Skip to main content

Scicomm in Latin America: Perspectives from Brazil

BY Sofía Villa

The year 2020 was very challenging in many aspects, also for Science Communication that has to struggle in the chaotic relationship between science and society in the middle of a pandemic.
For talking about this and the perspectives of the field in Brazil, I spoke with Luisa Massarani on the most visible authorities in Brazilian scicomm. Massarani is a journalist, coordinator for Latin American of SciDev.Net, of the master on Science Communication at House of Oswaldo Cruz and the National Brazilian Institute of Public Communication of Science and Technology.

Luisa, do you think that the Covid pandemic changes somehow the communication of science and the relation between science and society in Latin America? 

As the World Health Organisation has been highlighting, fake news and misinformation can spread as quickly as the SARS-CoV-2 and can be as harmful as this virus. In Latin America, we have been flooded with misinformation and fake news – meanwhile, 900,000 deaths were recorded in the region out of 3.2 million worldwide. In such a context, science communication has been vital for fighting against the spread of the disease.
The importance of science also has been highlighted in the public sphere, for example, by the mass media, which is one of the main sources of information for the public, showing that science is at the heart of the fighting. On the other hand, scientific denialism has also been observed – unfortunately, pushed by irresponsible policymakers.

In your consideration, which are the biggest challenges of scicomm in Latin America? 

Practical science communication activities have been carried out in the region for centuries. But, as in other parts of the world, the professionalization of science communication – including training, jobs availability and availability of human and financial resources – is part of a younger movement of the last decades. In the same line, research in science communication is younger in Latin America, with few opportunities for a master and a PhD specifically in science communication, reduced number of grants and positions for researchers. 
There is indeed a lot of interest in being a science communicator and/or a researcher in science communication, but the main challenge is how to consolidate the field. 

Has Latin America developed a particular way of communicating science or absorbed what Europe and North America do in the field? 

Both. A lot of what has been done is “imported” from Europe and North America. But also, there is indeed a significant Latin American personality in science communication in the region. The hands-on science centres/museums are a good example. Until the 1990s, many science centres in the area were a kind of “clon” of European and North American science centres (but many science centres in Europe and North America were also clones). In some way, it made sense because it was about “to not reinventing the wheel”. But especially in the last 20 years, many science centres and exhibitions started having a clear Latin American perspective and are more related to local issues. 

Do you think that science communication faces all the funding and credibility problems tackling the traditional media? 

In my view, funding and credibility are different problems and not necessarily walk together. Also, science communication is very diverse – and should be – therefore, it is difficult to make generalizations. Still … In general, I would say that good quality science communication has good credibility. But the funding is a huge problem in the present moment, both for science and science communication. 

In Brazil, scicomm professionals can find job opportunities or is it more like voluntary work for enthusiastic scientists? 

Brazil had a perfect moment for science communication at the beginning of this century when a so-called Department for Science Popularization and Diffusion was created at the Ministry of Science and Technology. It was the starting point for a series of initiatives that gave visibility and funding opportunities for science communication. It created an atmosphere that allowed job opportunities. Unfortunately, in the last five years, all the initiatives in science communication (and science in general) started to collapse. Looking at the figures of the national survey of public perception of science you can see, for example, that the number of people visiting science centres triplicated with one decade of efforts in favour of science communication. The last survey from 2019 showed how quick initiatives could fall apart.

Sofía Villa is a Colombian journalist, specialized in science reporting and academic dissemination. She is the author of the Scicomm Interviews series on PUS Blog. She's actually attending the Master in Communication of Science and Innovation at the University of Trento.

Follow @SofiaVilla_M