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Podcast: Do we know Bulgarian science?


Conversation with Petar Teodosiev, BG Science

BG Science is a website, a magazine, a portal, a vlog, and a podcast that unites diverse channels for communication of Bulgarian science. I have been doing digital communication of science for the past 17 years.

Interest in the Bulgarian science has been changing a lot through the years. During the pandemic the interest was enormous but there were also plenty of fake news. They also grow along with the interest in science. At the moment there is a lot more talking about science, many more websites have this section, and many more events are organized each year. But it is slow. I have been monitoring the process for a long time and it is very, very slow.

How active Bulgarian scientists are

What most research organisations and scientists interpret as communication of science is disseminating their work among other scientists. They are very good at that; we have excellent publications and research that is recognized and popular in the scientific community worldwide because they are published in specialized journals read by the best world experts in the respective scientific field. Bulgarian scientists publish there but they do not talk to the public.

How active a scientist will be does not depend on a specific community or field, it depends on the individual. People are different; take Vlady Bozhilov from the faculty of physics of the Sofia University who is a true scientist and science communicator. He is very good at that I in my opinion that makes him a better scientist as well. In this way researchers understand their science in a different way, the way they need to narrate it to a child or a colleague. Those are two different languages. One of them is more difficult and that is not the scientific one. It takes different skills.

Bulgarian science and refuting misleading information

We do this all the time. Everything around us is science the cameras we use, the phone that everyone of us has, so it is good to know how they were made and how this magic of holding a scientific product in our hand happens. We tell this story in an easily comprehensible way, yet scientific, through the scientific method that shows who does it, shows evidence and references. In other words, someone else has verified and proven that what has been said is a proven scientific fact and not just an opinion or fiction that misleads people.

One of the ways is to invite many scientists to talk about their work and how it solves societal problems. Last year we released a big series on the history of medicine in 10 episodes and together with professor Radostina Alexandrova we told how all that we can see now has happened. People often say, “How did all that happen in just one year?” That is a deception because it actually took more than 100 years to complete all the research. In many of them researchers did not know what to expect. We are lucky to live in times when there is a cure for many diseases or it can be found fast, just as it happened with the COVID-19 vaccines. That is what we do, we are telling the story of our lives, how things happen in our lives through science, because that is not magic. We must read and we must know that numerous people are working on numerous issues so that we can have what we have today.

The effect of Bulgarian scientific results

For six years now we have been showing interviews with Bulgarian scientists and we have our annual issue of “100 faces behind Bulgarian scienceto show the audience who makes science in Bulgaria and what public problems are being addressed. Another thing we do is telling about Bulgarian discoveries, Bulgarian scientists who are finding solutions in short videos, articles, posts in the social media. There are people who make efforts to counter air pollution, to clean the rivers, to get to know the animal species in our forests, why things are happening and how they can be amended. In medicine for example lots of people from physics, chemistry, scientists from BAS work together with the hospitals to improve the applied therapies and treatments. A lot is happening every day that we do not know about. And this creates the illusion that nothing is happening, and that science is unnecessary and there is no need to fund it.

Interest in Bulgarian science by the government institutions

I would say it does not exist. Perhaps on occasions, such as at the time of COVID. An expert group of people from various scientific fields was formed at that time. Years ago, there was a working group of scientists at the Sofia Municipality to solve the problems of Sofia. I attended some of its meetings. There were good examples. Solutions for the air pollution in Sofia can be provided by various institutions and scientists, also energy problems. The people who in these fields in Bulgaria know a lot more than the politicians do.

These two expert fields should be able to communicate better. I do not think the problem originates only from the politicians or the scientists, it is common. Oftentimes politics and science have absolutely no intersections. One party is looking for solutions abroad while the other has it here. But the scientists do not announce it. They are waiting for someone to knock on their door and ask, “Do you have a solution?. And if they know a solution is wanted, why not say it!

There are moments when the discourse about science is much more intense. When we show to more people and when they see the solutions, I hope they will cooperate better. I include the business here as well because it often looks for solution in the West or the East and that is much more expensive than here at home. We now have so much technology, machines, laboratories with modern equipment but people are not aware of that. And that is the meaning of communication, or at least one of them.

Bulgarian science and Bulgarian museums

A very interesting project has just started at the museum of natural sciences. They started building a large art installation illustrating issues from science, zoology, the species of Bulgaria. Art people and scientists together are working on this art installation to attract everyone interested. And we should all be interested in protecting nature.

The museum of polytechnic also shows very interesting exhibitions. It has lots of appliances in its collection that were created in Bulgaria 50 or more years ago, demonstrating the development of science.Yet again, the accompanying communication is not as strong as it can be. We do not have the budgets that many European museums have. One of the best museums I have visited was the one in Manchester, but it was made with a lot of money. Yesterday I heard that the Vazov museum, his house is in a very bad condition and needs repairs. Despite the visits and budget huge money is still needed for refurbishment. And if it is not enough for refurbishment, how can it be modernized and show new, contemporary exhibitions, 3D simulation etc.? Education must be properly funded. There are programmes funded with European money, billions are invested in Bulgarian education and science. So, the question is which is more important and where and how the money should be spent.

Why is it important to promote agricultural science?

We have published quite a few articles on this topic, both in the magazine and on the website. I grew up in the fields and for me agricultural science is as important as any other science in Bulgaria. I believe we should talk more about the food path, the need for investments, what is the role of science, what is the difference between science and mass production and how one helps the other. I often hear people saying they worry about pesticides and other harmful substances that foods may contain and that it is hard for them to find the answers. I think those who are engage in agricultural science should talk more to the public.

We have an institute for study of crops in Bulgaria. We have universities. I think it is communication that is missing and that is not different from other sectors but in this sector, everyone is affected on a daily basis because of the food we consume and that is why better understanding is needed and more talking on the subject. We are open and we want to improve the way information reaches people.