Academy of Science is
seriously considering a similar operation.
In addition a number of journalists and scientists from the Federal Republic of
G e r m a n y have visited our N e w York offices and indicated a desire to pursue such an
Tn several developing countries, too, keen interest has been expressed. W e have
received a number of letters of inquiry from India, including one from K . S. Jayaraman,
president of the Indian Science Writers Association. A delegation of scientists from the
People's Republic of China recently spent half a day in our offices and left expressing
enthusiastic interest. A n d Salah Galal, president of the Union of African Journalists,
wrote last fall, 'The Union of African Journalists could help in setting u p an M R S at its
headquarters in Cairo.' Galal added, 'Surely, Unesco could help in this project.'
But perhaps the country where a Media Resource Service is most likely to be set up
next is the Philippines where science writer Adlai A m o r , of the Press Foundation of
Asia, has written a detailed proposal for an M R S and is n o w seeking to raise U S $50 000
to underwrite the programme'sfirstthree years of operation.
t T h e bilingual SIS (Science Information Sources or Sources d'Information Scientifiques) set up by the
Canadian Science Writers Association, is headquartered in the Ontario Science Center in Toronto.
Í T h e English Media Resource Service, set up by the Ciba Foundation, is headquartered at the Foundation's
offices in London.
Getting scientists and media together
Each nation, of course, has its o w n particular conditions to which any M R S - t y p e
operation would have to be adapted. (In the Philippines, for example, telephone service
is not readily available in most places outside Manila, so A m o r ' s proposal calls for
utilization of other channels of communication, at least initially.) But the fundamental
principle applies: as technology expands, so too does the need for public information.
T o be sure, the vital role played by a Media Resource Service is not limited to times
of disaster or crisis far from it. Especially in developing nations, where new scientific
and technological advances are in m a n y respects the key to the future, public awareness
and understanding of such advances can be critical.
The science scene is not always rosy, but on the whole science and technology
provide the engine for social and economic progress. Yet without accurate, reliable and
credible reporting, an uninformed public can easily become a sceptical, suspicious or
even cynical public. A n informed public, on the other hand, is an invaluable resource
for any nation.
A n d in the modern world, an informed public depends upon an informed media.
impact of science on society. N o . 144, 379-385
Books and films: powerful media
for science popularization
Bernard Dixon
The power of books and films in science popularization is often underrated. Yet many
examples attest to the strength of these media in influencing public attitudes to science and
technology, for good or ill. From thefirstpropaganda films designed to educate an
unsophisticated public in rules of health, to the most recent ones dealing with the dangers
of nuclear power plants and genetic engineering, movies in particular have proved
themselves a force to be reckoned with in shaping public opinion.
W h e n scientists meet to deliberate over 'science in the media', they invariably focus
their attention on only some channels of communication. They are tempted to
concentrate o n offences such as sensationalism, trivialization and inaccuracy in just
two domains—print journalism and broadcasting. They are, in m y experience at least,
far less ready to recognize the considerable skills that reporters working in newspapers,
magazines, television and radio bring to the task of interpreting highly complex
technical issues, often against the pressure of urgent deadlines. But they also tend to
overlook two other highly influential media through which the general public forms its
impressions of science: books and movies.
T h e latter form the main subject of this article, but a word about the power of books
m a y be in orderfirst.W h e n a publishing house releases a work it believes to be
extremely important and/or likely to generate a large profit, the c o m p a n y makes
energetic efforts to ensure widespread exposure. Public relations officers pull out every
stop to ensure that the author is interviewed on as m a n y radio and television
programmes as possible. There are also offers of specially written articles, or extracts
from the book for serialization in periodicals and newspapers. In these and in m a n y
other ways, an 'amplifier mechanism' ensures that the public is not only offered the
book for sale but is also subjected to a formidable battery of publicity about its message
and its author.
A n d the machinery of amplification can be applied to books good or bad. It is n o
surprise, therefore, w h e n a title such as The Beverly Hills Diet1, published in 1981, goes
to the top of The New York Times best-seller list—and stays there for seven m o n t h s even though it contains factual errors of the most elementary kind about digestion and
nutrition. Its millions of readers are not exposed to anything like the same intensity of
authoritative, objective information indicating the book's mistaken ideas and hazardous advice. They are most unlikely, for example, to c o m e across papers such as that in
which D r G a b e Mirkin and D r Ronald Shore, writing in the Journal of the American
D r Dixon is a British science writer and consultant. A microbiologist by-training, he is a former editor of N e w
Scientist and the author of a number of books and a columnist w h o appears regularly in a variety of
publications. His address is: XI Falmouth R o a d , Chelmsford, Essex C M 1 5JA. United Kingdom.
Bernard Dixon
Medical Association2, draw attention to author Judy Mazel's extraordinary misunderstanding of the elements of digestion and the potential dangers faced by people w h o
follow her diet.
The multiplier effect
Books, in other words, are m o r e than books. In addition to the work itself, there is often
a sizeable penumbra of influence which reaches m a n y m o r e people than those w h o
actually buy and read the book itself. T h e same is true of movies, especially in the
m o d e r n era of television. A successful film, or one judged to be especially significant or
important by its makers, is publicized and exposed in a variety of ways over a
considerable period of time. T V repeats ensure that the motifs, characters and ideas
pass across our consciousness over and over again, rather like the tunes and harmonies
of oft-played music.
Consider, for example, h o w familiar w e are with the images to be found in Stanley
Kubrick and Arthur C . Clarke's splendid 2001: a Space Odyssey and in Kubrick's
equally brilliant black c o m e d y Dr Strangelove; or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and
Love the Bomb. Think of that low-key but pervasive stereotype of the b o m b disposal
boffin in The Small Back Room, m a d e in 1949 but screened again and again on
television across the continents of the world in more recent years. The Dam Busters,
another film that continues to receive frequent T V showings, was based o n the real-life
story of the inventor Barnes Wallis and adds just one m o r e vital ingredient to the public
stereotype of the scientist—a hint of eccentricity or even madness. Think, too, about the
m o r e recent efflorescence of the cinematic world of aliens and androids. A s Peter
Nicholls points out in his book Fantastic Cinema3 there have been periods during the
past two decades w h e n these ideas and artefacts of science have virtually dominated the
whole of the cinema industry.
It can be argued, of course, that the movie world has from its very inception been
glamorous and larger-than-life, and that people are perfectly well able to distinguish
fact from fantasy. I a m not so sure. Several years ago, I w a s talking to a group of
participants at a meeting in Miami of the American Society for Microbiology. W e were
discussing the unusual resistance to radiation of the bacterium Micrococcus radiodurans, and the conversation moved towards the question of nuclear reactor safety and
the possible dangers to h u m a n populations. Gradually, it became clear that two
m e m b e r s of the group were confusing the reactor failure that had occurred at Three
Mile Island in the United States (with n o casualties) with the potentially disastrous
reactor flaw illustrated in the movie The China Syndrome. Both events, one factual, the
otherfictional,were relatively recent. Each had received considerable publicity. A n d
here were s o m e scientists—microbiologists, of course, rather than physicists—who had
got the t w o scenarios hopelessly mixed u p .
Life imitating art?
There have been virtually n o systematic attempts to assess the impact offilmson public
attitudes towards science and technology—in contrast to the m a n y published studies
devoted to newspaper coverage. The report on The Public Understanding of Science4,
prepared after lengthy deliberations by a working party for the Royal Society of
L o n d o n in 1985, for example, scarcely mentioned the cinema. But there was a grim
Books and films
reminder of the potent influence of television drama in a series of letters that appeared
in The Lancet5 during 1986. O n e Sunday in March, the omnibus edition of the B B C
soap opera Eastenders showed one character taking an overdose of drugs. In the
following week, the Hackney Hospital in East London (the precise location of the
serial) experienced a 300% increase in the number of patients attending the emergency
department following a deliberate overdose. D r Simon Ellis and D r Susan Walsh
reported that 22 patients had been seen during that week, compared with about seven
each week over the previous ten weeks (and a rather lowerfigurefor the same week over
each of the previous ten years). There were similar reports from other hospitals. " D o the
B B C programmers consider the likely consequences of screening self-destructive
behaviour that is likely to be copied?" asked the two doctors.
Films did loom large during a discussion on the same subject that took place during
the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in
1978. A s described by T h o m a s M a u g h shortly afterwards6, participants agreed that the
overall impression created by the movies, television and other media was that:
... scientists are frequently foolish, inept or even villainous. This portrayal, critics
contend, is eroding public support for science and m a y be turning away m a n y
potential Einsteins, Paulings and Pasteurs before they are mature enough to
appreciate the joys and wonder of science.
Speaking during the A A A S symposium, Ben Bova, the sciencefictionauthor and at
that time editor of Analog, claimed that the movies were the worst offenders in
suggesting that scientists had "moral sensitivities no higher than a Hollywood
producer's o w n sensitivities".
H o w films can warp perceptions of science
While Bova traced m u c h public apprehension about science to its continual capacity to
m a k e changes in the world, another S F author, David Gerrold, highlighted as the root
cause of the problem the nature of the media and the people w h o work in them. This is a
subject Gerrold knows intimately well, because he also works as a script editor.
"Sciencefiction—thepredominant form in which science is displayed in movies and
television—is primarily a drama of ideas," he said. "But ideas do not in themselves
photograph well. Most sciencefictionstories in movies and on television are thus
westerns, soap operas and other convenional plot forms to which science fiction
trappings have been added almost as an afterthought."
Scriptwriters, Gerrold pointed out, seemed to have a uniform lack of any scientific
background. " T h e primary qualification for success as a movie or television
scriptwriter is the ability to turn out 56 pages of typewritten dialogue in ten days," he
said. "Producers and directors also suffer from an impoverished world view; they do
not even have an idea of Newton's three laws of motion, which is why w e have such
spectacular—albeit nonsensical—dogfights in Star Wars. It is not surprising that there
are so m a n y inaccuracies and errors in sciencefictiondramas—errors that give the lay
public a warped sense of science." David Gerrold quoted one S F script he had received,
and rejected, which began by announcing that all life on earth was in dire peril because
there was about to be 'an eclipse of the galaxy'. Another example cited by M a u g h was
the use of 'parsecs' as a unit of speed in Star Wars.
Bernard Dixon
But scientists m a y have themselves partly to blame for failing to m a k e more of an
impact when they are called in to advise on the verisimilitude of science as reflected o n
the screen. Gerrold highlighted one incident in which an anthropologist was engaged to
create a realistic language for cavemen in a series in which a father, son and daughter on
a camping trip were swept away into a prehistoric world. The anthropologist decided,
for scientific reasons, that this language should include no T or 'h' sounds. But the main
characters' names were Holly, Will and Marshall. T h e cave-dwellers' deliberations,
translated into the novel language, became a series of over-long sentences that the
actors found virtually unpronounceable. Yet the expert refused to compromise, and the
prehistoric conversations degenerated into meaningless exchanges of grunts.
