About the initiative | OVERVIEW

 Humor and spontaneity play important roles in many contemporary science experiences. Bill Nye (aka the Science Guy) and Neil deGrasse Tyson at a live taping of Star Talk Radio, Tyson's popular podcast. Photo: StarTalk via Tumblr.

Humor and spontaneity play important roles in many contemporary science experiences. Bill Nye (aka the Science Guy) and Neil deGrasse Tyson at a live taping of Star Talk Radio, Tyson's popular podcast. Photo: StarTalk via Tumblr.

A Radiolab episode that unexpectedly brings tears to your eyes. A raucous StarTalk taping in Brooklyn featuring comedians riffing with scientists. The cosmologically themed rap lyrics of GZANerd Nite events that draw twenty-somethings in cities across the US and Europe. Popular web videos like Minute Physics and SciShow. Regular citizens classifying galaxies by their shape for Zooniverse. Uncategorizable books by Janna Levin that tell us as much about the author and her personal life as about how our universe began. Science comics drawn by artists like Randall Munroe and Maki Naro that are read as much by scientists as by non-experts. The irreverent “I Fucking Love Science” page on Facebook, with some 17 million likes and countless reposts.

Those are just a few examples of a new wave of public science experiences that seem to operate on very different principles than the “outreach” programs of the past. The Evolving Culture of Science Engagement initiative is an attempt to understand those principles by taking a fresh look at how the public connects to science, how science connects to the public, and how it’s all changing. What happens if we view those connections in the broader context of contemporary culture instead of the traditional categories of science communication and informal science learning? What happens if we start with the innovations in practice—and the innovators themselves—rather than with the goals or outcomes of science communication and education? And what if we try to include all the settings, vehicles, audiences, and professional communities of science engagement, to take in the whole landscape in which adult non-scientists encounter science today?

  Scientists and other  communicators are stepping out from behind the veil of objectivity and revealing their personal, subjective experiences. Prime example: physicist Janna Levin.

Scientists and other communicators are stepping out from behind the veil of objectivity and revealing their personal, subjective experiences. Prime example: physicist Janna Levin.

The result, we hope, will be a new kind of inquiry, one that frames and explores questions about public science engagement in unusually holistic and outcome-agnostic terms and reveals new directions for research, dialogue, and experimentation. A collaboration between several units at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Culture Kettle, a new nonprofit accelerator for knowledge and practice in the cultural sector, the initiative began with a two-day gathering of cutting-edge communicators and educators from a myriad of media and practice areas in science engagement, plus with a few researchers and funders, in September, 2013 at MIT. You can read the report from that gathering, learn more about the goals and structure of the initiative, and find out how you and your organization might be able to get involved in the next phase.