Call for improved communication of scientific outcomes to public

Posted by Josette Dunn on 8th February 2010

A report just released by the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, titled ‘Inspiring Australia’  aims to build a strong, open relationship between science and society, underpinned by effective communication of science and its benefits.

Woman at supermarket - nutrition label

Public understanding of scientific research and outcomes is often very limited, and biased towards the opinion of the information source, such as newspapers, advertising, product packaging or word of mouth.  Mixed messages abound, particularly in the food related areas of health, nutrition, and obesity.

Food labelling and advertising often draws a long bow in citing ‘scientific evidence’ as proof that their product is healthy.  This lack of public understanding and education is now being challenged in various ways, such as proposed new food labelling, and now this ‘Inspiring Australia’ report.

Associate Professor Sue Stocklmayer, Director of the Centre for the Public Awareness of Science (CPAS) at ANU is among those in the science community who have welcomed the report.

“We strongly support the recommendations of the Inspiring Australia report, as well as applauding its motivating spirit,” Associate Professor Stocklmayer said. “There is no denying that science is playing a key role in some of the defining issues of our time: climate change, water and food security, and pandemic responses, to name a few. So it’s absolutely vital that there is a broad and ongoing conversation in the Australian community about scientific research and its outcomes.”

It remains to be seen how far the report will impact legislation surrounding food advertising, labelling and public education.  What is clear though, is that Australians are becoming increasingly better educated about food and health, and are basing their purchasing decisions more and more on nutritional information.