. . . Yet they can have beneficial influences, too
It would, of course, be wrong to suggest that science is invariably presented badly
through the movies. M y o w n speciality of microbiology has contributed a good deal to
the silver screen, and there have been several excellent productions that have provided
fair reflections of research as it really does happen. Portrayals such as Paul M u n i and
Edward G . Robinson's respective performances as the centralfiguresin The Story of
Louis Pasteur and Dr Ehrlich's Magic Bullet have, quite justifiably, become classics. The
ambience in each case was somewhat phrenetic and the scripts arguably over-written—
but no more so than Microbe Hunters, the 1927 book in which Paul de Kruif recounted
the achievements of these and other pioneers. I have k n o w n several practising
microbiologists w h o werefirstdrawn into science either by de Kruif s book or by M u n i
or Robinson's performances.
F r o m the continued appearance offilmsfounded on the notion of bizarre infections,
it seems that stories of m a n versus microbe have an appeal at least as vivid as exotic
adventures concerned with galactic conquests and close encounters with alien beings. A
little-known, early strand within this genre consists of the 'motion pictures' that were
m a d e in America by T h o m a s Edison in 1910-14 for the National Association for the
Study and Prevention of Tuberculosis. A n important re-examination of thesefilmsby
Martin Pernick7 a few years ago showed that they were major innovations in the
history of health propaganda. Although propaganda had not become a dirty word at
the time when they were made, an analysis of Edison's melodramas, as well as the
circumstances in which they were m a d e , is still relevant to debate about the degree to
which people should be subject to mass persuasion in the interests of healthy living.
Early examples of the power of film
With the dazzling conquests of Pasteur, K o c h and their fellow microbe hunters as
background, the opportunities and obligations facing public health crusaders in the
early part of this century seemed clear. Appropriate measures followed. In 1905 the U S
Supreme Court ruled that citizens could be forcibly and involuntarily vaccinated.
Mandatory premarital blood tests for syphilis and the sterilization of'hereditary idiots'
came next. At the same time, with the inception of commercial movies in 1905, enthused
doctors saw the possibility of reinforcing the threat of physical coercion with
Books and films
widespread propaganda. T h e resultingfilmswere staggeringly popular, some of them
being seen by several million people. According to Pernick,
... audiences of 10000 packed the parks and the vacant lots of N e w York's Lower
East Side to watch tuberculosis moviesflickeracross the side walls of their
tenements. Specially designed movie trucks and railroad cars toured rural areas.
For some rural dwellers, such health trucks provided theirfirstexposure to any
motion pictures.
A typical effort was Edison's Hope (produced in 1912) which dramatized the need
for sanitaria in small towns. The film shows a country girl whose family is helpless to
deal with her tuberculosis. She has to leave h o m e and go to Bellevue Hospital in N e w
York. Heartbroken, her wealthy father awakens to the cause of building a local
sanatorium and rallies the townspeople to that end. The Temple of Moloch, m a d e two
years later, has as its hero a scientifically trained public health doctor w h o visits a'
worker's tenement and lectures his family about the need for open windows. But when
he suggests sending the baby to a fresh air camp, the terrified wife grabs the child back,
and as soon as the doctor has gone the family forgets his exhortations. T h e wellmeaning doctor also fails to m a k e any impression on the m a n ' s employer, w h o runs an
unventilated dusty pottery. Only when the worker's children develop tuberculosis and
pass it on to the employer's children d o both families realize something must be done.
F r o m the literature of the period, it is clear that no one was at all troubled by the
thought the movie-goers were being manipulated by these simplistic exercises. Thus
H . E . Kleinschmidt of the Tuberculosis Association (forerunner of the M a r c h of Dimes
and the American Cancer Society) could write in 1919 s that good propaganda was
"mental inoculation", the goal of which was "will-control... through education". Most
health propagandists avoided discussing the morality of their craft. They confused
ethics with effectiveness and assumed that anything that worked was, by definition,
proper. A n d such films certainly had deep, widespread influence. Martin Pernick's
researches have turned up several dozen people, n o w aged over 75, w h o remember
accurately specific scenes from health pictures seen during the First World W a r . Such
memories confirm that the producers' original hopes were indeed fulfilled. J. B . Watson
(the founder of modern behaviourism) and Carl Lashley conducted a governmentfunded survey9 in 1919 which concluded that over the long term, venereal disease
movies could revolutionize American health habits. They undoubtedly did so, and were
praised accordingly.
T h o m a s Edison's motives: a 'better element' of viewer
But there was criticism too—of the oversimplified presentation of disease prevention in
a melodramatic format peopled by heroes and villains, of the need for action rather
than passivefilm-watching,and of cultural bias in the movies themselves. The last point
seems well taken. Whatever the aims of the Tuberculosis Association, T h o m a s Edison's
motives were clear: he wanted to attract a 'better element' into his cinemas, converting
cinema-going from a disreputable lower-class spectacle into an acceptable family
pursuit. A n d he thought health films would be the answer.
Perhaps the strongest criticism that can be m a d e of Edison's work (and one still
valid for health propaganda today) is that sermonizing and shock tactics are not in
themselves enough. If the wife in The Temple of Moloch rejected advice about feeding
Bernard Dixon
her infant, this had to be because she was stubborn and not because she was too poor to
afford the right foods. With such a powerful m e d i u m at his disposal, it is a pity that
T h o m a s Edison did not plant more appropriate and genuinely helpful allegories into
the minds of his eager watchers.
Today's audiences are far more sophisticated than those of 1910-20. Yet, as
illustrated by the confusion, mentioned earlier, between Three Mile Island and The
China Syndrome, movies retain their potency in shaping public opinion. Although
professional commentators on 'science in the media' have not fully recognized this fact,
scientists, businessmen and science administrators certainly are beginning to appreciate that message. In a world where public clamour and controversy about technical
issues (such as nuclear power and genetic manipulation) often range well ahead of
public understanding, they are sensing thatfilmshave a far-reaching influence, for good
or ill, in determining which developments will be welcomed or resisted.
Warning Sign: a recent example dealing with biohazards
T h e most conspicuous recent example of this problem concerns Twentieth Century
Fox's sciencefictionmovie Warning Sign, which is centred upon an experiment that
goes wrong when genes are transferred from one organism to another. Starring S a m
Waterston, it was directed by Hal Barwood and produced by Jim Bloom, whose earlier
S F films include Invasion of the Body Snatchers. According to Twentieth Century Fox
publicity agent Ted Hollis, the film deals with
... the raw emotions of scientists and technicians w h o suddenly find themselves
sealed in a fortress-like laboratory with an experiment that has gotten out of
control. It is a consciousness raiser, like The China Syndrome.
Barwood evolved the original idea after reading about Legionnaires' disease, combined
with his general interest in medical mysteries and the ways in which people behave
under stress.
Late in 1984, when biotechnologists in the U S A began to hear about plans for
Warning Sign (initially to be called Biohazards), theirfirstreaction was dismissive. But
gradually, the emerging businesses in this area started to realise that the film posed a
potentially serious threat to public confidence in their work. By early the following year
one company, the Cetus Corporation, had become so alarmed that it had agreed to
serve as an anonymous consultant to the project, in exchange for an early preview.
Another company, Monsanto, which was then developing genetically altered bacteria
with a view to releasing them into the environment for beneficial purposes in
agriculture and otherfields,launched a public relations campaign directed at public
reassurance about biotechnology. Although Monsanto denied that this was related to
the imminence of Warning Sign, the timing of their efforts appeared to be significant.
Certainly, the movie was a subject of frequent, anxious discussion a m o n g industrialists
at biotechnology conferences at that time.
In fact, by the time a general preview of Warning Sign was held on 12 August 1985
and attended by several company representatives, it had become clear that the United
Stales A r m y , rather than industry, was a more likely target for public disquiet. A s
described by Marjorie Sun in Science1" " :
In the opening sequence, a crop duster sweeps d o w n over the Utah countryside.
The film then goes on to show the military conducting secret biological weapons
Books and films
research in a small Utah town, using a n agribiotechnology c o m p a n y as a cover. A
test tube accidentally breaks and a dangerous virus escapes. T h e building is
sealed off. Despite elaborate safety precautions, h u m a n error leads to a mass
infection of laboratory workers, w h o g o beserk. There's a lot of blood and gore
and broken reagent bottles. S a m Waterson plays the town sheriff trying to save
his wife, w h o is locked inside. The movie's last line is meant to evoke outrage, i ' m
a scientist', insists one of the characters. T k n o w what I ' m doing.'
According to Sun, several United States A r m y representatives at the preview were
highly critical of the film—screened at a time w h e n moves were taking place, against
s o m e political opposition, towards the building of a n e w laboratory for biological
weapons research at the D u g w a y Proving G r o u n d in Utah. They pointed out factual
errors to reporters—for example, that only unbreakable test tubes would be used in the
sort of laboratory shown in thefilm,and that protective helmets could not be raised, as
in the movie, thereby exposing the wearer to infection. But the fact that A r m y
representatives attended at all was highly significant. Even a decade earlier, they would
have considered this laughably unnecessary.
Anxieties for the future
Whatever the consequences of Warning Sign for public attitudes towards biological
warfare, it seems that o n this occasion the biotechnology industry has been able to
breathe a sigh of relief. But similar anxieties remain for the future. Given that there is
widespread ignorance about genetic manipulation, and that lobbies opposed to these
techniques are beginning to emerge, the repercussions of one damning (even though
fictional) movie could be considerable. O n e sign that these possibilities are being taken
seriously is to be seen in Brussels, where the Commission for the European
Communities is part-financing (together with private industry) a major campaign of
public education in biotechnology. Although this is a multi-media effort, involving
paper products too,filmand televisionfigurehigh on the agenda. For the E E C , and the
future of its burgeoning biotechnology industry, movies are not to be neglected for the
enormous influence they can wield on public opinion. Perhaps in future, whenever
science in the media is debated, there will be m o r e than nodding acknowledgement of
the enormous power of film for good or ill.
1. J. M A Z E L , The Beverly Hills Diet, Macmillan, 1981.
2. G . B. M I R K I N and R. N . S H O R E . The Beverly Hills Diet—dangers of the newest weight loss
fad. Journal of the American Medical Association, vol. 246, p. 2235, 1981.
3. P. N I C H O L L S , Fantastic Cinema, Ebury Press, 1984.
4. T H E R O Y A L SOCIETY, The Public Understanding of Science, 1985.
5. S. J. ELLIS and S. W A L S H , Soap may seriously damage your health, The Lancet, vol. 1, p. 686,
6. T H O M A S H . M A U G H II, The media: the image of the scientist is bad, Science, vol. 200, p. 37,
7. M . S. P E R N I C K , Thomas Edison's tuberculosisfilms:mass media and health propaganda,
Hastings Center Report, vol. 8, part 3, p. 21, 1978.
8. H . E . K L E I N S C H M I D T , Educational prophylaxis of venereal diseases. Social Hygiene, vol. 5,
p. 27, 1919.
9. C . S. L A S H L E Y , and J. B. W A T S O N , A psychological study of motion pictures in relation to
venereal disease campaigns, Social Hygiene, vol. 7, p. 181, 1921.
