Nauka 0+: The Kind of Science Society Needs
From the rise of platform capitalism to somatisation—this is the scope of the topics discussed at ‘Society’, a thematic platform of the NAUKA 0+ All-Russian Science Festival held by HSE University in October. In addition, experts discussed the timely issue of science popularisation.
A Platform World
‘We are living in a time of a rapid rise of platforms,’ said Vadim Radaev, opening his lecture ‘Living in the Age of Platform Capitalism’. By the early 2000s, as many as seven of the most high-value companies were platform ones. While they sagged for a period, the trend persisted. Apple joined the leaders a decade ago, with others catching up. According to the HSE University First Vice Rector, they have grown ‘amazingly’ fast—faster than the global economy.
This rapid growth is partly due to a low interest rate policy, which has resulted in ‘capital looking for somewhere to make long-term investments’. This should be added to the policies of platform companies themselves, aimed at massive acquisitions of core assets. Although this policy is particularly typical of Apple, it is also inherent in other platform giants such as Google. This makes the issue of data security particularly acute, says the HSE First Vice Rector. There is reason to believe that platforms use personal information not only for its intended purpose, but also for other purposes unknown to the user.
Somatisation and Interface Design
Alena Zolotareva, Associate Professor at the HSE Faculty of Social Sciences, delivered a lecture entitled ‘Somatisation: What Science Knows About It and How We Can Help Ourselves’. During the pandemic, there was a notable spread of symptoms that could not be explained from a medical point of view. When symptoms have no physiological explanation, they tend to be a reaction to psychological discomfort. ‘Your body takes responsibility for what is going on around you,’ explains Alena Zolotareva.
‘Who is at risk of somatisation? Women are more often exposed to it, as are older people (due to the natural aging process), especially those who have had COVID,’ she notes. The higher the mortality rate, the higher the somatisation. There are anxious and depressive symptoms, which may lead to 'cyberchondria’ (a clinical phenomenon characterised by a dependency on repeated internet searches for medical information). However, Alena Zolotareva believes that medication should not be the primary method of treatment—visiting a psychologist may be a more effective alternative.
Elena Gorbunova, Associate Professor at the HSE Faculty of Social Sciences, spoke about psychology from a completely different perspective in her lecture ‘Cognitive Psychology in Interface Design: How to Make Websites More Convenient’. She explained how important it is to understand the structure of our perception, how the recognition process works, and how this knowledge can be used in interface design.
Why Science Is Unpopular
‘Can Science Be Popular?’ was the topic of a discussion moderated by Anna Podpryatova, Director of Digital Media and Promotion at HSE University. She said that HSE University's media resources will continue to examine how content related to the popularisation of science can and should be approached.
‘Why did we decide to talk about this? We see that the topic is relevant to many people, we know that a ‘decade of science’ has been announced, and we hear about plans to popularise science. But this is grounded by research carried out in 2021 at the request of the Russian Academy of Sciences, where 64% of respondents confirmed that they were interested in science, but only 10% were able to name scientists or talk about discoveries,’ says Anna Podpryatova. ‘Are those who say they are interested in science lying?’ she asked the panellists.
Perhaps the respondents were referring to content presented as science on certain TV channels; it is unlikely that those interviewed were lying. Most likely, they are interested in science, but only if it is ‘as simple as ABC’, believes Adel Tsebenko, Scientific Editor of PostNauka and a YouTube producer.
Vyacheslav Prokhorov, Head of VK's external promotion team, is of a similar opinion. He believes that people respond more often to pseudoscientific content, which is why we see more posts about the conventional effects of hyaluronic acid than about nucleosynthesis.
Liudmila Mezentseva, Head of the Science Communication and Outreach Unit of the HSE Public Relations Office, explained that science communicators work for a fairly narrow audience, as ‘popularisation is mainly designed for those who are already sympathetic and interested in scientific content’. The question is how to reach a wider audience. For young people, the various video formats of social networks seem to be the answer, but it is not that easy with an older audience.
Alexander Telishev said that modern science is a collaborative phenomenon; projects are anonymous, no one remembers creators’ names, and creators themselves do not always want to be known. Andrey Kozhanov presented a study showing that young scientists are not interested in popularising science. However, he clarified that the survey was conducted among 'absolute nerds' who were working in laboratories while studying.
The panellists also discussed the effectiveness of different content formats related to the popularisation of science.