武夷山分享 http://blog.sciencenet.cn/u/Wuyishan 中国科学技术发展战略研究院研究员;南京大学信息管理系博导

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Promotion of Public Understanding of Science in China(2003)

已有 475 次阅读 2021-4-14 07:19 |个人分类:科普小兵|系统分类:论文交流

Promotion of Public Understanding of Science in China under Market Economy: 

New Opportunities and Challenges

Wu Yishan, Institute of Scientific and Technical Information of China

 

(Presented at the Workshop on Priority Fields of China-EU S & T Cooperation, 30-31 May, 2002, Beijing,后来发表于印度Science and Culture杂志2003年1-2期合刊)

 

Introduction

 

China is definitely on the road to transform itself into a market economy. During this transition, a lot of confusions appear before us, including a very big question: how should we provide public  goods, including things like education, public health, library service and so on, today? Public understanding of science (PUS), as a more and more important enterprise in modern society, should be considered mainly as a public good, which should be given ample support by government. However, the Chinese government, despite its increasing financial revenues in recent years, is still not rich enough to sponsor as many PUS activities as demanded. On the other hand, the gradual maturity in the market development inChinaalso creates opportunities for some potentially profitable PUS affairs but present threats to other PUS activities. Here I will analyze such new trends with two examples.

 

Publication of Popular Science Literature: A Potentially Profitable Business

 

At present, almost all the publishing houses inChinaare profit oriented. Many of them find that high quality popular science books could make money, even big money. Typical examples are the huge sales of some translated science books, such as The Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking, Being Digital by Nicholas Negroponte, Cosmos and The Demon-Haunted World by Carl Sagan, etc.

Popular science journals are also booming. Here is a pleasing story. Science World used to be a popular science monthly published by Science Press, a publishing house under the Chinese  Academy of Science. For many years, its circulation was at most 10,000 copies and it had to rely on the financial support from the Science Press to survive. In March 1999, Science Press decided to build a joint venture with Burda- Rizzoli publishing group ofGermany. Hence a new magazine, NEWTON-Science world was born. In less than two years, the circulation of the new magazine almost reached 50,000. One of its key success factors is that all its advertising and promotional operations were carried out in accordance with internationally proven practice. [1]

It should be pointed out, however, that both those publishing houses devoted to popular science books and magazines like NEWTON-Science World are positioned to satisfy urban readers. In my impression, I never found a single letter in the column of “From Readers” of NEWTON-Science World came from a rural reader, judging from the address of the letter writers.

 

Science  Museums or S & T Centers: Embarrassing Status

 

The number of science museums or S & T centers is very small inChina, given the substantial expenditure needed for their construction and maintenance. For instance, adding all the investment used for constructing all existing science museums in China together, it is still less than 30% of the investment committed to the construction of a single science center in France— City of Science and Industry. [2] What is worse, many of them, after completion, were not devoted to PUS exhibitions, but adapted to function de facto as half-commercial hotels or office buildings. According to a survey, among more than 200 science museums throughoutChina, the ones with permanent exhibitions are less than 40. Only one fifth of the science museums used their more than 30 % of total space for exhibitions or classrooms. In many ofChina’s science museums, there are no air-conditioners, no dehumidifiers and no thermostats. [3] The main reason for this miserable situation is that the public budget received by science museums, if any, plus their ticket incomes and other revenues is far less than enough for feeding museum staff and for developing and maintaining exhibits. Low morale of museum staff, as a result of poor salary, add to the sub-optimum management of science museums, forming a vicious circle: high admission price is needed for the maintenance of museums and the improvement of staff’s life; expensive ticket and lack of attractive displays bring few audience and little money; museums hardly survive without fresh injection of money. At present, ticket price for most science museums or similar PUS facilities is rather high. Admission fee is 30 yuan for the China Science and Technology  Museum, 50 yuan for Beijing Zoo, 50 yuan for the hothouse visit only in the Beijing Botanic Garden,  and 100 yuan for a typical aquarium with ocean animals. [3] As a contrast, in 1998, the average annual salary of Beijing’s workers was merely 12,300 yuan. [4] That explained why many museums have very few visitors. About 3 years ago I brought my daughter to visit China Geological  Museum. They had lots of valuable things there, such as rare precious stones. But the display arrangement was so poor and boring that it is not strange that there were only less than 10 visitors while we were there! Fortunately, I heard the good news that this museum was under major renovation and I hope that it would present a brand new look to the public in a few years.

The government should not expect science museums to support themselves financially, at least in current stage ofChina, but it is just the policy of many local governments to require science museums to care for themselves. The government should either regard science museums as non-profit institutes and grant them with necessary budgetary aid, or close some museums that have consistently performed poorly so as to save money for those better-performed ones.

 

Concluding Remarks

 

I just cited two cases to show the new opportunities and challenges beforeChina’s PUS enterprise under market economy. In fact, other PUS channels face similar situations. Commercial TV channels gather tremendous advertising revenues, while science and education channels, CCTV Channel 10, for instance, hardly attract any advertisement. Purely relying on market mechanism would help some PUS activities while harm others. Even those profitable PUS enterprises have the potentially serious problem of marginalizing low-income population so that “digital divide” as well as “print divide” would become larger. Currently almost all the PUS websites inChinaare sponsored by government agencies. Let’s suppose that government agencies will support PUS websites as long as they are welcomed by web visitors. But even under such an ideal condition, we are still concerned about how could rural residents access these resources when they do not even own computers. Therefore, the Chinese government should allocate sufficient amount of budget to support various kinds of PUS activities, especially activities oriented towards rural population, if it really wants to improve science literacy among the Chinese public.            

 

References

[1] Tang Yunjiang, NEWTON-Science World: Successful Fusion between Internationalization and Localization, between Specialization and Commercialization, see Editorial Board of Public Understanding of Science (Ed.), Public Understanding of Science: International Conference of Science Communication 2000,  University of Science and Technology of China Press, Hefei, 2001 (in Chinese)

[2] http://www.cpus.cn/kpdt/file/0282.htm

[3] http://www.scitom.com.cn/report/critique/ctq158.html

[4[ http://www.gmdaily.com.cn/0_gm/1999/08/19990802

 

 




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