10. M . S U N . Hollywood takes on Genetic Engineering. Science, vol. 227. p. 1319. 1985.
11. M . S U N , Biotechnology's movie debut worries industry, Science, vol. 229, p. 950, 1985.
impact of science on society. N o . 144, 387 398
Science popularization in rural China:
800 million farmers learn science
Shen Chenru
Science popularization in China today means bringing an understanding of science and
technology to the largest rural population of any country in the world, the majority of
whom are illiterate. The popularizers are the farmers themselves—those who have learned
modern techniques teach their neighbours, who are eager to learn because the knowledge
brings them wealth through increased production. The result will be a transformation of
rural life in China.
The rural economy is developing by leaps and bounds in China today. During the last
few years, with new records achieved year after year in agricultural production, China s
countryside has taken on a new look of historical significance. Data offered by the
National Bureau of Statistics says that compared with the 3-2% average annual growth
rate of agricultural production in the 26 years from 1953 to 1978, the rate was 8-98' 0
during the 6 years from 1978 to 1984, an outstanding achievement in the history of
China's economic development.
The importance of agriculture to China cannot be over-estimated. Only a small
proportion of the country's vast territory is suitable for farming, especially for staple
crops, and even this has been shrinking for various reasons; the prospects for opening
up virgin land for farming are also limited. O n the other hand, of the country's 1000
million population, whose tendency to continue to increase is difficult to check, 800
million are small farmers. T o provide this huge population with adequate food and
clothing has always been the state's main concern, and the task must obviously begin
with agriculture.
The Third Plenary Session of the 11th Central Committee, Communist Party of
China, following the principle of seeking truth from facts, oriented all its agricultural
policies to the development of production by giving full play to small farmers'
initiatives. This has encouraged and guided the farmers to free themselves from old
ideas and obsolete practices in an effort to seek new approaches that fit present
conditions in rural China. It was under these circumstances that the production
contract system emerged in its diversified forms. This is a n e w form of socialist
agricultural management and distribution created by the farmers themselves in a
specifically Chinese context.
For the past 30 years or so c o m m u n e members, before setting out to work, habitualh
assembled to receive their day's assignments from the production team leader. A h
Shen Chenru is edilor-in-chief of the Chinese edition of Impact of science on society, which reaches some 60 X)
readers in that country, and of the Esperanto review Tutmondaj Sciencoj kaj Teknikoj (World Science aril
Technology). H e is also a research member of the Institute of Policy Management on Science a m '
Technology, Chinese Academy of Sciences. H e can be reached through: P . O . Box 821, Beijing, Peopli •
Republic of China.
Shen Chenru
operational decisions were m a d e by a small number of cadres. Under a system that
allotted to each m e m b e r his work-points after evaluating his work, those w h o did m u c h
did not necessarily earn much, while those w h o did little did not necessarily receive less.
T h e practice of 'everybody eating from the same public pot' doubtless dampened the
farmers' enthusiasm for production. The main feature of the production contract
system n o w in practice is to calculate payment according to work or, to be more
accurate, according to output. Land, owned by collectives as usual, is contracted to
individual households in the countryside. These o w n the farm animals and implements
they use and have the right to keep their farm products after giving, according to
contract, a certain amount of their produce to the production team, paying tax and
selling their quota of grain to the state. In this way, nearly 80% of production remains
with the farmers. Thus hundreds of millions of people have changed their status in the
collective economy and have become both workers and managers, instead of just
workers. Working n o w not only for the collective and for society, but also for
themselves as well, and having more power to decide h o w the land should be managed,
the small farmers arefiredwith enthusiasm to constantly improve both management
and production. They now turn to science to learn h o w to increase farm production and
this in turn has sparked a series of fundamental reforms in the rural economy.
Millions of rural households learn to apply science
Rural society in China was sealed off from the outside world and relied on traditional
methods of farming for thousands of years. Although great progress was m a d e in
popularizing n e w farming techniques after liberation, no fundamental changes took
place as expected. N o w that not just the farmers themselves, but also official policies,
approve of scientific farming people's ways of thinking and the depth and range of their
understanding are undergoing corresponding changes. While monoculture is being
replaced by diversified operations, those w h o used to stay near the farmyard n o w travel
far and wide. The small farmer today differs greatly from his counterpart of the past: he
wants science and technology, he wants modernized mangement methods, he wants
information—and he wants to be a m o n g the most advanced and enlightened farmers in
the world. Propelled by unprecedented internal forces, China's rural households, in
their millions, are experiencing an upsurge of learning about applying science and
technology; in the vast countryside, events are taking place that are exciting and
'The scramble for the god of wealth?
With science and technology assuming such great importance in rural life during the
past few years, agrotechnicians find themselves suddenly transformed into 'Living
G o d s of Wealth', w h o are m u c h sought after even though they are already fully
occupied. O n e after another, households, villages and production teams ask for their
help and instruction. It was against this background that the amusing story of 'the
scramble for the god of wealth' took place in H e n a n province towards the end of 1982.
The hero's n a m e was Liu Fengli, an agrotechnician with a college diploma and a
talent for cotton-growing. In Fugou county, where he lived, he became overnight the
most popular person. H e was invited everywhere in the region, and everywhere he went
cotton output increased—first doubled, then trebled, and the farmers grew rich.
Science popularization in rural China
Extravagant in their admiration and gratitude, the peasants dubbed him 'the living god
of wealth', and almost fought over the right to engage his services.
Responding to the situation, Liu trained 20 farmer technicians in Dalizhuang
village, w h o in their turn were m u c h sought after. During the last few years, some two to
three hundred people have learned something of cotton-growing from Liu Fengli, and
were recruited as 'minor gods of wealth' by peasants from surrounding counties. Thus
the ranks of such able persons swelled, making their work felt throughout 45 counties
and municipalities in Henan. T o deal with the situation an effective approach was
adopted: each agrotechnician would sign a technical responsibility contract with one or
more production teams, guaranteeing each team an above-quota output for its cotton
files. U p o n fulfillment of the contract, from 1-2% of the values of the part exceeding the
quota would be paid to the technician as a bonus. Agricultural production today no
longer relies solely o n experience handed d o w n from the past. It n o w benefits from the
application of science and technology.
Finding able persons
D e m a n d eventually outpaced supply. M a n y production teams, having failed partly or
completely in their efforts to transplant the 'great gods of wealth' to their native soil,
turned to prospecting indigenous resources. A s a result, m a n y native experts, local
talents and skillful craftsmen from all trades and professions have been brought into the
During the last few years, comprehensive censuses of local talent were m a d e in
m a n y areas. In Yingshan county, Hubei province, 300-odd 'gods of wealth' have been
discovered a m o n g the peasantry. Their names having been entered in the county's
registers, they were assigned to responsible positions to meet farmers' demands for
science and technology. In the Tiding prefecture of Liaoning province, a general survey
of talented rural people was conducted a m o n g its 2-4 million population. Archives
established on the data thus obtained at prefectural. county and township levels
recorded 52 148 able persons in 1983. In 1984 a further investigation was m a d e to find
'emigrated talents', i.e., trained technicians, qualified teachers, etc., w h o were Tiding
natives and w h o were working and living away from the region. At present 4670 of the
first group have been recruited and given jobs, while a committee of advisors and others
mobilize members of the second group in one way or another. A report shows that in
1984, 1673 of them m a d e contributions to their native prefectures.
These indigenous experts and talented amateurs from various professions and
trades, once installed in their offices, played significant roles in promoting agricultural
production and in leading their fellow villagers on the path of c o m m o n prosperity. As
an example let's cite Li Xiangling, a well-known master grain-grower of Zhaozhuang
municipality, Shandong province. By applying with ingenuity the technical k n o w - h o w
he had learned with so m u c h effort, Li Xiangling obtained a record harvest of 1150
kilograms of wheat and corn per mut from each of these in one year, and thus became
k n o w n as 'the king of crops'. In 1984, he further expanded the acreage of his contracted
land, bought his o w n tractor and other farm machines and implements, and set up the
first household farm in Southern Shandong. With a view of helping others as well as
himself, he established a farmers' vocational school and, together with some 40 other
tlm»-00667 ha.
Shen Chenru
grain-producing specialized households, organized an Association for Studying Crop
Plants, which has achieved remarkable research results in improving crop varieties.
Although outstanding, Li Xiangling is but one expert a m o n g m a n y . A whole
generation of new small farmers have c o m e on the rural scene during the last few years.
They are bold in making advances and, being good at learning new things, wellequipped with skill and knowledge. They include, for example, Sun Peijie, the grapegrower of Shangdong; Zhang W e n k a n g , the king of tomatoes of Sichuan; Li Zhaoging
the cattleman of Hebei; Shi Lei, the rabbit-raiser of Liaoning; all of them widely known.
Their records show plainly that wherever attention has been paid to seek out talented
people, there are bound to be those w h o will take the lead in getting rich by relying on
science and technology, and their areas will outstrip others, in economic development.
Raising a family's own 'living god of wealth'
In traditional rural China, on each Spring Festival, households would hang a portrait
of the G o d of Wealth in their cottage in an effort to better their lot. Even though their
poverty continued, the custom lingered.
That they have turned to science is an amazing development. But there are not
enough living gods of wealth—that is, enough agrotechnicians—to accept every
household's invitation, and a large number of farmers are bound to be disappointed. It
has consequently dawned upon them that they must have their o w n living gods of
wealth—someone in the family possessing general knowledge and agricultural
techniques. There has emerged a m o n g small farmers an ardent desire for education, for
knowledge of science and technical k n o w - h o w . This is an even m o r e amazing
development. Where educators used to find it difficult to succeed in their plans for
eliminating illiteracy, the farmers n o w demand that the kind of illiteracy to be
eliminated must include ignorance of science and technology. They also have come to
understand the importance of intellectual investment, and are prepared to get an
education and to spend money on newspapers and periodicals. As reported in Review of
the Chinese Press (Zhongguo Baokan Bao), the number of newspapers and periodicals
subscribed to by rural specialized households in 1985 was increasing. Record purchases
were m a d e by two specialized households: that of Liu Jun of Puxi county, Hubei
province, w h o subscribed to 206 papers and journals, and Li Simin from Xihua county,
H e n a n province, w h o subscribed to 237. Both paid for these out of their o w n pockets.
"Subscriptions bring prosperity [by providing information], and prosperity makes
more subscriptions possible [so that operations will further develop]": thus m a n y
specialized households s u m m e d up their experience.
Scientists and technicians move into rural areas
A knowledge-intensive sector, agriculture calls for the services of m a n y scientists and
technicians from various disciplines. Finding an urgent need for their services in rural
areas, these intellectuals saw it as their duty to popularize science and technology in the
countryside in addition to doing their academic work in laboratories. They visited the
villages, studied their problems and designed ways to meet the hundred-and-one needs
of the farmers, advising and helping them with breeding and popularizing good crop
strains, improving the soil, providing crop protection, applying farm chemicals and so
Science popularization in rural China
The m a n y institutes of the Chinese A c a d e m y of Sciences did their share by joining
forces with agricultural bureaus at the grass-roots level to disseminate science and
technology. This was in addition to other tasks assigned them by the state for the
modernization of agriculture, such as regional programming and soil research
exploitation of mountain areas and grasslands.
