Public engagement in the UK is stuck in the doldrums and fails to recognise that the world’s most intractable problems can be tackled only by building collaborations between people with different perspectives (“Scholars on the public stage deserve a hand”, Leader; “Public engagement: go forth and mingle”, Features, 3 December). Public engagement by UK researchers often merely involves the dissemination of “facts” by experts to passive recipients, rather than risk a questioning of the authority of the expert. Immunising the Mind, published by the British Council last month, links this uncritical approach in UK science education to the rise of fundamentalism.
The full potential of research will be unleashed only when higher education institutions recognise that everyone, from whatever background, is capable of contributing insights towards the production, application and questioning of knowledge. For inspiration, we should look to countries such as the US and Canada, where such approaches as public science, participatory action research and community-based research have survived the teething stage, reached the White House and are now inspiring a new generation. We have launched People’s Knowledge to bring together researchers and communities who wish to engage in this more sophisticated sense.
Colin Anderson and Tom Wakeford
Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience, Coventry University
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