University of Cambridge > > Skeptics in the Pub > A brief history of "PUS". Or, how I learned to stop worrying and love the Public Understanding of Science

A brief history of "PUS". Or, how I learned to stop worrying and love the Public Understanding of Science

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  • UserDr Alice Bell - Imperial College
  • ClockTuesday 30 August 2011, 19:00-22:00
  • HouseThe Maypole.

If you have a question about this talk, please contact Andrew N Holding.

The last two and a half decades has seen much hang-wringing over something called the ‘Public Understanding of Science’ (PUS). Simply put, the PUS movement of the 1980s worried that the public had stopped listening to science (if they ever did) and that this was dangerous, not only to the status of the scientific community, but to public health, even democracy. If only the public knew more and listened more attentively, the world would be a better place. This approach was speedily criticised, however, as somewhat of an unhelpful red herring. A newer approach emerged, known usually as ‘Public Engagement with Science and Technology’ (PEST) which stressed discussion and more respectful mutual learning between science and society (although many people still worry about PUS ).

This talk will attempt to weave through the various bits of rhetoric, buzzwords and acronyms of PUS (aside from when they are funny, like the Public Awareness of New TechnologieS) to reflect on history of ideas, projects and institutions involved in UK science communication. The talk won’t offer a definitive answer to whether we should worry about the Public Understanding of Science, or how to solve any problems you think exist. That is up to you. However, it does hope to arm you with a bit more more information and nuanced thought than simple frustration at the apparent ignorance of the world.

Dr Alice Bell is Senior Teaching Fellow in Science Communication at Imperial College and a freelance science writer. She blogs at

This talk is part of the Skeptics in the Pub series.

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