Scientists and teachers from the universities (such as the Beijing University of
Agriculture) and specialists a m o n g members of democratic parties (such as the Jiu
San—September the 3rd—Society), also did their share. They either established close
ties with given counties and c o m m u n e s which they visited regularly, or set up
agricultural popularization stations in the countryside to help solve problems arising
from scientific farming.
Some examples
Other scientists and technicians simply m o v e d their h o m e s out of the towns and cities
to take up permanent residence in the countryside. S o m e did this long ago. For
example, Professor Z h a n d Wencai, a well-known specialist of Hubei province, spent
more than 57 years travelling all over the country's orange-producing areas
researching, investigating and popularizing good strains of orange trees in addition to
his teaching job.
His accomplishments have been spectactular. In Liuli Ping in the Yunyang
prefecture of Northern Hubei he found only three wild orange trees, but he also
discovered that the climate and soil of that region favoured orange plantations.
Following his instructions, orange-growing was begun and led to a production of more
than 400 million kg a year. In Yichang, another prefecture ofthat province, he set up a
training course that produced some 400 expert grafters. Under his guidance, nurseries
were set up in 102 mountain areas to provide young trees and the region n o w boasts
more than 3500 mu of orange gardens and an orange output in 1983 of more than 600
million kg. Forty-three households there n o w specialize in orange production with
annual incomes of more than Y 10 000. Professor Zhang Wencai is n o w over 70 years of
age but still carries on his work in the countryside.
Associate Research Fellow Z h u Pingchou, director of the Institute of Insect
Hormones of Jintan, Jiangsu province, is another example of a scientist w h o has
devoted m a n y years to agriculture. His goal was to synthesize sex-attractants to replace
insecticides that have been causing pollution and costing farmers a great deal of money.
During the last four years, the institute under his guidance has produced more than 40
kinds of attractants, which have been adopted by more than 20 provinces for
experimental application to control major pests of cotton, sugar cane, fruit trees and
other plants. As a result, a number of poisonous farm chemicals have been eliminated,
reducing both pollution and costs while adding to the farmers' income by increasing
output. Z h u Pingchou's work benefits not just present generations but also those to
Then there is the case of Zhang Guanggi, an associate research fellow of the
Liaoning Provincial Institute of Cotton and H e m p . N o w seventy years old, Zhang
Guanggi has spent half of his life in 13 of Liaoning Province's various counties setting
up science and technology stations for experiments, demonstrations and the popularization of cotton-planting skills. H e gave these counties and c o m m u n e s the benefit of his
long experience in obtaining bumper harvests, he organized training courses for 19000
individuals, and wrote and edited scores of technical manuals and texts. Three million
Shen Chenru
copies of these publications were distributed throughout the region, thus making a
tremendous contribution to its cotton production. During his years in Fuxin Mongol
country, Zhang Guanggi spent so m u c h time teaching farmers scientific methods of
cotton-planting andfieldmanagement that he was unable to take any holidays. But the
result of his efforts was spectacular: Fuxin's 1983 average cotton output per mu was
twice that of its record year, and Z h a n g came to be k n o w n as 'Zhang Fengshou\
Fengshou meaning 'bumper harvest', a title of which he was proud.
A powerful network of popular science for China
It has been recognized that the low level of knowledge of science and technology a m o n g
both cadres and masses has been one of the main obstacles on China's path towards
modernization. Statistics for 1980 show that the educational level of 80% of the
country's workers and cadres was less than junior middle school; a m o n g the 800
million rural population, elementary education was not yet universal. It was for these
reasons that great importance was attached to the popularization of science and
In addition to the parts played by relevant government organizations and other
popular societies, the main share of the task was undertaken by the Scientific and
Technological Association (STA), with its Department for Popularization designed
specifically to shoulder this responsibility.
T h e S T A , as an association of learned societies, research institutes and science
groups, included in its ranks a great number of prominent scholars, professors,
educators, popular science writers and engineers. As well as their research or teaching
jobs, these experts write articles on the latest research results at h o m e and abroad and
disseminate knowledge of science and technology through other popular science
During the last few years, both professionals and gifted amateurs have been
organized into voluntary and self-governing rural science and technology bodies.
Multilayered in structure and diversified in form, these bodies are as numerous as
b a m b o o shoots after a spring rain and are joined by both perpendicular and horizontal
channels to form a nationwide network for the popularization of science with
specifically Chinese features. Until the end of 1984, 93% of the country's counties have
set u p their o w n science associations, numbering 2277. Districts and townships have
also set up more than 41 000 associations. At the county and district administrative
levels there are n o w some 60000 popular science groups with a membership of 3-5
These associations, whose development was especially rapid during 1985, fall into
two categories: one involves agricultural production in general, the other centres on a
given trade or handicraft. Together, they work effectively to promote commodityproduction in rural areas and the specialization and modernization of agriculture.
T h e Chicken-Raising Technique Popularizing Centre in a village in Dalu township
of Xia county, Shanxi province, is one of these new organizations. It was started by
Z h o u Binchen, w h o had raised chickens for more than 20 years and was very skilful in
breeding good strains, preventing diseases and controlling egg-laying periods. B y
specializing in this way during the last few years his household has m a d e a small
fortune. Admiring farmersflockedto learn his secrets, and as a result he began to teach.
Atfirsthe used individual coaching and later a group was formed to meet regularly to
Science popularization in rural China
exchange n e w s a n d discuss problems. S o o n it had g r o w n into a centre for popularizing
n e w techniques.
In L o n g z h e n g township in Hai'an county, Jiangsu province, a Layer Research
Association w a s set u p b y 151 households engaged in chicken-raising about t w o years
ago. It n o w has a m e m b e r s h i p of 1215, effectively providing other specialized
households with information o n good animal strains, hatching, chicken-feed, disease
prevention, processing a n d marketing of products, etc. U n d e r this guidance m a n y
chicken raisers have doubled a n d trebled the scale of their operations. Acting u p o n
suggestions from a n expert, the association began s o m e time ago producing six kinds of
feed catering to chickens' different needs during six stages of their growth, thus causing
t h e m to lay eggs t w o m o n t h s earlier than usual. Locally, the association has c o m e to be
k n o w n as 'the advisor, brains trust and service of supply to chicken-raising households'.
T w o years ago, w h e n thefirstof these specialized organizations first appeared, they
were mostly concerned with planting a n d animal husbandry. N o w besides n e w
developments in these fields, they have spread into the aquatic products industry,
forestry, processing a n d other enterprises such as fisheries, vegetable a n d flowergrowing, lacquer production, energy resources, the agricultural research e c o n o m y a n d
otherfields,with a diversity a n d scope that w o u l d have been hard to imagine t w o years
ago. T h e y are a vivid reflection of a trend of rapid a n d radical change in the structure of
rural e c o n o m y a n d industry, displaying great vitality in promoting c o m m o d i t y
production in the countryside.
Experience in recent years has proved that the system of rural popular science
created b y the masses in their daily practice perfectly suits China's specific conditions: a
fairly low level of technology a n d a lack of qualified personnel. Taking full acount of
these harsh realities, the system stresses the integration of professionals with peasant
experts in its organization; integration of research a n d development with popularization; and the principle of mutual help in terms of information and knowledge as well as
paid service. B y these approaches the system m a n a g e s to meet the urgent needs in the
countryside a n d helps to speed u p the development of the rural forces of production.
Reforming agricultural education
T o meet the n e w situation brought about b y the development of rural production a n d
construction, substantial reforms are under w a y in agricultural education.
Channelling qualified personnel to rural areas This is d o n e by agricultural colleges,
universities a n d vocational schools in the following m a n n e r :
(1) Oriented enrolment of a given percentage of n e w students from the countryside
and the allocation of a given percentage of graduates to w o r k in the
(2) T w o - y e a r courses at s o m e colleges and universities for rural high school
graduates w h o have had s o m e experience in production.
(3) Training employees for rural employers under contract.
These measures doubtless will play an important role in rural construction in the long
T h e Beijing Institute of Light Industry during recent years has signed contracts to
train 100 machinery a n d automation engineers and m a n a g e m e n t personnel for light
Shen Chenru
industry in Daxing county. Various colleges and institutes in Shanghai also have
contracted to train for nearby counties specialists urgently needed in farm chemicals,
machinery, crop protection, vegetable-growing, gardening, veterinary science, finance
and accounting, the edible fungus and aquatic products industry, agricultural
economics and other fields.
For years the H u a z h o n g Institute of Agriculture has consistently carried out a
n u m b e r of measures to guarantee not only that its graduates would be agricultural
specialists with high qualifications, but also that these graduates would be willing to
work in the countryside. Priority w a s given to students from rural areas w h o
voluntarily chose agriculture as a career. This was followed by lessons designed to
foster in the students a strong love for agriculture and agricultural science, beginning
with the day of their arrival at the c a m p u s and lasting throughout their four years of
study. As a result, more than 80"„ of the institute's graduates since 1980 have gone to
the rural areas, where they have become 'shock troops' popularizing science and
Short-term and radio courses for farmers Towards the end of 1984, m o r e than 12000
training classes lasting one year or m o r e were organized by local science and
technology associations at county and district levels, with an enrolment of more than
1-2 million. Shorter courses, also set u p by these associations, numbered 381000,
providing specialized subjects for more than 45 million Individuals. T o m a k e full use of
the news media, the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Husbandry and Fisheries set up a
Radio University of Agriculture. Other radio schools were also organized. Together
they have formed an education network covering virtually the whole country and
achieving remarkable results.
Programmes for training middle-school graduates in the rural areas After careful
investigation of the needs of rural commodity production and the state of secondary
education, some of the country's provincial and county authorities suggested that,
besides converting a number of middle schools into vocational schools and including
subjects such as applied agrotechnology, commodity production and accounting in the
rural middle school curriculum, special programmes should be organized to allow
middle school graduates in rural areas to continue their education. The proposal was
accepted and efforts began to put it into effect.
A n example can be found in the Radio Vocational School for Rural Technology in
G a n s u province. T h e school teaches nine subjects, such as farming, animal breeding,
services, building and farm- and sideline-products processing. Educated youths w h o
pass graduation examinations after one year of study are given a diploma designating
them 'peasant-technical'. T o help the six million middle school graduates in Hebei
province, the Provincial Science Association, Provincial Committee of the Youth
League and Provincial Federation of Democratic W o m e n jointly organized various
short-term training classes and radio courses, the aim being to enable each graduate to
learn one or more n e w techniques of agricultural production.
O f China's 300 million rural labourers, youths account for more than 50%, and the
middle school graduates a m o n g them constitute the most dynamic group. Appropriate
professional guidance and training are all that is needed to launch these young people
in their careers as technicians building modernized rural areas.
