Who cares about physics today? A marketing strategy for the survival of fundamental science and the benefit of society

Umberto Cannella

(Submitted on 29 Sep 2012 (v1), last revised 14 Jan 2013 (this version, v3))


It would seem that the present dry economic times impose a very precise focus for science in general and physics in particular: research, possibly of applied type. However in doing so two basic pillars of a healthy future for science are being undermined: fundamental research and public engagement. The first is what makes applications possible in the first place, many times with a path from inception to implementation that is as long and indirect as poorly advertised. The second pillar, public engagement, is mostly regarded as a commodity: if there is good level of funding scientists can consider spending money for public relations otherwise this is the first thing scientists cut because it is the least necessary. On the contrary, public engagement in science is very much needed, at the very least because the public is either an enemy or an ally, as testified respectively by the climate change denial and the 2009 Shuttle mission that people wanted in order to service the Hubble Space Telescope for the last time. In this article I will make the case for why popularizing science should be a funding priority, instead of a commodity, for both nation-wide organizations and local research institutions. I will take examples from my personal background with the hope that they will serve to enlighten a more general picture and to frame the discussion around concrete issues and practical avenues to be pursued immediately.



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