After my previous articles on the importance of science communication and how to distinguish a reliable and unreliable scientific news, I decided to go back to my interviews and talk about my friend Paolo Barucca. Paolo is a researcher in physics and a science communicator. He created a website, La Scienza Coatta, The Coarse Science, where he tells stories about scientists in the language people to speak in Rome. To make it clear, it’s like telling stories about great scientists and their discoveries in Welsh, Scottish or Gaelic. His Facebook page just reached 100000 followers. The Coarse Science is also on Instagram.
- When did your passion for physics start and when you decided to take the academic path? I have always been keen on understanding physical phenomena and principles behind them. However, I wasn’t the kind of guy who used to build volcanoes or radio stations. I was more into the theory behind the science. My first idea was to do Philosophy as an undergrad, but I thought I was to miss the chance of learning ages of scientific experiments and discoveries about natural phenomena. If I didn’t comprehend the basics of Nature, how could I have possibly asked philosophical questions to myself?
- Science communication and science communicator as a job are unexplored fields in Italy, how come you got into science communication? I approached science communication from the side-line at the start as my main job was research. Back then, I was first involved in a public engagement project with the Rai TV show Nautilus (Rai is the Italian BBC) and with the mad and independent project The Coarse Science afterwards. So, to some extent, science communication does exist in Italy and it’s been constantly emerging. Researchers are engaging with the public at their best, although they don’t always succeed. This is since culture and science are still considered elite and a luxury useless to people’s everyday life. In simple words, people don’t know how to make a living out of science and culture. They rather worry about their job and having fun and don’t see science and culture as a mean for self-growth and invest in themselves. So, in my opinion, to make science more appealing to the public, we should communicate the message that it is possible to grow economically and intellectually by seeking science and culture.
- Which obstacles did you have to overcome during your academic journey? The problems are similar, either as researcher and science communicator: funding. Applying for grants and make research proposals is one of the main duty for a researcher otherwise you won’t survive in the academic world. With regard science communication, The Coarse Science is basically a charity project. We do make money with the website, but the profit goes to support the association. We took a risk with launching The Coarse Science. The message of levelling the figure of great scientists, Galileo, Einstein or Newton to those of coarse people could have been addressed as provocatory and heavily criticised. However, it has been well-accepted by the scientific community and the press. Therefore, using a simple language, sometimes rough and rude, a language close to people’s everyday life, was a successful idea for this public engagement project.
- What’s your ambition for the future and which pieces of advice you want to give to those who want to embrace a science communication career? As a researcher, I would like to become an independent academic and contribute to the world of science with my scientific breakthrough. Science communication is one of the main duties of a scientist in my opinion and I will carry on working to my research and to develop the website simultaneously. I would like The Coarse Science to reach a bigger audience and deliver the message that understanding science allows people to understand the world as well as empower them to define their role as a citizen in our society.
I am very thankful to Paolo for giving his honest opinion on this controversial topic. He gave me another point of view on science communication: if we want to engage the public and make science more attractive, we do need to highlight the importance of science and culture as a mean of profit and self-development.
Paolo is a Theoretical Physicist specialising in Statistical Physics of disordered and complex systems. He has been working on Network Theory and Mathematical Finance in the last two years with Prof Lillo at SNS and currently with Proof Battista at UZH. He is currently researching systemic risk in financial networks and economic inequality trying to provide informative, reliable and network-adjusted estimators for quantifying risk and for designing more sustainable fiscal policies. He also talked about how to be a scientist in physics to the Spokesman. This is his interview.
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