Science popularization in rural China
Universities in the vicinity of the rural areas A n example is the Dezhou Institute for
Rural Development in the county seat of Lingxian, about 100 k m from Dezhou, a
medium-sized city. Set up by the Institute for Rural Development of the Chinese
A c a d e m y of Social Sciences with local support, its aim is to provide the prefecture's
government and party offices with social, economic and administrative personnel. The
institute has six departments: Chinese language and secretarial work; enterprise
management; rural administration; statistics and information; labour and personnel;
and politics and law. Its students regularly carry out research and investigation in rural
c o m m u n e s and brigade-run enterprises, with which the institute has established close
ties, as well as in the factories and department stores of the Defa (Dezhou Developing)
Co-operation, a commercial firm set up by the institute.
Although most of China's universities and colleges are located in big cities, the
Dezhou Institute has chosen a small town as its site. It is a wise choice. First, being close
to the countryside makes it easy for the institute to gainfirst-handinformation on rural
affairs and needs, providing clues for the institute to arrange its work accordingly. Such
a location also helps the institute in recruiting students from rural areas and assigning
graduates to work there. Second, small as it is, the county seat of Lingxian is
nevertheless near main lines of communication. T h e institute thus becomes a centre
that can transfer urban culture to the countryside.
The peasants' enthusiasm for setting up schools with their own funds O n e of the widely
circulated and moving tales of these days tells of 17 young girls setting up evening
schools with their o w n funds in Liji township of Xia county, eastern H e n a n province.
The schools were started in 1981 by a 17-year old girl and senior middle school
graduate, Z h u Xiouying. Seeing her fellow-villagers' attempt to promote and expand
production frustrated because of their low level of education, she rose to the occasion
by setting up an evening class in which they could learn to read, write and d o arithmetic.
Persuaded of the advantages of knowledge by Z h u Xiouying and other members of her
family, all the illiterates in the village joined the class. Material conditions were very
difficult for the young girl, but she persisted. Four years passed and all the 87 illiterate
youths in her village became literate, and the village found itself the first to have
eliminated illiteracy in the province.
Z h u Xiouying's success was exciting, and 16 other girls, all under 20 years of age,
followed her example by setting up other evening classes for the ten villages of the
township. T h e young girls worked individually, but met often to exchange knowledge
and methods, and both teachers and students m a d e progress. Twelve of these literacy
classes have n o w become classes for adult education, their curricula offering both
general subjects and vocational training such as tailoring and sewing. Student Li
Yiouying, mother of four, learned not only to read and write, but also cotton-planting,
which brought her bumper harvests from her cotton plots. Specialized households in
the township increased from a dozen in 1981 to more than 180 in 1985, and commodity
production developed greatly. "The great changes in Liji township", said the farmers,
"are brought about by the girls w h o c a m e to us with culture."
The farmers of Shigou township in Zhaozhuang municipality. Shadong province,
organized two successive agricultural classes, in each of which were enrolled 90
students w h o upon graduation became able m e n in their respective villages. These
tillers of the land, w h o had never had m u c h formal education themselves, sent 12
carefully selected senior middle-school graduates from their township to the Shandong
Shen Chenru
Institute of Agriculture. T o support these young people through the four years of study,
it was calculated, they would have to pay tuition costs totalling Y 50 000. " W e are
willing tofinancesuch an intellectual investment," they said. " W e must take care of the
present, but we must also get ready for the year 2000."
Peasant Wei Nianrun, of Haogou village in the suburb of Zhaozhuang municipality, realized from his experience in becoming prosperous the importance of education.
Only by raising the general level of education of its members can society rid itself of
ignorance and stupidity, he said. So he spent Y 35 000 to build and run in his native
village a primary school, "to help bring forth a new generation with consciousness,
knowledge and civil manners".
Another peasant entrepreneur, Director L u Guanqui of a Hangzhou plant,
announced at a meeting held to honour him that, to support the cultural and
educational undertakings of his township, he had decided to contribute the Y 100000
bonus he received for exceeding the requirements of his 1984 contract. H e would also
give the Y 1000 prize m o n e y awarded him by the county to the Children's Palace under
construction in the county seat. "Most of us w h o are farmers", L u Guanqiu remarked,
"do not have m u c h culture. W e lack knowledge. This is mainly because w e were poor
and could not afford to go to school. N o w that we are better off, we have to give pride
of place to education."
It is n o w quite clear that whatever cultural and educational undertakings there
were in the rural areas, they are far from adequate to meet the ever-growing demands of
the farm families. Educational infrastructure to serve the rural areas must be developed
at a m u c h higher speed, and the task is being tackled by mobilizing all social groups
including the farmers themselves.
From farmers to experts by studying independently Fascinated by the fact that science
and technology, once applied to production, could work such miracles for their work
and life, the farmers set out in quest of knowledge. With some this was done through
independent studies. During the last few years m a n y experts have emerged, particularly
from a m o n g specialized households.
O n e of the more famous is Huang Heqing from Jiangsu province. Persistent and
stubborn in pursuit of the goals he had set himself, he literally walked away from
ignorance. T o learn h o w to raise ground beetles, for which there was m u c h demand in
the traditional Chinese medicine market, he went to libraries and reading rooms by
foot to learn animal ecology and nutrition and to thefieldsto study in detail the beetles'
modes of life and relationship to their environment. By applying the knowledge thus
gained, he raised and sold beetles with a net profit of some Y 8000 in two years. W h a t
was more, he synthesized what he learned from books with what he found on his o w n
through practice, and wrote and published a 60000-word book, Raising Ground
Beetles, which w o n him a second prize of the National Awards for Science and
Technology Publications. Then he became a trail-blazer in snail-raising. Because no
technical material was available on the subject in China at that time, he took to the
fields again in the snail grounds in Fujian province. After detailed observations of their
modes and habits of life, he wrote and published his second book Raising Snails. H e has
also written m a n y articles in national periodicals.
D o n g Yuhua, a farmer from Haicheng county in Liaoning province, has a different
story to tell. A mere junior middle-school graduate, he was launched on the road to
innovation by his concern for the number of tractors lying idle in the yard of the
Science popularization in rural China
Haicheng F a r m Machine Building and Repairing Plant where he worked. T o replace
worn-out vertical crankshafts, some new material had to be found. H e accepted the
challenge and started by teaching himself chemistry, physics and other subjects which
he had missed in school, asking questions anywhere and everywhere. It was a hard
struggle. However, after a thousand-and-one experiments conducted over three years,
he finally inanged to produce a special kind of plated iron for replacement of such
worn-out parts. Appraisals by specialists note that the plated iron is extremely resistant
to abrasion, and the technology involved is a m o n g the most advanced in the country.
Application of the technology has saved for the state some Y 1 million so far, and D o n g
Y u h u a was awarded a prize for important achievements in science and technology in
Liaoning province.
With the countrywide institution of a system of responsibility for production and a
whole set of m o r e relaxed policies in the countryside, the kind of rural economy that
had been in force for m a n y years was superseded by a co-operative economy diversified
in form, multi-layered in management, multi-channelled in circulation, and typically
Chinese in its characteristics. T h e contracting specialized households are representative of advanced forces of production in the countryside of today; they are the
vanguards in the farmers' march towards a commonwealth, and the most dynamic
activitists in rural economic reform. Their small and specialized m o d e of operation, in
perfect harmony with China's conditions, offers a broad potential for development. A n
official policy that allows some farmers to become wealthier than others has not
produced a polarization a m o n g them—and will not do so. N o r will it deflect China
from her socialist orientation. Rather, the farmers w h o have become wealthy will serve
as models for their neighbours, encouraging the national economy to develop further.
W h e n the economy is surging ahead, interest in science, technology and culture in
general will increase, propelled by the peoples' thirst for knowledge to equip themselves
for their search for prosperity. It is at such a m o m e n t only that science and technology,
as forces of production, will display to the full their great power and function—a
decisive role in the development of a modern society.
The Chinese farmers of the 1980s differ greatly from those of the days before the cooperatives, and still more from those before liberation. Having passed through those
historical stages of socialist revolution and construction, the farmers have a profound
understanding of the essentials of socialism and of the identification between the
interests of the state, the collective and the individual. Those w h o have become
wealthier than others k n o w that but for the policy of the Communist Party of China
there could never have been a chance for an individual family to so prosper. They k n o w
that continuous growth for the economy is assured only when a commonwealth for the
peasantry as a whole is realized, with those w h o have becomerichleading the others to
do likewise. This consciousness is being constantly translated into their concern for the
state, for their collectives and their neighbours. T h e farmers themselves have provided
funds to establish schools, popularization centres for science and technology,
recreation centres and reading rooms—a whole infrastructure for culture and for social
Social stability and economic prosperity have always been preconditions for the
flourishing of science and culture. N o w that the peasants are better off, n o w that they
Science popularization in rural China
are no longer worried about food, clothing, housing and other subsistence items, they
want knowledge, recreation and every kind of development. They want science and
technology and a cultured life. A n d these, in their turn, will accelerate the development
of the rural economy and transform rural life. T h e popularization of science and culture
will contribute tremendously in bringing forth a generation of socialist farmers
developed in an all-round way, in reducing the gaps between farmers and workers,
between those in rural areas and those in the towns and cities, and between those w h o
work with their hands and those with their minds. All this eventually will transform the
material and ideological outlook of the nation.
As the present progress in agricultural production demonstrates, rural reforms are
entering a n e w stage in China: operations are being constantly expanded in scale;
modern techniques and equipment are increasingly being adopted; large numbers of
farmers are leaving the land to engage in other professions and trades; a host of n e w
small towns are appearing, containing innumerable enterprises. T h e prospect is bright
and, at the same time, challenging. The scientists and technicians of China will have to
double their efforts to meet the country's m a n y needs.
impact of science on society. N o . 144, 399 408
Mikhail Vasilyevich Lomonosov:
"He w a s our first university"
Ashot T . Grigoryan
From illiterate son of a fisherman to founder of his country sfirstuniversity: this was the
story of the Russian scientist and man of letters Mikhail Vasilyevich Lomonosov. A
brilliant theoretician and researcher, and at the same time a 'renaissance man whose
knowledge was so broad it seemed limitless, Lomonosov is a major figure in the
development of science. Here, in the 275 th anniversary year of his birth, a leading historian
of science describes Lomonosov"s remarkable life and work.
" L o m o n o s o v w a s a great m a n . Between Peter I and Catherine II he alone w a s an
original champion of education. H e founded thefirstuniversity. It would be better to
say he was our first university", wrote the great Russian national poet A . S. Pushkin of
his encyclopaedist compatriot, a m a n whose ideas were far ahead of his time.
The discoveries and writings of M . V . L o m o n o s o v (1711-1765) were indeed epochmaking in the development of, not just Russian, but world science and culture. H e was
to Russia what Galileo was to Italy, N e w t o n to England, Descartes to France, Leibniz
to G e r m a n y and Franklin to America.
Yet L o m o n o s o v was born into the family of an illiterate fisherman on the northwestern seaboard of Russia, and only in adolescence did he learn to read and write.
Even before then, however, from about the age often he used to go out o n the White Sea
to help his father. H e observed the ebb and flow of the tide, the m o v e m e n t of the polar
ice and the Northern Lights, and he learned to distinguish the directions of the winds
and ascertain the proximity of land.
