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Making sense of science: Meeting the public’s information needs Irina Abalkina Senior Researcher, Nuclear Safety Institute, Russian Academy of Sciences International Chernobyl Research and Information Network Coordinator, Russia Chernobyl Forum Vienna, 7 September 2005

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ICRIN public information needs study Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, 2003-2004 The study aimed at better understanding of specific information needs as well as of how the public perceives the issue of radioactive contamination.

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Study results on information needs in three countries have very much in common. Polling in Belarus and Russia, % of respondents* * Two leading options and the last one.

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Poverty vs. radioactivity Polling in Belarus and Russia, by % of respondents* * Three leading options.

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Main conclusions of the study Information is lacking Great concern for health effects of radiation Poverty is a worry Study results are very much consistent with the ideas of 2002 UN Report “Human Consequences of the Chernobyl Accident: A Strategy for Recovery”.

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Medical aid post in Russian village Growing potatoes in Belarus village Why are health issues so acute? Health effects of radiation remain unclear to public. In depressed regions, healthy people are somehow able to survive by working the land or migrating for a seasonal job to support their families. An imperfect social protection system makes losing one’s health a cause of poverty and despair.

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People need clear messages from sources they trust. Information on: Moreover, people need a clear message from their governments on the future of local economies and national social protection systems. Health effects of radiation; Living with radiation; and Healthy lifestyles in general. If information is lacking, then what information is in need?

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How to adapt information for dissemination purposes? People need information linked to their own lives. People want Yes/No answers, not probabilities like 5,5·10-7. People ignore information if it does not correlate with their concerns or beliefs.

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Who is to disseminate information to whom? Local administrators, teachers and health professionals are to be addressed first. However, these groups suffer from insufficient information and know little about communication technologies. Youth is to be the focus group in communication efforts. A library in the children’s health rehabilitation center in Belarus

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A process of information dissemination calls for considerable effort and resources, including adapting scientific knowledge to public needs. Without clear signs of improvement in economic prospects and living conditions, better information activities will bring only modest results. Preliminary conclusions

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How to fight poverty while disseminating information? Invest in information technologies at the local level. A new computer equipped with educational programs (on radiation protection and other issues) is a powerful means to fight both poverty and ignorance. Computer room in the healthy living center in Ukraine village

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Scientists reached conclusions on the health and environmental impact of Chernobyl. People were affected by radiation only in the very beginning. But they carry a legacy of misconceptions, confusion and lack of trust. The challenge is to help people make rational choices about their lives two decades after Chernobyl. Conclusions

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THANK YOU Irina Abalkina abalkina@ibrae.ac.ru

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