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Influences on life

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Science and communication
Renato Dulbecco Scientist
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Does it bother you, that is, do you have any criticisms in general with regard to how the press report certain scientific discoveries, for example- both in Italy and abroad- or exaggerations or do you understand that it is necessary- you have heard, you feel, you understand, the requirement that a newspaper journalist has, for example, to speak to you to try to understand- but, do you find that they understand or that they give more misinformation than information in general? No I think that- unfortunately, a journalist is not interested in the details of science, because he doesn't have the training for this- but on the whole, in general, I find that there are, on some occasions, in some cases, things are presented well, in other cases they are presented badly. There are examples of both. I cannot really say any more about it, if it's one or the other, but that it is a serious problem, because in fact scientific communication truly is a great problem. The problem of communication yes and communicating to society above all. Sure. And, on the other hand a problem that, I think, that you scientists feel- You know, also, the position of a scientist is difficult because, the majority of scientists do not know how to communicate, a scientist remains predominantly in his ivory tower, in his glass box, let's say, where he has his ideas, his words- he uses all this, you understand? And then all of a sudden the box opens and he has to speak to the public, but he can't change. Sure, sure. So, this was also a commitment for you? Well, I managed- I managed to communicate, but I saw the huge difficulty, because when I was president at Salk, each week I would organise a talk during late afternoon whereby a particular aspect of the work that was going on would be explained to the public. The public came, many people came, but I don't think that it was particularly successful, precisely for this reason, because the scientists that carried out the work, that had to explain it, were not able to explain it. It was too difficult for the public to grasp, you see? They were able to explain it to other scientists but not to the public. And again this is a difficultly that still needs to be overcome, but it's very difficult, however, this gap does need to be bridged. Yes, it's true. Because people are thirsty for knowledge. People can't go into scientific detail, but if they understand something then they will seek to identify more with certain issues. That's true.
Ti dà noia, cioè trovi da criticare su come la stampa in generale riporta certe scoperte della scienza, per esempio- e nel nostro paese e anche all'estero- o esagerazioni oppure capisci che bisogna- tu hai sentito, tu senti, capisci, l'esigenza che ha un giornalista, per esempio, della stampa a rivolgersi a te per cercare di capire- però, trovi che capiscono oppure che danno più disinformazioni che informazioni in genere? Non credo che- purtroppo, un giornalista non può entrare nei dettagli della scienza, perché non ha la preparazione per quello- ma insomma, in generale, io trovo che ci sono, in alcune occasioni, in alcuni casi, le cose sono presentate bene, in altri casi sono presentate male. Ci sono tutti e due. Ora non posso dirti quale di più, se l'uno o se l'altro, ma quello è un problema serio, perché insomma la comunicazione scientifica è veramente un grande problema. Il problema della comunicazione sì e della comunicazione alla società soprattutto. Certo. E, d'altra parte un problema che, io penso, che voi scienziati sentiate perche`- Sai, anche, la posizione di uno scienziato è difficile perché, per lo più, uno scienziato non sa comunicare, lo scienziato è molto nella sua torre d'avorio, non è una torre di avorio, è una scatola di vetro, diciamo, dove ha le sue idee, le sue parole- adopera tutto quello, capisci? E poi improvvisamente la scatola si apre e deve parlare al pubblico, ma non può cambiare. Certo, certo. Quindi, anche quello è stato un impegno per te? Beh, io ci sono riuscito- sono riuscito a comunicare, ma io ho visto l'enorme difficoltà, perché lì al Salk, quando ero presidente, avevo organizzato, appunto, che tutte le settimane ci fosse, nel tardo pomeriggio, ci fosse qualcosa di questo genere, di spiegare un particolare aspetto del lavoro che si faceva al pubblico. Il pubblico veniva, c'era molta gente che veniva, ma non credo che questo sia riuscito molto, appunto per questo, perché gli scienziati che facevano il lavoro, che dovevano spiegarlo, non erano capaci di spiegarlo. Era troppo difficile per il pubblico, capisci? Erano capaci di spiegarlo agli altri scienziati, ma non al pubblico. Ed è questo divario qui che c'è ancora da superare ed è molto difficile, ma è un divario importante. Sì. È vero. Perché la gente ha sete di sapere e di conoscere. Non può entrare nel dettaglio scientifico, la gente, però se capisce qualcosa è anche più sollecitata a immedesimarsi di certi problemi. È proprio vero.

The Italian biologist Renato Dulbecco (1914-2012) had early success isolating a mutant of the polio virus which was used to create a life-saving vaccine. Later in his career, he initiated the Human Genome Project and was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1975 for furthering our understanding of cancer caused by viruses.

Listeners: Paola De Paoli Marchetti

Paola De Paoli Marchetti is a science journalist who graduated with an honours degree in foreign languages and literature from the University Ca’Foscari, Venice. She has been a science journalist since the 1960s and has been on the staff of the newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore since 1970. She was elected president of UGIS (Italian Association of Science Journalists) in 1984. She has been a Member of the Board of EUSJA (European Union of Science Journalists’ Associations, Strasbourg), and was its president in 1987-1988 and 1998-2000. In May 2000 she was unanimously elected president emeritus. She was a member of the National Council of Italian Journalists (1992-1998). From 2002 to 2004 she was member of the working group for scientific communication of the National Committee for Biotechnology. She has also been a consultant at the Italian Ministry of Research and Technology and editor-in-chief of the publication MRST, policy of science and technology. She has co-authored many publications in the field of scientific information, including Le biotecnologie in Italia, Le piste della ricerca and Luna vent’anni dopo.

Duration: 3 minutes, 17 seconds

Date story recorded: May 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008