All this in the course of nine long and dangerous years impressed itself o n the
m e m o r y of the inquisitive youth and fed his eager mind, bent on understanding and
explaining the surrounding world. But in his h o m e surroundings there were n o
opportunities for education and the gateway to greater knowledge and scholarship was
Latin. The 19-year-old L o m o n o s o v therefore decided to leave h o m e . " H e knew only the
power of thought, a lone but ardent passion", w e might say of him in the words of the
poet Lermontov. This thirst for knowledge prompted him to undertake the bitterly
cold, three-week journey from Kholmogory to M o s c o w before, at last, knocking o n the
door of the Slavonic-Greek-Latin A c a d e m y in 1731. L o m o n o s o v completed the first
three years of the course in one year, and afterfiveyears gained admission to the Saint
Petersburg A c a d e m y of Sciences, and subsequently, in the same year—1736—left to
study in G e r m a n y .
Professor Ashol Tigranovich Grigoryan (USSR) is Vice-President of the International Academy of History
of Sciences. H e is a doctor of physical and mathematical sciences and heads a department in the Institute of
History of Natural Science and Technology of the U S S R Academy of Sciences. H e has written over 300
articles, half of which have been published abroad, and 20 books, mainly on the history of physics and
mathematics. His work has since 1962 been closely connected with the International Union of the History
and Philosophy of Science, of which he was Honorary President from 1981 to 1985. H e can be reached
through the Institute of History of Natural Sciences and Technology, U S S R Academy of Sciences, M o s c o w ,
Ashot T . Grigoryan
Illiterate as a child, Lomonosov writes scientific works by age 25
At this point he began his independent research and wrote hisfirstscientific works on
physics and chemistry, which were highly thought of by Christian Wolff and other
eighteenth-century scientists. After studying the exact sciences, philosophy and foreign
languages and learning what contemporary scientific thought had to teach,
Lomonosov returned to Saint Petersburg in 1741 and began work in the A c a d e m y of
Sciences, with which his entire life and activity was to be connected—though his work
was by no m e a n s always appreciated in the conservative academic circles and the tsarist
court. H e did, however, become an academician and was also elected an honorary
m e m b e r of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1760 and of that of Bologna in
There w a s scarcely any realm of knowledge—philosophy, physics, chemistry,
astronomy, optics, geology, mineralogy, mining, technology, meteorology, economics,
Russian history, language, literature or the fine arts—that was not studied and
embellished by Lomonosov, w h o also sought to establish a universal m a p of the world.
In Lomonosov's time, mechanics alone was a fully fledged scientific discipline. In
the other sciences there were only isolated experimental data and unsuccessful,
frequently contradictory attempts to tie them together into a single logical scheme.
Only an outstanding and strongly intuitive mind could apprehend the essential unity in
that welter of facts and differing opinions and express it correctly. The m a r k of
Lomonosov's genius in the age of analysis w a s that he was able to achieve a
comprehensive synthesis, working out a unified scientific view of the world, a synthesis
that, as w e k n o w today, was chiefly to occupy science in the next century.
Lomonosov's world outlook was a coherent system of conceptions which were
often astute, nearly always original and invariably ahead of his time. "The visible
world", nature, was for him a book striking in its "immensity, beauty and harmony".
M a n ' s lofty task was to learn h o w to read that book and his aim to seek out the inner
causes of natural phenomena. Despite the seeming variety of phenomena, there is a
basic unity in such forces because it is necessary "to base the explanation of nature on
some definite principle".
The properties of matter explained
For such a principle it was reasonable to postulate the motion of minute 'insensate
particles of matter' of which all bodies are composed. The fact that no one had observed
the motion of such particles did not mean it did not exist: it was invisible simply on
account of the smallness of the particles, just as it is only because of the effect of distance
that we cannot see the trembling in the wind of leaves and branches on a far-off tree.
The notion of'insensate particles of matter' can be developed at will. Thus, side by
side with the simplest particles or 'elements' (atoms), which m a y be defined as bodies
not composed of any other smaller distinct bodies, the concept of complex particles or
'corpuscles' (molecules), defined as "a collection of elements forming one small mass",
m a y be introduced.
At the same time, L o m o n o s o v endeavoured to identify the specific forms of the
motion of atoms, and established a link between the form of motion and the character
of natural phenomena. Thefirstthing here is to emphasize h o w the question is actually
formulated: physical phenomena are ascribable to the properties of matter itself
M . V . Lomonosov: his life and work
without postulating any special agents with which bodies are supposedly informed, or
that kind of 'wandering fluid' whereby at that time m a n y people explained natural
Having provided practical explanations for two groups of phenomena—those of
heat and light—Lomonosov reached a number of other interesting conclusions, for
instance that the elasticity of gas was due to the innumerable collisions of its particles—
exactly as in the modern kinetic theory of gases. Since the relative freedom of motion of
the particles of a gas under pressure diminishes, he concluded that gases do not behave
exactly in accordance with Boyle's L a w , so that we might say this prefigured the van der
Waals modification of the ideal-gas equation.
Lomonosov anticipates modern theories
Lomonosov demonstrated that "Cold body B immersed in body A cannot absorb a
greater degree of heat than is possessed by A " , and in this conclusion one can today see
a rudimentary formulation of some of the prerequisites for what was to be the second
principle of thermodynamics. His discovery confirmed the existence—which he had
already predicted—of the "greatest and ultimate degree of cold", or as w e would n o w
say, absolute zero.
The idea of the continuous motion of innumerable particles naturally leads on to
the question of the cause and source ofthat motion. Lomonosov also had an answer to
this question: his answer is part of a more general thesis to the effect that nothing in
nature arises from nothing or disappears without trace, but that the forms taken by
matter change. W h a t is true of matter is also true of motion. Thefirstformulation of this
universal law of conservation of matter and energy was put forward by Lomonosov as
early as 5 July 1748, in his famous letter to Leonhard Euler (seefigure1).
Euler, w h o had acclaimed Lomonosov as "... a m a n of genius whose thinking
honours both the Academy and science as a whole", also thought very highly of his
atomic-molecular theories, whereby chemistry could be included in the general scheme
of explanation of nature on the basis of mechanics, following the same path by which
physics became a genuine science. Lomonosov's achievement was to establish the bases
of physical chemistry, which wasfinallyconfirmed as a science only a century later.
The colossal volume of research carried out by Lomonosov in the Academy's
chemistry laboratory he himself founded in 1748 (analysis of metallic ores, salts and
other substances; development of methods of preparing mineral dyes and coloured
glass for mosaics) is reflected in numerous laboratory notebooks and reports.
Prominent a m o n g these is a short account of an experiment proving the conservation
of weight in chemical reactions, which underlies the law of conservation of matter.
Lomonosov's discoveries thus corroborated his philosophical conceptions, in
which he broke free of the metaphysical outlook. His works frequently contain
dialectical elements, in the form of hisfirstbrilliant conjectures about the processes of
continuous development of the material world, which he traces throughout nature
from its minutest forms to celestial bodies; and as w e n o w celebrate the twenty-fifth
anniversary of the spaceflightby Yuri Gagarin, w e are struck by the prophetic picture
Lomonosov painted over 200 years ago in a p o e m about m e n rising into space and
observing the sun.
Lomonosov w a s indeed a staunch supporter of the idea of the infinity of the
universe and the possibility of other inhabited worlds in it. H e was one of thefirstto
Ashot T . Grigoryan
vru<rt %'/$>'me,
S ¿2.
A » ¿*"f
—' ~ \F^&*
a r-**^*'~^>,
v ¿ V ) « « A y¿-<^-~*__
Figure 1. A manuscript letter from Lomonosov to Leonhard Euler of 5 July 1748, in which the
fundamental idea of the unity of the laws of conservation of matter and energy was clearly and
strictly formulated for thefirsttime:
... but all changes taking place in nature come about in such a way that as much as is
added to anything is taken away from something else... This law of nature is so
universal that it applies also to the principles of motion: a body impelling another into
motion loses as much of its own motion as it imparts from itself of such motion to the
other body.
In the nineteenth century, science corroborated and developed Lomonosov s universal law of
conservation, giving it concrete form. The work of Mayer, Joule and Helmholtz resulted in the
final formulation of the law of conservation and transfer of energy. Photograph © Nauka
Publishing House, Moscow.
M . V . L o m o n o s o v : his life and work
Figure 2. Lomonosov compiled this polar map to demonstrate "a possible passage through the
Siberian [Arctic] Ocean to the East Indies. The Arctic passage would open up splendid
prospects, in particular for the further development of Siberia, the most remote and inclement
hut also the vastest and richest region of Russia". Photograph (r) Nauka Publishing House,
concern himself with the physical properties of celestial bodies, surmising in particular
that the tails of comets are formed under the influence of electrical p h e n o m e n a . His
profound insights into the physical nature of the sun were supplemented b y a
description of its surface, likened to a seething,fieryocean in which even "rocks boil like
T h e atmosphere of Venus discovered
In 1761, observing a transit of Venus across the sun's disc, L o m o n o s o v discovered the
atmosphere o n that planet. T h e s a m e conclusion w a s later reached by the English
astronomers Nevil Maskelyne a n d William Herschel in 1769. This discovery of
L o m o n o s o v ' s w a s as important as the discovery b y Galileo of the mountains a n d
craters o n the m o o n , proving that the heavenly bodies possess the s a m e nature as the
Having described the structure of the earth, in which he ascribed a decisive role to
deep internal geological processes, L o m o n o s o v accurately developed the idea, based
on physical a n d chemical processes, of the evolution of nature in accordance with
Ashot T . Grigoryan
certain laws, an idea which only became predominant in the next century. His basic
works directly laid the foundations for the modern theory of earth sciences, and his
name is connected with m a n y of the directions taken by modern geology and
This seems an appropriate point at which to mention the applied as well as basic
character of Lomonosov's research. Whatever problems occupied his mind, he was
forever thinking of the technical progress of Russia. His practical activity ranged from
manuals used by m a n y generations of mining engineers and metallurgists to the
construction of equipment of all kinds, even optical instruments.
Being convinced, for instance, that 'Russia might increase by way of Siberia and the
Northern (i.e. the Arctic) Ocean', L o m o n o s o v showed that passage through the Arctic
was a feasible proposition and laid plans for such a polar expedition, working out its
route (see figure 2) and devising numerous instruction for prospective participants.
Being uncommonly bold for its time, this idea materialized only two centuries later,
when the Northern Maritime Route, as w e k n o w it, was opened up by Soviet polar
Not just a scientist, but a historian, poet and linguist too
A very strong trait of Lomonosov's character was the w a y he combined an interest in
the natural sciences with interest in the economic and social tasks facing Russia at the
Figure 3. Manuscripts left by Lomonosov contain a considerable number of drawings reflecting his
talent as an artist. This diagram of the formation of vertical air currents in the atmosphere is
one of them. Lomonosov connected atmospheric electricity with rising and falling air currents.
