How to Communicate with the Public About a High-Tech Project?
A major scientific and technological undertaking such as ITER cannot attract the support of politicians and wider society without communicating with the public and raising awareness. Today it is widely accepted that the general public is an active player in research and innovation. Hence it is indisputable that informing the public about ITER and fusion is essential. But how should it be done in practice? How important is it, and what should the key messages be? ITER is actually a great vantage point from which to observe the relation between science and general society. The public is definitely interested in what is going on in Cadarache, and most visitors ask why information about the project is not more widely and visibly disseminated. The answer is that on top of being a major technological challenge ITER is also a communication challenge! The difficulties in communication relate essentially to the main characteristics of the project: ITER is an experimental endeavor; it was conceived by politicians; it is a long-term project with no immediate results or outcomes; and it is somewhat controversial. You have also to take into account the fundamentals of science and technology communication today (in particular, how the media work and the fact that many people react to the word “nuclear” in an emotional, often passionate way). The 2006 French law on nuclear transparency and safety also contributes to informing the public. For example, the authorities are required to organize a public inquiry for any new nuclear installation. In accordance with the law, a Local Information Committee (“Comité Local d’Information,” CLI) for ITER was set up in 2009 to fulfill the right of access of citizens to nuclear information. Against this background science and technology should be the priority! They are highly valued by society. Visits to the site are also an essential activity. Precision, rigor, quality of information, and the absence of any propaganda are the key principles here. It is only under such conditions that complex scientific projects can develop in a sustainable and credible way. The chapter ends up with concrete recommendations regarding communication for ITER.
KeywordsITER Communication Public Debate Visits PCST Science society
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