Special Session SS22  28 – 29 June 2017

Making the case for European astronomy and space science: public and political engagement

Aims and scope

Astronomers and space scientists are exceptionally active in public engagement, with programmes supported by international organisations (ESO, ESA and SKA), national funding agencies, EU Horizon 2020 grants, universities and observatories, science centres, and a vibrant amateur astronomy community. The International Year of Astronomy (IYA) 2009 helped embed this into working practice, and the Communicating Astronomy with the Public conference is a biennial fixture.

The public profile of astronomy and space is currently riding high, with broadcasters and writers covering stories in this area most days, such as the human involvement of ESA astronauts e.g. Tim Peake and Luca Parmitano, the successes of the Rosetta / Philae mission, the detection of gravitational waves, and the continuing search for habitable exoplanets.

Nonetheless this empathy with science is by no means universal. The EU referendum in the UK, and the Brexit result, was a visible demonstration of the lack of public confidence in experts, and despite dedicated campaigns, the scientific community had little impact on the outcome. In most European countries, researchers still face harsh funding strictures (only Denmark, Finland and Sweden have met the target of investing 3% of GPD in R&D), and EU citizens are ambivalent about expanding space exploration. And whilst there has been progress in increasing the number of women in the field, it remains overwhelmingly white, and sees few entrants from non-traditional backgrounds.

This session will explore how astronomers and space scientists can make the case for our science, not just to the public, but to national and international decision makers. We will highlight good practice, explore whether public engagement is simply too superficial to have a genuine long term impact on attitudes and career and study choices, and discuss how European astronomers can best engage with elected politicians and senior public officials.

Perhaps more controversially, we will discuss whether and, if so, how can the taxpaying public have a voice in developing roadmaps and strategic planning in astronomy? And can astronomers make a persuasive argument for the impact of their work on wider society?


  • Details to follow

Invited speakers

  • Professor Mike Hapgood (RAL Space)

Scientific organisers
Dr Robert Massey, Royal Astronomical Society Ms Anita Heward, Outreach Coordinator, Europlanet 2020 Research Infrastructure

Robert rm @ ras.org.uk
Anita anitaheward @ btinternet.com

Updated on Tue Feb 21 17:11:55 CET 2017