After descriptions of Lomonosov's discovery had been published abroad, Leonhard Euler
His explanations of such sudden occurrence of intense cold ...1 consider to be perfectly
sound... The other propositions are as shrewd as they are probable and demonstrate
the author's happy gift for spreading the truth of natural science...
Photograph © Nauka
Publishing House,
M . V . Lomonosov: his life and work
"/ **• ,
•~3~*<yry *~~"¿~
•*- £~rr-**"'' •*-**/*-f~£~* ."-•'*- •""*•
Figure 4. Letter from Lomonosov (1754) to the noted patron of the sciences 1.I. Shuvalov, setting
out his project for the establishment of a university in Moscow with attached secondary
school. Its three faculties—philosophy, medicine and law—were intended to train the
specialists needed for studying the huge territory of Russia and tapping its natural resources.
The university also taught physics, chemistry, mineralogy, agronomy and other natural
sciences, in addition to the arts. All the scientific disciplines in Moscow University were, for
thefirsttime, taught in Russian, instead of Latin, German or Church Slavonic, in the Academy
of Sciences and the seminaries. Today's Moscow State University, which bears the name of
M. V. Lomonosov, has more than 15 faculties and some 30000 students from the USSR and
other countries, making it a leading world centre of science and culture. Photograph ©
Nauka Publishing House, Moscow.
Ashot T . Grigoryan
Bb craxAXTî m BT> npo3b
rocno4MHa KoAAOKCitaro CotffimHHita H IIpo<£cccopa
\í* V£» < ^ vy> ^<s^.l^l^.•<?^^ö^t^»'^»'^vl^^¿^«\0*^6n.%6» < ^ i ' ^ h ^ '«Jr
nEpB A H
s^>!4r>\i9«<Jehi^i^.<^i'^.t^hi/> v<»<'v»»c^>v^vi»v«>- '<7-'^ -o '~Cf 'C-. < > • ' » * «a\
Ue'UiiiiHO "pu tlMiirpiMioprKOMt» M O C K O U KOMLI
yuuBepcwnemb 17J7 ru^a.
Figure 5. Moscow University had its own printing press which produced great numbers of
textbooks, books on philosophy and other sciences, and literary works, in Russian and in
translation from other languages. Thefirsteditions of the Moscow University Press were the
M . V . Lomonosov: his life and work
a* íA*.t<¿
OH% OrfWO,
,c ,rr/>o,,M
ijitijr-pov-b if two
H?, CttO<Ut%
/tOHJtnttU (UH4I W't.lt ,
two volumes making up the Collection of various works in verse and prose of Mikhail
Lomonosov. These were also thefirstRussian books to contain a portrait of the author
(engraving by K. Vortman)—until then books had only featured portraits of tsars and tsarinas
and pictures of saints. Photographs © Nauka Publishing House, Moscow.
M . V . Lomonosov: his life and work
time of the transformations initiated by Peter the Great. H e composed a History of
Russia from the origin of the Slavs up to the time of Peter the Great, using original
documents, thus providing the basis of the anti-Norman theory. His historical writings
are characterized by their scientific nature, democratic tendencies and respect for the
identity of other countries and peoples, for he understood that history creates national
traditions and links generation to generation.
The destinies of the Russian people and its culture also influenced Lomonosov's
literary works, which opened up a new era in the development of Russian poetry with
verse unprecedented in sonority, vigour and power. Whether he was writing an inspired
poetic eulogy of science, a comment in verse on a historical event, literary or scientific
prose or a translation—Lomonosov translated H o m e r , Demosthenes, Tacitus, Cicero,
Plutarch, John Chrysostom, François Fénelon and Swift—his works were always fine
examples of the art of language. It is thus not surprising that the Lomonosov tradition
determined the whole course of the formation of Russian linguistics and of the Russian
literary language.
The same is equally true with regard to Russian education. It was Lomonosov
himself w h o pressed for the founding of what is n o w the oldest Russian university,
M o s c o w University, established in 1755 (see figure 4). T h e university assisted the
further spread of education and science in Russia and served as a focus for a large group
of gifted scholars, m a n y of w h o m were pupils or followers of Lomonosov. Through his
successors, his influence m a d e itself felt on the development of science and culture in all
the nations, national and ethnic groups—more than 100—now inhabiting the Soviet
M o s c o w State University today bears the n a m e of Lomonosov. His n a m e has been
given to a town near Leningrad and an upland region in Western Spitsbergen, a ridge in
the Arctic Ocean, an Atlantic current and a mineral. Lomonosov Gold Medals—the
highest award of the U S S R Academy of Sciences—are awarded annually for
meritorious research in the natural sciences to scientists from various countries.
Lomonosov's name is imperishable: it belongs to all mankind.
impact of science on society. N o . 144, 409-414
N e w concepts of space-time gravity
A . A . Logunov
This paper was delivered by Academician Logunov, Rector of the M. V. Lomonosov
Moscow State University, at Unesco Headquarters in April 1986. The subject is not an
easy one for the non-specialist to understand, but we nevertheless believe it casts important
new light on Einstein's general theory of relativity and will be of great interest to the
physicists amongst out readers.
As Unesco marks the 275th anniversary of the birth of Lomonosov, it is particularly
fitting that we publish here an article based on studies carried out at the great university he
helped to found.
Managing editor
Before setting out the n e w concepts of space-time and gravity reflected in the relativistic
theory of gravitation ( R T G ) , w e shall briefly review the general theory of relativity
( G T R ) in a critical w a y in order to show that if one adopts its concept, one must discard
certain fundamental physical notions underlying contemporary physics. These are,
firstly, the e n e r g y - m o m e n t u m and angular m o m e n t u m conservation laws of matter
and gravitationalfieldas a whole, and, secondly, the concept of the gravitationfieldas
the classical Faraday Maxwellfieldthat possesses energy-momentum density. M a n y
physicists dealing with the G T R have not realized the former until n o w . Olhers are
inclined to consider it a supreme achievement of the theory, which has repudiated such
notions as energy. There is, however, n o single experimental indication—either in the
micro- or macroworlds—that could directly or indirectly give rise to doubts as to the
validity of the laws of conservation of matter. For this reason it would be too rash in our
view to discard these laws without sufficient experimental foundation.
All this has been dealt with in some detail elsewhere1. Later in this article I will show
that problems with the G T R appeared almost immediately after its creation, and that
Einstein's single resolve to defend his theory, the faith in authority, and the dogmatism
that later arose prevented anyone from penetrating the essence of the theory, and
slowed the development of the concepts of gravity. David Hubert was thefirstto clearly
underline that there were n o conservation laws in the G T R . Tn 1917 he wrote 2 :
I claim... that for the general theory of relativity, i.e. in the case of general
invariance of the Hamilton function, energy equations... that would correspond
to the energy equations in orthogonal-invariant theories, d o not exist at all. I
could even mention this fact as a specific feature of the general theory of relativity.
Unfortunately, these words of Hubert were not understood by his contemporaries,
since neither Einstein nor other physicists realized the fundamental fact that, in the
G T R , e n e r g y - m o m e n t u m and angular m o m e n t u m conservation laws are impossible in
principle. A n d w h e n , in 1918, E . Schrödinger3 showed that all components of the
Academician Logunov may be reached at M . V . Lomonosov Moscow State University, 117 234 Moscow,
A . A . Logunov
energy-momentum pseudotensor of the gravitationalfieldoutside a massive sphere
might be reduced to zero by an appropriate choice of a co-ordinate frame, Einstein4
replied the same year:
As for Schrödinger's considerations, their convincingness stems from an analogy
with electrodynamics, in which tension and energy density of anyfieldare not
equal to zero. I cannot, however, see w h y a similar situation should apply to the
gravitationalfield.Gravitationalfieldscan be set without introducing tension
and energy density...
For an infinitesimal sphere it is possible to choose co-ordinates, to ensure that
there will be no gravitation field in it.
Einstein completely departed from the classic conception of the Faraday-Maxwell
field, which can never be destroyed as a physical reality by any choice of frame, even
locally. Thus Einstein gave up the classic concept in favour of the local equivalence
principle of inertial forces and gravity, which he elevated to the rank of a fundamental
principle, although there were no physical reasons for it. It is this that led to the idea of
nonlocalization of gravitational energy in space, and to m a n y other ideas. Einstein did
not want to discard the energy-momentum conservation law for matter, and for the
gravitationfieldtaken as a whole, as he clearly realized its fundamental importance.
For this reason in 1918 he undertook a study5 within the framework of G T R in which
he wrote: "... the conceptions of energy and m o m e n t u m are determined as clearly as in
classic mechanics". In the same year F . Klein confirmed Einstein's results6. Since then it
has been an accepted practice to follow Einstein. Thus Einstein's work would seem to
have solved the problem completely, and that m a y have set him at ease, for he never
returned to it. But scrupulous analysis" reveals that there is a simple error - but one of
principle—in Einstein and Klein's reasoning. Its essence is that the value JÖ, used by
Einstein (and later by Klein), is equal to zero. Einstein's failure to see it prevented him
from penetrating the essence of his o w n theory of relativity, and the canonization of the
theory that followed slowed d o w n a critical analysis thereof and the creative
development of concepts of gravity. Einstein was fated not to recognize the fact that
adoption of the G T R necessarily leads to discharge of the fundamental conservation
laws. The absence of energy-momentum conservation laws directly leads to the
conclusion that the inertial mass of a body (as it is defined in the G T R ) is not equal to its
active gravitation mass. It means that the G T R is not able to explain the experimentally
confirmed fact of the equality of these masses, although Einstein asserted that this
fundamental fact underlay the theory. But it was an incorrect assertion. Recently there
has appeared a declaration8 that it is possible to solve the problem of energym o m e n t u m of a gravitationalfieldby means of the Hamiltonian approach. However, it
has been proved 7 that this assertion is erroneous and displays a misunderstanding of
the essence of the problem. Without energy-momentum and angular m o m e n t u m
conservation laws the general theory of relativity ceases to be a satisfactory physical
theory. The renunciation of the G T R is dictated by both physical logic and
experimental data.
Let us base the relativistic theory of gravity o n following:
1. The Minkowski space (X", the pseudo-Euclidean geometry of space-time) is
the fundamental space c o m m o n to all physical fields, including that of
N e w concepts of space-time gravity
gravitation. This statement is general, as it is necessary a n d sufficient to secure
that both the e n e r g y - m o m e n t u m and angular m o m e n t u m conservation laws for
matter and gravitationalfieldtaken as a whole shall exist. T h e Minkowski space,
in other words, reflects the dynamic properties, c o m m o n to all forms of matter. It
ensures the existence of the universal characteristics of all forms of substance and
gravitationfield.So space-time geometry is not set according to agreement, but it
is determined by the general porperties of matter. This essentially distinguishes
R T G from the general theory of relativity.
2. T h e gravitationalfieldis described by a symmetric tensor of rank two 0 " v ; it is
a real physicalfieldpossessing the e n e r g y - m o m e n t u m density, with zero rest mass
and with spin states 0 and 2. This also distinguishes R T G from the G T R in a
fundamental way.
3. Geometrization principles, the essence of which being that the field-to-matter
interaction is realized by the 'connection' of the gravitational field 4»^ to the
metric tensor yßV of Minkowski space in the matter Lagrangian density, because
of the universal character of interaction, according to the following rule:
L M ( 7 " \ 0 A ) - LM(g"v, </>A)
••y" * + $*"
</>A are the fields of substance. W e recognize as substance all forms of matter
except gravitationalfield.According to the geometrization principle the m o v e ment of matter under the influence of gravitational field $ " v in the M i n k o w s k i
space with metric yßV is equivalent to its m o v e m e n t in the effective R i e m a n n space
with metric g*". The primer objects are the metric tensor of Minkowski space y*"
and the gravitational field tensor in this space 0 " v , but the Riemann space and its
metric g*" are secondary objects, arising from the gravitational field and its
universal influence u p o n matter 0 A . T h e effective R i e m a n n space has, literally, a
field origin and is obliged to the presence of the gravitationalfield.Einstein's idea
of R i e m a n n geometry of the space-time is reflected in this item, though indirectly.
4. T h e scalar Lagrangian density is the quadric function of the first covariant
derivatives D^g 7 "' with respect to the Minkowski metric. In principle, it is
impossible to construct the scalar Lagrangian density of such a form in the G T R .
W e introduce into gravitational physics the fundamental e n e r g y - m o m e n t u m and
angular m o m e n t u m conservation laws, and a physical gravitationalfieldof FaradayMaxwell type in items 1 and 2.
According to item 1, the relativity principle, formulated for thefirsttime by
Poincaré for all physical effects, is generalized in the R T G in the following w a y 9 :
Whatever physical frame w e choose (inertial or noninertial), it is always possible
to find an infinite n u m b e r of other frames, where all physical effects (including
gravitation ones) are the same as in the initial frame, so that w e have not, and
cannot have, any experimental methods to determine which frame of the infinite
set w e are in.
The complete scalar Lagrangian density of matter and gravitationfield,according
to items 2 and 3, is:
L=Lg(f\<r)+LM(r', « M
A . A . Logunov
It follows from the above that the scalar Lagrangian density of the gravitationfield,as
distinct from the G T R , is not geometrized; it depends both on the gravitation field and
on the Minkowski space metric tensor y"v.
Proceeding from item 4 and the local gauge invariance principle, it is possible to
construct the scalar gravitationfieldLagrangian density definitely10:
Lg = 3 k ( G L D , g m n - g m n G | ; , k G ^
G L = ii pk (D m g np + D n g m p - D p g m n )
wherein D m means the covariant derivative with respect to Minkowski metric. The set
of principle equations of the R T G for both matter and gravitation field is:
D„g" v = 0
where f is the symmetrical energy-momentum tensor density both for matter and
gravitationfieldin Minkowski space-time. The generally covariantfieldequations (4)
and (5) form a complete set ofequations that can be used to describe the m o v e m e n t of
bolh matter and gravitation field. T h e set of equations determines the structure of
the gravitationfieldas the spin 2 and spin 0field.Equation (5) separates inertial forces
from the gravitationalfield.The choice of a co-ordinate frame is completely determined
by fixing the Minkowski space metric tensor y"v. It is necessary to mention that
Hilbert-Einstein equations are exactly the same as equation (4) in the case where
equation (5) is satisfied. Let us note that some aspects of gravity theory using the metric
tensor y"v were considered11. But the authors, w h o were on the right lines, did not
understand it and chose the other principle for constructing their theory of gravity; the
latter did not lead to anything definite.
Let us turn to the physical consequences of the R T G . The theory predicts the
infinite nature of a homogeneous and isotropic Universe and the fact that it is only
'planar'. It means that the energy density of matter in the Universe is exactly equal to its
critical density, determined by measuring the Hubble constant. This means that there
should be a hidden mass in the Universe, since its energy density is u p to forty times
greater than that of matter observed at the present time. The s u m m a r y energy density
of both matter and gravitationalfieldis equal to zero. W e see that the predictions of the
R T G on the development of the Universe are essentially different from those of G T R . It
follows further from the G T R that massive objects with a mass three times greater than
that of the sun are infinitely compressed by the gravitational forces during a finite
period of proper time, thus reaching infinite density. This process of star evolution is
called gravitational collapse, and objects of this type have come to be k n o w n as 'black
holes'. R T G fundamentally changes the character of the gravitational collapse. It leads
to the principle of gravitational slowing-down. Because of this effect the compression of
a massive body in the co-moving frame discontinues within afiniteperiod of proper
time, and—this is most important—the density of the matter remainsfinite,and never
exceeds the value 10 1 6 g/cm 3 , while the brightness of the body decreases exponentially;
the object becomes 'black'. The proper time of a falling test body, according to the
R T G , depends both o n space-time co-ordinates of Minkowski space and o n the
gravitation constant G ; and, consequently, the proper time motion is determined by the
N e w concepts of space-time gravity
character of the gravitationalfield.It is this that leads to a situation in which the proper
time of a falling test b o d y dx slows d o w n and tends towards zero as its radius tends to
It m a y thus be assumed that, according to the R T G , there can be no 'black holes' in
which a catastrophically intensive compression of matter would take place to bring it to
infinite density. This can be proved exactly using the example of the sphericallysymmetrical nonstationary problem for particles at zero pressure. T h e proper time
interval di for a falling b o d y is related to M i n k o w s k i space time interval dt by the
following formula:
di = d t ^ — p + GM
p here is the radial variable of Minkowski space. It is clear from this formula, that when
p tends to the value equal to the product G M , the proper time differential di tends to
zero, but d o w n . Therefore there are no static nor even astatic spherically-symmetrical
bodies with radius less than or equal to G M . T h e above considerations lead to the
conclusion that the predictions of the R T G are fundamentally different from those of
the G T R .
Detailed analysis10 shows that theoretical predictions of the G T R with respect to
gravitational effects in the solar system are ambiguous; for some of them such
ambiguity displays itself infirst-orderterms in powers of the gravitational constant G ;
for others, in second-order terms. This is a further drawback to the G T R . R T G
predictions for gravitation effects have been m a d e ; these are definite and are being
confirmed by experiment and observation in the Solar system.
Let usfinallyturn to gravitational radiation. Einstein wrote in his study devoted to
gravitational waves 13 :
It were possible to suppose that one can always choose a frame so that all
components of the gravitation field energy goes to zero; it would be extremely
interesting. But one can simply see that it is, generally speaking, not right.
These words show that in strict accordance with the equivalence principle, Einstein
considered to be of special interest the possibility of making all components of "the
gravitationfieldenergy" equal to zero. But he did not succeed in this. It is shown 1 4 that
gravitational radiation, as it is defined in Einstein's G T R , can in fact be destroyed b y
m a k i n g a choice of an admitted frame. But this is exactly the result Einstein considered
as "extremely interesting". It follows that the second sentence in the quotation above is
incorrect. It moreover follows that Einstein's formula for quadripole radiation is not a
consequence of the G T R , but one can see that it is the corollary of the R T G , because in
the latter the gravitation field is the physical field a n d cannot b e destroyed b y a n y
choice of frame, even locally.
Hence, according to the R T G , the local equivalence principle is not, and cannot be,
realized in nature.
1. A. A. L O G U N O V and M . A . MRSTVIRISHVILI, SOD. Journ. Theor. Mat. Phys., 61, p. 327, 1984.
A. A. L O G U N O V and M . A . MESTVIRISHVILI, Prog, of Theor. Phys., 74, N o . 1, 1985.
A. A. V L A S O V , A. A. L O G U N O V and M . A. MESTVIRISHVILI, SOIL Journ. Theor. Mat. Phys., 61,
• p. 323, 1984. A. A. L O G U N O V and M . A. MESTVIRISHVILI, Fundamentals of the relativistic
N e w concepts of space-time gravity
theory of gravity. Moscow Univ. Publications, (in Russian) 1985; A . A . L O G U N O V and M . A .
MESTVIRISHVILI, SOV. J own. Particles and Nucleus, 17, N o . 1, 1986.
D . H I L B E R T , Goettinger Nachrichten, 4, p. 21, 1917.
E . SCHRÖDINGER, Phys. Zs., 19, p. 4, 1918.
A . EINSTEIN, Phys. Zs., 19, p. 115, 1918.
A. EINSTEIN, Sitzungsher. preuss. Akad. Wiss., v. 1, p.448, 1918.
F. KLEIN, Nachr. Ges. Wiss Gottingen M-Phys, 1918.
V. I. Di-'Nisov and A. A. L O G U N O V , Contemporary problems of mathematics. Results of Science
and Technics, V1NIT1 Publications, p.49 (in Russian! 1982.
L. D . L A M i v, Energy problem in Einstein's theory of gravity. Preprint P-8-81. Leningrad:
Lomi A n , 1981 (in Russian). Uspekhi Viz. Nauk, 136, p. 435, 1982.
A . A . L O G U N O V , Lectures on Theory of Relativity and Gravity. Moscow Univ. Publications,
(in Russian) 1985.
A. A . L O G U N O V and M . A. MESTVIRISHVILI, SOV. Journ. Particles and Nucleus, 17, N o . 1,1986.
N . R O S E N , Phys. Rev., 1940, 57, p. 147; Ann. of Phys., 22, p. 1,1963; M . K Ö H L E R , Z. Phys., 131,
p. 571,1954; 134, p. 286, 1954; 134, p. 306,1954; A . P A P A P E T R O U , Proc. Roy. Irish. Acad., A52,
1948; S. G U P T A . Proc. Roy. Soc, A65, p. 608, 1952; W . THIRRING, Ann. of Phys.. 16. p. 69. 1961.
A. A . L O G U N O V . Y U M . L O S K U I O V and Y u . V. C H U G R I Y E V . Does the general theory of
relativity explain gravitational effects'! Moscow Univ. Publications, (in Russian) 1986.
A . EINSTEIN, Sitzungsher. preuss. Akad. Wiss., v. 1, p. 154, 1918.
A . A . V L A S O V and V . I. D E N I S O V , Soi'. Journ. Theor. Mat. Phys., 53, p. 406, 1982.
impact of science on society. N o . 144, 415
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Reasoned letters that comment, pro or con, on any of the articles printed in Impact or
present the writer's view o n any subject previously discussed are welcomed. They
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impact of science on society. N o . 144, 416
Looking ahead . . .
The next issue of Impact of science on society (No. 145)
will deal with
Authors include: A . S. Arya (School of Research and Training in Earthquake
Engineering, India) on earthquake-proof architecture; Katsuyubi A b e (Earthquake Research Institute, Tokyo) on the seismicity of Japan: earthquakes and
tsunamis; C . S. Hutchinson (University of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur), on mineral
prospection in South-East Asia; B . W . Sellwood (University of Reading, United
Kingdom), on sedimentary basins and oil fields; and J. Achache (Institut de
Physique du Globe, Paris), on plate tectonics as a framework for understanding
the earth.
N o . 146
The third industrial revolution
N o . 147
The social influence of inventions
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